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The story of a 50-year love affair with Fenway Park

Boston--7/12/99--During Home Run Derby, fans on both sides, in and out. LIBRARY TAG 07131999 NATIONAL - SPORTS - PAGE ONEThe Boston Globe/Boston Globe
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The story of a 50-year love affair with Fenway Park

My love affair with Fenway Park began on October 11, 1967. My cousin Howie called me in New York. Did I want a ticket to Game 7 of the Red Sox-Cardinals World Series?

The next day I plunked down $14 and flew on Eastern Airlines from LaGuardia.

When I jumped out of the cab at the oldest ballpark in the country, I looked up. Where was the upper deck?

The first glance of the 37-foot Green Monster had me sold. Fenway Park has always had the “wow” factor.

It’s stunning. There’s nothing like it on the planet. The seats are practically on top of the players and it is gushing with history. How many places are still around where you can stand in the same spot where Babe Ruth pitched and Ted Williams hit .406?

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As a kid growing up in the Bronx, I believed the Bambino and Lou Gehrig were buried under the monuments in Yankee Stadium’s center field. But the House of Ruth is gone now, replaced by an imposter. Wrigley Field has the ivy, but Fenway’s wall beats a bunch of leaves. Dodger Stadium is powder-blue cool, but if Dodger fans don’t care enough to get there on time, why should I?

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David Ortiz at bat early in the 2014 season. Big Papi had 35 home runs and had 104 RBIs that year.
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A fan takes in a game from right field.
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There's nothing like Opening Day at Fenway.
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Two greats — Mike Trout at the plate, and Shohei Ohtani on deck — earlier this season.
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A little rain is no problem for the rowdy folks in the bleachers on Marathon Monday.
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Manny Ramirez plays a ball off the Green Monster in 2006.
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Sure, your view might be a little obstructed. But no matter who's playing, Fenway is always the star.

Fenway’s wall is like life: unfair. A pop fly can be a wind-driven home run. A wicked line drive can be a wall-banging single. As Cy Young winner Jim Lonborg liked to say, “the wall giveth, the wall taketh away.”

And yes, there are seats directly behind poles. The leg room is designed for short people. There are seats in right field that face left field.

It doesn’t matter what team is playing. Fenway is always the star.

Years ago, I got a platform truck with a boom lift and my son and I counted all the dimples on the wall. We estimated the total to be 211,044.

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Head groundskeeper Dave Mellor refused to let us call them dents.

“They’re not called dents because of Bucky Effin’ Dent,” said Mellor.

The inside of the wall is hot, with rat poison on the floors and stale air. Chris Elias, the manual scoreboard operator for a quarter-century, used to be visited regularly by Manny Ramirez. Fans always wondered what Manny was doing in there. He was not going to the bathroom. There is none. They would chat about everything except baseball.

As a rookie for the Globe in 1975 I was a “runner” for the World Series, stationed on what was then known as Yawkey Way. I heard the cascading roar of Carlton Fisk’s famous Game 6 home run, caught the film dropped from the Fenway roof by photographer Tom Landers, then drove madly to the Globe so the images would make the next edition.

I once photographed Fenway from a helicopter.

As I hovered over the wall, the ant in left field — Carl Yastrzemski — turned his back and looked up. Then, there was a sudden spinning move towards second base. A puff of dirt, and all the other ants streamed back towards the home dugout.

The great Yastrzemski had thrown out a runner to end the inning.

When Yaz retired, he ran around the entire warning track at Fenway, waving and high-fiving fans. Then he stood in front of Gate D and signed every autograph. When he returned to the empty park, he toasted the wall with a bottle of champagne.

