Ballparks don’t live to be 100. All the great old ones, except Fenway Park, are gone. Forbes Field, Tiger Stadium, Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds, Shibe Park, Crosley Field, the original Yankee Stadium. All gone.
Not many people live to be 100. Bob Hope, George Burns, Strom Thurmond, Irving Berlin, and the Queen Mum all crossed the century line. Rose Kennedy, made it, too. Rose was 104 years old when she died in 1995.
Rose is on my mind today because Fenway Park is turning 100 today (you may have heard), and her father threw out the first pitch when the ballpark opened on Saturday, April 20, 1912. I’m told that the NESN broadcast of that Red Sox-New York Highlanders game aired promotions for “The Jake Stahl Show,’’ featuring video of the Sox manager salsa dancing.
John “Honey Fitz’’ Fitzgerald was mayor of Boston in 1912. He wore a top hat and an overcoat to the inaugural game. Honey Fitz’s grandson, Senator Edward Kennedy, looked forward to throwing out the first pitch for the 100th anniversary today. In 2006, he told me, “I’m practicing. I’ve been watching and checking the distance and getting ready. That would be great, especially since Grandpa threw the ball out in 1912.’’
Senator Ted threw the first pitch at Fenway in 2009, but he died four months later.
The Sox are guarding their surprises with zeal normally reserved for NFL head coaches, but I’m betting we see Caroline Kennedy on the grounds today. She is the great-granddaughter of the man who threw the first pitch, and also happens to be the inspiration for “Sweet Caroline.’’
The celebration is being orchestrated by Sox vice president for fan services and entertainment Sarah McKenna and Dr. Charles Steinberg, a.k.a. “The Maestro.’’ Dr. Charles is on loan from commissioner Bud Selig, and Uncle Bud will be here for the pageantry.
And there will be pageantry. It’s already reminding me of the 1964 World’s Fair, the 1976 Bicentennial, and the return of the Tall Ships. If John Lennon and George Harrison were alive, I have no doubt that Dr. Charles would have reunited the Beatles for this day, especially now that the Sox have those great Liverpool connections. (Any chance Theo Epstein is related to the late Brian Epstein?)
In keeping with our Beatles theme, take a good look at the ancient cover of the Fab Four’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’’ album. That’s what the Fenway field will look like this afternoon between 2 and 3 p.m.
Baseball Woodstock. Yaz-gur’s Farm.
Don’t expect to see Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez, or Grady Little. Fred Lynn is away on his 25th wedding anniversary, and Trot Nixon is busy with his son’s first Little League game.
But Bill Buckner and Pedro Martinez should be here. Some of us would like to see Bill Lee try that eephus pitch to Tony Perez again, but Perez can’t make it. Carlton Fisk and Bernie Carbo are back. Wade Boggs and Johnny Damon are doubtful.
Terry Francona plans to come in and wave to everybody, then get out with Yaz-like speed. Tito’s Lindbergh-esque reception is likely to be viewed as an indictment of his former bosses and his replacement.
But we need to remind ourselves that today is not about a 7-20 September, a 4-8 April, more days in last place, or booing Bobby Valentine. (How long before we get the first “We Want Tito’’ or “Highlanders Suck’’ chant?) It’s about 100 years of baseball in a park that opened when William Taft was president.
It’s about a place where Curt Gowdy said, “Hi, neighbor, have a ’Gansett.’’ A place where Ted Williams got in trouble for shooting pigeons. It’s where Bob Tillman hit John Wyatt in the back of the head with a throw to second base; where a young Peter Gammons reinvented the way sportswriters covered baseball; where Carl Yastrzemski covered home plate in dirt after an objectionable called third strike; where Jim Rice hit one out to the right of the center field flagpole; where John Updike sat and took notes when Williams hit his final homer; where Tony C was felled by the Jack Hamilton pitch on Aug. 18, 1967; where Duffy Lewis ran up and down the cliff in left field; where Reggie Jackson knocked in 10 runs with an illegal bat when he played for the A’s; where Al Luplow robbed Dick Williams of a homer, making a catch as he vaulted into the bullpen.
It’s where girls from Simmons and Emmanuel went to tan on hot September days when the bleachers were easy and cheap to get into in the 1970s; where security guards from Boston College discouraged fans from running on the field; where groundskeeper Joe Mooney plowed snow up against the left field wall so it would melt faster; where a Massachusetts judge graded bar exams on lazy afternoons in the right field grandstand; where the Royal Rooters and the Dropkick Murphys sang “Tessie’’; where Babe Ruth beat the Cubs in the fourth game of the 1918 World Series.
Fenway Park is where millions of New Englanders dropped millions of coins and bills into Jimmy Fund boxes positioned around the ballpark underneath the stands. Fenway and the Red Sox have been a major part of the fight to eradicate children’s cancer.
In 1909, the publisher of the Boston Post newspaper issued canes to the Board of Selectmen in 700 New England towns with the request that they be presented to the oldest male residents of the town (in 1930, women became eligible for cane stewardship). In Groton, (incorporated 1655), the current Boston Post cane recipient is 102-year-old Helen McCarthy-Sawyer.
If the Boston Post sent a cane to the bosses of major league baseball back in 1909, the cane would have been passed around until it landed in Boston in 1999, the year Tiger Stadium closed.
In the tradition of New England, today we pay homage to age and endurance. We celebrate Fenway Park and the first day of the second hundred years.