100 years of home

You called it a dump.

I did, and yet sitting there in Section 24 two weeks ago, getting lit up for a documentary about Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary, simply hoping the lamp behind me would do justice to my shining, bald dome, it seemed a silly statement. No matter what ails it, you don’t call your home a dump.

I’ll save you the clichéd romance about the greenness of the grass, the alluring scents of hot dogs and peanuts that filter the air even in winter, and the aura of the ghosts who remain in the stands, in the concourses, and on the field. When that retort came during the interview, based on a piece I wrote in the wake of the National Geographic broadcast about Boston’s old yard, my emotional transmission buckled.

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Oh, the place is awful to watch a ballgame, a fact that anyone who has been to Camden Yards, Coors Field, or especially AT&T Park will support. Unless you have the greenbacks to appreciate some of Fenway’s finer seats, you’re either lodged in with room a sardine would even thumb its nose at, or facing center field. Jacoby’s cute and all, but I’d like to see the plate every now and then, right?

Still…well, it’s Fenway.

That’s simply something people who didn’t grow up living and breathing the team that plays there can’t truly understand. Yes, Fenway Park is a tourist destination, welcoming thousands through Gate A every year to breathe in the history of “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark.” That narration will be on display during today’s gala prior to the first meeting of the year between the Red Sox and Yankees, but it can’t hold wax to what really means so much about the place- your Fenway history.

You called it a dump.

For whatever reason, I immediately flashed back to a random Friday afternoon in April, 1988, awaiting my Dad’s arrival at home so I could ask him if we could go to Fenway. I remembered the car ride up 93, talking about whether Ellis Burks was going to emerge as a star. I remembered having my glove at the game, a naïve 14-year-old mistake. I remembered our seats in the right field boxes, purchased right before the game, and Brady Anderson playing the field in home whites. 

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I’ve been to and worked hundreds of games at Fenway Park. I have no idea why that is my favorite Fenway memory.

I remember Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS, the greatest game I’ve ever witnessed. I remember my first visit, a 1982 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. I remember the countless times I visited during college summers, thinking it was the coolest thing that I had friends both on Joe Mooney’s grounds crew and working the Aramark concession stand behind home plate. I remember buying my first beer there, purchasing the Marty Barrett poster which is still kicking around somewhere, and sitting with my grandfather in the bleachers as kept score on a 95-degree afternoon. I remember the 1999 All-Star Game, and the pre-game Mighty, Mighty Bosstones concert that took place in the parking lot across the street.

My wife had her bachelorette party there, announced to the thousands on the scoreboard. I saw Bob Zupcic hit that game-winning grand slam. I walked on the field the first time ever covering the team and felt like I was doing something wrong. I’ll never forget the time I approached a young Shea Hillenbrand in the clubhouse and became fearful that the cantankerous rookie was going to put me in a headlock. I vividly remember the perfect Sunday afternoon in 1998 that I sat along the first base line with a woman who acted like she was deeply interested about my incessant tales of baseball history and deciding on the walk back to her Washington Square apartment that this person from Trumbull, Conn. was who I was going to marry.

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That’s Fenway.

Back when I worked at NESN, my space was lodged in a back room with access to the left field roof deck, and catching a ball game was a flight of stairs way. I used to stand there some afternoons, the sun illuminating the white, green, and gray below, and utter the second-to-last phrase of the Red Sox’ most famous fictional reliever, Sam Malone.

“I’m the luckiest son of a @#$&* on the face of the earth.”

In truth, we all are. We still have Fenway Park. Progress can wait, can’t it?