Are you game?
A fix on foot for fans who want to trail the city's sporting champions
Boston is a city renowned for its historical sites, universities, and cultural institutions. But forget about the Freedom Trail, Harvard Yard, and Symphony Hall. The Hub's true heart and soul dwells among the fans at Fenway Park, the masses lining the Boston Marathon route, and the crowds celebrating yet another Boston sports championship.
While a veritable rainbow of striped sidewalks weaving through the city's streets leads tourists and locals alike past some of the most famous sites in US history, downtown Boston also abounds with landmarks connected to the city's sporting past and present. Even on a quiet day on the local sports calendar, fans can get their fix at stops along the Boston sports trail.
The Sports Museumoffers an excellent introduction to Boston's favorite pastimes. Since the museum is housed inside the TD Banknorth Garden, visitors get the bonus of sneaking a peek inside the playpen of the Bruins and Celtics and gazing up at the teams' championship banners. Naturally, the city's four professional teams feature prominently in the museum, but there are also memorabilia, photographs, and interactive exhibits devoted to soccer, boxing, golf, horse racing, high school and college sports, and the Boston Marathon. A series of Armand LaMontagne wooden sculptures depict the city's sporting gods in familiar poses, but the statue of Ted Williams in a fishing vest and waders proudly displaying his latest catch will have visitors doing a double take. Museum artifacts include home plate from defunct Braves Field, an autographed pair of shoes worn by Adam Vinatieri when he kicked the winning field goal for the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI, and one of the penalty boxes from the old Boston Garden.
A short walk from the Garden is the statue of Red Auerbach, the legendary Celtics coach, clutching his signature stogie and holding court from a bench outside Quincy Market. Rub the shamrock on Red's championship ring for some luck of the Irish. Flanking Red are the bronzed Converse sneakers of Celtics legend Larry Bird and the running shoes of Bill Rodgers, four-time winner of the Boston Marathon.
Boston Common has been a proving ground for some of America's favorite sports. Baseball and football pioneers who played on the Common's parade ground in the 1800s shaped the development of their sports and drew thousands of spectators. Sports such as lacrosse and hurling were first introduced to Bostonians on the Common. In the Common's northwest corner is a monument to the Oneida Football Club, considered the country's first organized football club. The team played the "Boston game," a mix of soccer and rugby, on the Common between 1862 and 1865. The Oneidas were Boston's first sports dynasty, never scored upon, let alone defeated.
Running aficionados will enjoy the small exhibit of Boston Marathon memorabilia on display at the headquarters of the Boston Athletic Association. Artifacts include photographs, running jerseys, and trophies, some of which are massive in size and stunning in craftsmanship. There are running shoes of past champions, including a gilded pair worn by two-time winner and 61-time runner Johnny Kelley, the cargo shorts worn by Roberta Gibb when she became the first woman to complete the race, and the gloves worn by Bob Hall, the first official wheelchair champion. (The BAA is always on the lookout for donations to its collection.)
In nearby Copley Square, a 15-foot granite medallion embedded on the Boylston Street side features geographic and topographical maps of the marathon course encircled by the names, countries, and finishing times of winners. Four red granite bollards on the medallion's perimeter include bronze reliefs of runners and wheelchair athletes along with the seals of the eight municipalities through which the Patriots Dayfoot race is staged. Kids of all ages will enjoy the racing-inspired statue of a tortoise lumbering ahead of a hare near Trinity Church.
The finish line for the marathon is striped on top of Boylston Street's asphalt in front of the Boston Public Library, on the west side of Copley Square. The city's great palace of the written word is also the repository for the McGreevey Collection, which includes baseball photographs from 1875 to 1916 that were originally on display inside the Third Base Saloon owned by Michael "Nuf Ced" McGreevey. The highlights are the photographs from the first modern World Series in 1903 in which Boston defeated Pittsburgh.
About a mile down Huntington Avenue from the library is the site of that initial fall classic, the defunct Huntington Avenue Grounds. A small plaque on the front of Northeastern University's Cabot Center commemorates the old ballpark, the first home of the Red Sox, and a display case on the center's second floor houses a small collection of baseball artifacts, including vintage photographs of the grounds and replica wool jerseys.
The diminutive courtyard behind the Cabot Center looks like a typical college quad except for the bronzed figure of former Red Sox flamethrower Cy Young, crouched over and staring fiercely toward an imaginary catcher. Young, who pitched from that spot when it was the mound at the Huntington Avenue Grounds, tallied the most wins of any hurler in baseball history: 511. Embedded in the ground 60 feet away from Young is a granite marker shaped like home plate that commemorates the first World Series. The nearby Ruggles T station has a historical marker noting it was at one time the site of the South End Grounds, which hosted the city's first professional team, the Red Stockings, beginning in 1871, before becoming the home of the Braves until 1914.
Before leaving the Northeastern campus, swing by Matthews Arena, home of the university's hockey and men's basketball teams. The building, which opened in 1910, is the oldest artificial ice arena in the world. The Bruins and Celtics both played their inaugural games inside the arena before moving to the old Boston Garden.
After the Red Sox left the Huntington Avenue Grounds, they moved across the Fens to a new home. Nearly a century later, the Red Sox still call the hallowed ground of Fenway Park home. Seeing them play a game there nowadays is tough, with the Sox sellout streak dating to 2003, but it's easy to glimpse the field. Ballpark tours run year-round, and the Bleacher Bar has a huge window looking directly out to Fenway's emerald grass through the center-field wall.
A mile west of Kenmore Square is Agganis Arena, one of the newest arrivals on the Boston sports scene. The home of Boston University's 2009 NCAA championship men's hockey team is named after BU football and baseball great Harry Agganis, who was also a Red Sox first baseman until his death at 26. In front of the arena is a statue of the "Golden Greek" in his football uniform getting ready to throw a pass down the field.
Around the corner is BU's Nickerson Field, the first home of the Boston Patriots, as the newly-minted American Football League team was called. The stadium is also the former site of Braves Field, home to the city's National League baseball franchise from 1915 to 1952. The stadium's right-field bleachers were incorporated into Nickerson Field's grandstand, and parts of the original exterior right-field wall still stand along Harry Agganis Way. The stucco ticket office down the right-field line also endures, and a plaque behind the building commemorates Braves Field, gone but not forgotten.
Christopher Klein, author of "The Die-Hard Sports Fan's Guide to Boston" (Union Park, 2009), can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.