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Fenway at 100: Love it, revere it, blow it up

By Mike Downey, Special to CNN
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Fri April 20, 2012
The scoreboard before the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays during the home opener on April 13 . The scoreboard before the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays during the home opener on April 13 .
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Welcome to Fenway Park
Fans celebrate opening day
Players sing the national anthem
The 'Green Monster'
Fenway Park in 1912
Fenway Park in 1912
Fenway's first pitch
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Boston's Fenway Park opened 100 years ago today on April 20, 1912
  • Mike Downey says insulting Fenway Park is practically a hate crime in the Boston area
  • Downey on Fenway: "I believe its time has come and gone"
  • He'd love to see "a new, pristine, up-to-the-minute place to watch the Sox"

Editor's note: Mike Downey is a former columnist for the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune.

(CNN) -- Is it OK to not like Fenway Park?

Can you say so without sounding as if you're the kind of guy who would love to break in and trash Buckingham Palace, the Louvre, the Vatican, the Taj Mahal, Graceland, Disneyland and Hogwarts? Is there anyone from New England who would go, hmmm, maybe you're right? Or would everyone there like to see you sentenced to 20 years in Shawshank for insulting Boston's baseball park, which in that corner of America is considered a hate crime?

Samuel L. Clemens (no relation to Roger), aka Mark Twain (a plain-talkin' Midwestern indigene like myself), once wrote of a certain Massachusetts metropolis: "One of the most engaging peculiarities of Boston is her reverence for her traditions, her relics, her antiquities." He was referring to her Massacre, not her ballpark, but I think he really nailed her.

Twain died on April 21, 1910, in Connecticut, as good a place to get sick and kick a bucket as any. (A great many insurance agents there.)

Two years later, damn near to the day, a new Boston place of business opened its gates to the public. April 20, 1912, turned out to be a big day in that city's history, even if most of the folks from the Fenway district 100 years ago were still talking about a big tub in the Atlantic that went down with poor Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet on it.

What makes Fenway Park special

I am pleased to acknowledge that Fenway Park's centennial is upon us. I am less pleased to confess that -- at the risk of offending any Red Sox fan who feels as if you have just spat on his or her great-grandfather's grave -- what I love about Fenway is, to be perfectly frank with you, nothing.

If you love it, love every single thing about it, good for you. I am very sorry, but not all of us do.

All right, now here comes the disclaimer where I give you a lot of yada-yada about how much I do like the city of Boston itself, the community, the Commons, heck, the whole Commonwealth, and have never in my life spent a bad hour there.

I have no grudge against the Red Sox in any way, shape or form. I am not a Yankees guy. I have admired the pride of New England folk ever since Hester Prynne took a high hard one, oh about letter-high. I have long liked Sweet Baby James and Marvelous Marvin and Tip and Yaz and Eck and El Tiante and Oil Can and Big Papi and the Pops and the Pats. I even thought for a few years that "Boston Legal" was the best show on TV.

If I belabor this point, it is out of self-preservation.

SI: A lyric to the little bandbox

I am no Boston basher by nature and have no desire to be branded as one. I was a ChiSox child, but liked the BoSox just fine. The first game Dad took me to was Sox vs. Sox, and darned if Ted Williams didn't wallop a home run. So did the pitcher, a guy named Jerry Casale whom I never laid eyes on thereafter.

To earn a living (if you can call it that), I got a newspaper job.

I have been to Fenway a couple dozen times. I saw Pudge behind the plate and Dwight in right. I interviewed Dom DiMaggio once. I interviewed Ted's kid, the one who deep-froze him. I became a Hall of Fame voter who did not vote for Jim Rice. I didn't care much for Bill Buckner, so I didn't much care when that ball went through his legs. I was in St. Louis on the 2004 night when the Red Sox took the World Series to reverse the Bambino curse.