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For a different view of the old ballpark, head to The View atop the Prudential Center.
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Don't you dare call them "dents." They're dimples.
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The author captured this image of a baseball's imprint on the Green Monster in 2014.
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Sox scoreboard operator Chris Elias watches the action from inside the Green Monster.
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The author captured Dave Roberts's iconic steal during Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS by moving to shallow left field.
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The author captured this now-iconic image of Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter flipping into the bullpen after leaping in vain for a David Ortiz home run. Boston bullpen cop Steve Horgan, who threw his arms up in joy, became a local celebrity for his reaction.
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That Ortiz home run keyed the Red Sox to the World Series in 2013. Here, Koji Uehara celebrates with teammates after Boston clinched the title in Game 6.
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David Ortiz hoists the 2013 World Series MVP trophy at Fenway Park.
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During the 2018 World Series parade, the author snuck onto a duck boat, and Red Sox president Sam Kennedy let him stay. He repaid the favor by protecting Mookie Betts from a flying Bud Light (right). (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
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Fenway Park from afar earlier this season.
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This image of Scott Hatteberg using the ancient urinal in the runway between the dugout and the clubhouse at Fenway didn't win the author many fans with the old Sox regime.
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Carlton Fisk receives a hero's welcome at home plate on Oct. 21, 1975. Fisk hit the game-winning homer to beat the Reds in Game 6 of the World Series. (Tom Landers/Globe staff)
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Jim Lonborg is mobbed by fans after the Red Sox beat the Twins on the final day of the 1967 "Impossible Dream" season. (AP)
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Yaz salutes Fenway Park after his final game on Oct. 1, 1983.

In 1999, the old Sox regime denied me a credential to cover the All-Star Game. They were angry about a picture in a book I co-authored with Dan Shaughnessy that showed Red Sox catcher Scott Hatteberg using the urinal in the hallway tunnel between the dugout and the clubhouse. It didn’t show anything; Hatteberg wanted a copy for his home.

I contacted then-Mayor Tom Menino and asked for permission to park a cherry picker on Lansdowne Street behind the Monster. When he found out why, he approved (after he stopped laughing). When the Home Run Derby between Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Ken Griffey Jr. began, I rose above the netting. The Sox brass watching through binoculars were steamed, but couldn’t do a thing. Years later, architect genius Janet Marie Smith would replicate that view with the Green Monster seats.

In 2004, with the Sox about to be eliminated by the Yankees, I moved to shallow left field. Better to capture Yankee closer Mariano Rivera with the dejected Sox dugout in the background.

Instead, Dave Roberts stole second and sparked the Sox to their first championship since 1918. The clear angle from my position made me look like I knew what I was doing. I did not; it was mostly luck.

During the 2013 ALCS, I found a great perch. There’s a television cage hanging from the first-base upper deck where there’s cushy chairs and tons of legroom.

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The Sox were behind 5-1 in Game 2 after losing the first game. Time was running out. During the seventh-inning stretch I saw Dave Roberts in the suite behind me. He had just beaten cancer. We chatted; I took that as a good sign.

In the eighth inning, David Ortiz unloaded on Detroit pitcher Joaquin Benoit with the bases loaded. Torii Hunter went behind-over-tea-kettle into the bullpen trying to catch it. Boston bullpen cop Steve Horgan threw his arms upward and became an icon. That grand slam led to another championship and healing for those traumatized by the Boston Marathon bombings.

Years later, Horgan called me and said Torii Hunter wanted some copies of the photo. We all met outside the visitors’ clubhouse between games of a doubleheader.

In 2018, while the Fenway faithful were toasting Sox players after they beat the Dodgers, I made my way through the center field door and snuck into a duck boat on Landsdowne Street.

This boat was for players and family only, and the Sox tried to get me kicked off. Sox president Sam Kennedy gave me a pass. I was able to repay the favor. When somebody hurled a full can of Bud Lite at Mookie Betts in Copley Square, I swatted it down before it dented the MVP.

When I view the wobbly 8-millimeter movie I made in back 1967, I see the rebirth of baseball in Boston.

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There’s Jim Lonborg, pitching his heart out on two days’ rest. The Impossible Dream wasn’t quite possible, but Fenway made it feel like it was.

Lonborg had the greatest ride ever when fans swept him into a human riptide heading for right field after he beat the Twins on the last day of the season.

“In the beginning, it was just joy and happiness with my teammates,” he says. “I was so taken with the moment that I just went for the ride and then it was joy and happiness with the fans.”

Until it wasn’t.

“Oh, my God, by the time we almost got to the Pesky Pole, I realized that I was in trouble,” he remembered. “But these two wonderful Boston Police officers rescued me and escorted me back to where I wanted to go.”

Now when he returns to Fenway, it is with gratitude.

“I was honored to be able to pitch there for seven years. When I look at the pictures I get flashbacks of fun moments, but yeah, Fenway will always be firmly ingrained in my mind and my soul.”

Read more in this series


Stan Grossfeld can be reached at stanley.grossfeld@globe.com.