Originally created 07/23/02

Fenway opens for fans to honor Williams

BOSTON -- Fans filed into Fenway Park early Monday for the start of a daylong tribute to Hall of Famer Ted Williams.

The stadium was open for five hours to allow fans to walk on the warning track and remember Williams, who died July 5. A memorial was scheduled for Monday night, with the proceeds from ticket sales going to Williams' favorite charity, the Jimmy Fund.

Billboards hung in the netting above the Green Monster in left field: "There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived," read one. "Ted Williams: An American Hero, 1918-2002," read another.

Only a handful of fans were waiting when the gates opened, but for most of the morning a steady stream circled the field, past the Red Sox dugout and the bullpens to center field, where a replica of Williams' No. 9 uniform was hanging.

An estimated 10,000 came through by 1 p.m., among them John Zellmann, 38, and his 17-year-old son, Derrick, who took the day off to pay tribute to the Splendid Splinter.

"For me, it's just the way he played the game. He's a symbol of the Red Sox," John Zellmann said.

Two Marines stood guard as fans left a mounting pile of flowers, baseballs and caps and posed for pictures at the base of the center field wall. In left field, a giant strand of white carnations laid out in the shape of a "9" marked the ground where Williams played from 1939-60, except for two stints in the Marines.

Each base marked a milestone of Williams' career. At first, a "521" - the number of home runs he hit. At second, "USMC," marking his service in two wars as a Marine Corps pilot. And at third, a ".406" - his batting average in 1941, when he was the last player to hit over .400.

Near the bottom of the Green Monster, large photographs highlighted three aspects of Williams life: baseball, military service and his work for cancer research. Those themes were to be featured at the evening service, "Ted Williams: A Celebration of an American Hero."

Also affixed to the left field wall was Williams' plaque from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. This marked only the second time an inductee's official plaque was loaned by the Hall; Roberto Clemente's plaque was on display in his native Puerto Rico two years ago.

Anne and Stuart Eckman were among the first fans to walk past the display at the left field wall. Stuart said he had seen Williams play, and respected him as a ballplayer and for his military service.

"We won't see his likes again," he said.

About 18,000 of the 33,000 tickets available for the evening service had been sold - reminiscent of the mostly empty house that watched Williams homer in his final at-bat in 1960. The bat and ball from that homer were on display under the center field bleachers, among a dozen artifacts of his career on loan from the Hall of Fame.

Williams' three children, who are fueding over what to do with his remains, were not expected to attend. His son, John Henry Williams, wants his father's body to stay frozen in a cryonics lab in Arizona; his oldest daughter, Bobby-Jo Williams Ferrell, said her father wanted to be cremated. The dispute is pending in probate court in Florida.

Former Ohio Sen. John Glenn, who flew combat missions in Korea with Williams, eight-time batting champion Tony Gwynn, Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and former Boston players Dom DiMaggio, Carl Yastrzemski and Johnny Pesky are expected to speak at the memorial.

"Ted meant an awful lot to us," Pesky said. "There's a lot of people who had a lot of admiration for Ted, the greatest Red Sox player since Babe Ruth."

Pesky said he knows it will be tough to get through the service without breaking down.

"I hope I don't get emotional," he said. "Ted wouldn't like it if I got that way."


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