I wrote about Harry Frazee selling Babe Ruth to New York for $100,000 so he could back a show called "No, No, Nanette." I promptly got a note from Harry Frazee III, saying no, no, that was a big fat lie because his grandfather did no such thing. "His theater money went into baseball," I was told.

When the park first went up, Bostonians undoubtedly felt like Kubla Khan must have when a stately pleasure-dome he did decree. For 1912, Fenway Park must have been such an architectural marvel, you'd think Howard Roark of "Fountainhead" fame designed it. I am sure the washrooms had indoor plumbing and everything modern. The seats in the grandstand were so large, they could comfortably accommodate men as large as 5-foot-5.

Little did they know that come April 20, 2012, there would be all kinds of wild changes in the world, like a manned spaceship to the moon, a black man in the White House and a woman maybe even being considered for membership at Augusta National. I applaud the fact that the cute bandbox at 4 Yawkey Way, Boston, 02215 is now the oldest venue for a professional athletic team in these United States.

It is in the news for turning 100. Willard Scott and Smuckers will no doubt salute it. It is also in the news becase of an outspoken, outlandish, outstanding (choose one) opinion expressed by a young fellow by the name of Luke Scott, a designated hitter (one of those post-1912 things) for the Tampa Bay Rays (ditto), who had the temerity to say of Fenway Park: "As a baseball player, going there to work, it's a dump."

Whoa, did his spit hit the fans.

You'd have thought he compared Fenway to the quake-struck Fukushima Daiichi nuke plant. You know, in a keep-out, run-for-your-lives kind of way. I grant you that it didn't help the kid's popularity any that Scott went on to say of Fenway's fans that "they're ruthless, they're vulgar, they cause trouble, they talk about your family, swear at you ... who likes that?" Uh, not me. The Real Housewives of New Jersey, maybe, but not me.

I neither adore nor abhor Fenway, but I believe its time has come and gone. I have seen the Yankees, Tigers, Giants, Orioles, White Sox and others erect fine new ballyards for future generations to enjoy. They have done so over the objections of every stubborn cuss who insists that his or her grandkids and great-grandkids must attend the old park just because I did and, oh, I love it so. Come on. Let the kids of April 20, 2022, and 2032 and 2102 have a pristine, up-to-the-minute place to watch the Sox, a place to create memories of their own.

Yes, yours is a "real" ballpark. I enjoyed the scene in "Moneyball" in which the team's owner takes Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) to the park to absorb its beauty. It was such a sweet scene in that true story, I almost wish it were true. Boston's boss interviewed Billy at his Florida home, not at the park.

SI: Baseball's oldest venue -- and still its best

I have been Googling a few interesting observations of late, finding quotes from ex-Sox who love the team, love the fans but, yes, may God forgive them, would love a new park.

I see the Massachusetts junior senator, Scott Brown, is taking a teasing about expressing his fondness for Fenway on its 100th anniversary after having devoted considerable effort at the beginning of this 21st century to having the Red Sox build a new park next door to the Patriots' one 'way out in Foxborough. It was apparently an error on his part, for those of you scoring at home.

A "dump," the word the Tampa Bay boy used, is a tad harsh. Bright gents like the baseball expert Peter Gammons and the Chicago columnist Rick Morrissey have applied that same tag to Wrigley Field in recent times, absent of malice. It is not about dissing the Cubs or their fans. It is about reminding them that the park has crummy plumbing, hungry rats and crumbling concrete. It is about ballplayers who must shower, shave and dress in locker rooms about as roomy as a Kardashian's closet.

"Baseball's Most Beloved Park" it reads on a sign by a Fenway doorway, or at least it did the last time I was there. It is a matter of opinion, not fact.

Let's let the Red Sox have the benefit of the doubt and concede that this claim is true. Let it be beloved. Let it be revered. Let it be blown to bits, then build a bigger, better, more beautiful Fenway Park, tall green left-field wall and all.

I love you, Boston. Don't hate me.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mike Downey.

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