March 13, 2012
If you really want to understand what makes Boston tick, forget the Freedom Trail and head straight to Fenway Park. Home of the Boston Red Sox, the city’s beloved baseball stadium is the oldest in current use and celebrates its centennial season this year.
Fenway Park‘s inaugural year in 1912 was eventful and successful. An exhibition game between the Red Sox and Harvard College was the first to be played on its hallowed turf, followed eleven days later by the first official game against the New York Highlanders. The club went on to win 105 regular season games, the American League Pennant and a second World Series title against the New York Giants, nine years after winning the very first series in 1903.
In the six years that followed, the Red Sox cemented their position as one of the most commanding teams in major league baseball, signing legendary pitcher Babe Ruth in 1913 and going on to win three more World Series titles in 1915, 1916 and 1918.
And then… nothing. Often referred to as the ‘Curse of the Bambino’, what followed after this period of dominance was one of the longest championship dry spells in American sporting history.
Said to have started with the sale of Babe Ruth to fiercest rivals the New York Yankees at the end of 1919, the ‘curse’ was blamed for 86 long years of heartbreak and anguish for Red Sox fans, with their team coming devastatingly close to breaking it on several occasions but always succumbing at the final hurdle. In the same time period, the Yankees went on to win the World Series 26 times, twice as many as any other team.
Attempts to break the curse included placing a Red Sox baseball cap on the top of Mount Everest and hiring exorcists to ‘purge’ Fenway Park of bad vibes. In September 2004, the Boston Globe published an article describing how a foul ball hit by nine-time Silver Slugger award-winner Manny Ramirez in the previous game flew into the crowd and whacked a teenage boy in the face, knocking out two of his teeth. The boy, a 16 year-old lifelong Boston fan, lived in the farmhouse once owned by Babe Ruth. On the very same day, the Yankees suffered the worst defeat in their history.
A few weeks later, after a mixed season, Boston found themselves squaring up against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. Expectations ran high that 2004 would prove to be Boston’s year, but the seven-game series started disastrously, with the Yankees winning the first three games. Up until that point, no team in the history of the game had ever come back to win from a 3-0 deficit and the fourth game looked set to finish the Red Sox off yet again, but they fought back to send the game into extra innings, and eventually won on a home run in the 12th inning. Spurred on by this spectacular turnaround, Boston powered their way through the next three games and won the series 4-3, securing a place in the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, who’d defeated them in 1946 and 1967.
By the time the 2004 World Series got underway on October 23rd, Red Sox Nation could hardly bear to watch, despite Boston being fired up like never before. But game by game, they swept the Cardinals aside, defeating them in four straight games to become World Champions for the first time since 1918, ending 86 years of pain. In a delicious twist, on the night of their victory a total lunar eclipse stained the moon a prophetic shade of red over Busch Stadium in St. Louis, while back in Boston fans erupted onto the streets. Three days later the team celebrated with a parade through the city on its famous Duck Boats. The curse was finally over.
This year’s Major League Baseball season opens on 28th March. Tickets can be hard to come by – sellouts are a near certainty for every game – but not impossible. But whether you’re taking in a game or not, a tour of Fenway Park in its centenary year is a must-do for anyone wanting to understand Boston’s sporting psyche.
The stadium has changed immensely over the years and just last week it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. You’ll get to see all of its quirky add-ons and renovations, from the famous lone red chair to the gargantuan ‘Green Monster’ seating section, the lower half of which houses the updated-by-hand scoreboard, and you’ll come away with a deeper understanding of exactly how much this ballpark means to Bostonians.
Tours last about an hour and take place daily, on the hour, between 10am and 2pm. Tickets ($12 adults, $10 children) are sold at the Red Sox Ticket Office on a first-come, first-served basis, or at the Team Store on Yawkey Way when the ticket office is shut.