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On Second Thought

Diamond anniversary

By Kevin Paul Dupont
February 27, 2011

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In need of a better, roomier location in the city and eager to construct a state-of-the-art ballpark for their loyal fans, the Red Sox at the end of the season finally decided to find a new home.

Yes sir, time to bid a fond farewell to that old ballpark. About time, no?

“The baseball public will look forward with interest,’’ read a Globe report, “to the development of the new grounds, situated as they are, convenient of access, with ample room and accommodation for the largest crowd on any holiday or day of special interest.’’

The somewhat cumbersome wording of that dispatch alone is ample indication that we have dialed the way-back machine by precisely one century.

The Boston club had just completed its 11th season in 1911, 100 years ago this summer, when the idea of building the new Fenway Park was already being put into action. As the Sox looked slightly west from their home on Huntington Avenue (see: Northeastern University), Fenway’s open patch of acreage offered elbow room galore, even if it did necessitate shoehorning the left-field wall into the corner of Jersey and Lansdowne streets.

The distant sons of then-skipper Jake Stahl, now shaping their game in Fort Myers, Fla., officially will return to Fenway April 8 to kick off their 100th season in their beloved, iconic ballyard. Fenway’s grand celebration is pegged for the start of the 2012 season, but this season, not next, is their 100th go-round at the Fens. It was a century ago this summer that they pulled up stakes, bats, and balls, and began moving on down the road.

The official passing of papers on the new ballpark’s land was noted in the Sept. 30, 1911, edition of the Globe, with Charles Taylor, the paper’s owner, one of the project’s key three investors. Taylor’s son, John I., was the club’s president.

In 1918, when the Red Sox were winning their fifth World Series and World War I was about to end, inning-by-inning updates on the Series games at Fenway were sent by carrier pigeon to soldiers at faraway Fort Devens. Obviously, the Taylors weren’t much into blogging.

The Sept. 30 Globe report made note that foundation work on Fenway Park’s grandstand already was under way when papers passed on the project. Clearly, the Sox were hot to get off Huntington. Attorneys of the day must have been friendlier, more trusting. What attorney today worth his two seats in the State Street Pavilion would allow Sox owner John Henry to even run his customized John Deere lawnmower over a new building site without first passing papers?

A cold, harsh winter slowed Fenway’s construction, but the new 24,000-seat ballyard was finished in time for the start of the season. The Boston Society of Civil Engineers gave the yard its thumbs-up as 1911 came to a close, the ballyard’s design team earning kudos for the minimal angle of the park’s slightly sloped grandstands. Because of the accommodating angle, and limited foul territory, Fenway fans could feel more connected to the action than fans at many ballparks of the era.

On the afternoon of Dec. 20, 1911, after the review by the engineers, a Globe reporter wrote that the playing field was “of ample proportions to admit of fine fielding and free hitting.’’ Eddie Bressoud was just one wearer of red socks through the ages who belied both points.

Total construction time for the new Fenway Park was seven months. Start to finish in but a couple of hundred days. It helped speed the process that the infield turf from the Huntington Avenue grounds was stripped and replanted at Fenway. If a new Fenway gets built this century (or next?), it’s a fair bet the old sod will be carried to the new infield.

“Just seven months!’’ noted Richard Johnson, curator of the Sports Museum of New England. “Today, try getting kitchen cabinets or a hot tub installed in that amount of time.’’

How true. As hallowed landmarks go, the project was pulled off at ungodly speed. Over in Charlestown, the cornerstone of the Bunker Hill Monument was put in place in 1825 and it was finished in 1843.

The first game at Fenway, with 3,000 in attendance on a chilly, snowy afternoon, was an April 9, 1912, exhibition that had the Sox edging Harvard, 2-0, with Sox starter Casey Hageman (“The $5,000 beauty from Denver,’’ noted the Globe reporter of the day) mastering the Crimson.

The following morning, the RMS Titanic began its fateful voyage out of Southampton, England, and Boston’s many newspapers continued to lead with the tragic news from the Atlantic when the Sox finally played their first official American League game, April 20, a 7-6 win over the New York Highlanders. The pride of the White Star Line sank early in the morning, April 15, claiming 1,517 lives, and the unfolding horror remained a big story in Boston for days and days. News cycles were longer then and seemed to cut deeper into our souls and memories.

With the summer of 2011 soon to be upon us, Red Sox Nation stands ready once more to spread its adoration, its angst, and its memories over the Olde Towne Team. Fenway stands ready, too, for the 100th time.

We’re Boston. We like our history. Fenway Park allows us to sit in it, embrace it. And 2011 is the year our ballpark hits for the cycle, 100 seasons long.

Kevin Paul Dupont’s “On Second Thought’’ appears on Page 2 of the Sunday Globe Sports section. He can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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