BOSTON — More than 200 former Red Sox players and coaches returned to the major league’s oldest ballpark Friday to help the team celebrate Fenway Park’s 100th birthday.
Walking onto the field to the theme from Field of Dreams and the cheers of the ballpark’s 719th consecutive sellout crowd, players from Don Aase to Bob Zupcic gathered at their positions and then watched as Caroline Kennedy took part in a ceremonial first pitch 100 years after her great-grandfather did the same.
The Red Sox won the opener on April 20, 1912, 7-6 in 11 innings over the New York Highlanders (who would soon change their name to the Yankees). Boston went on to win the ’12 World Series and three more in that decade, but then embarked on an 86-year title drought in which the ballpark became the franchise’s biggest star.
“This ballpark has created as many memories for people in this area and around the world as any venue in the world,” Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said before the ceremony. “The park here has at least a life of its own. A magic to it. It’s the baseball land of Oz. People dream about this place.”
Doomed for the wrecking ball before the current owners bought the team in 2002, Fenway now has seats above the Green Monster and an HD video screen – not to mention lights above the upper decks and black and Latin players in the field – all unimaginable when it opened the same week the Titanic sank.
It’s the first ballpark to survive to 100, and the Red Sox are throwing it a season-long party to celebrate.
A day after more than 53,000 fans filed through the gates for an open house, the Red Sox brought out the bunting and the Green Monster-sized U.S. flag to honor the anniversary. All living Red Sox players and coaches were invited back, giving the fans one more chance to cheer for Hall of Famers such as Carlton Fisk and Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice and Dennis Eckersley.
Favorites like Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd, Bill “Spaceman” Lee, Bill Buckner, Luis Tiant, Nomar Garciaparra and Mo Vaughn were also there, with many of the biggest cheers going to players from the 2004 World Series team that ended the franchise’s decades-long wait for a championship.
The crowd did not seem to know whether to applaud or boo for Jose Canseco, whose two seasons in Boston were characterized by forgettable play.
After taking their positions, they all circled around the oldest of the old-timers, Johnny Pesky and Bobby Doerr, who were pushed out to second base in wheelchairs by recently retired Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield.
Pesky, 92, was in tears.