The ballpark that time forgot
July 13, 1999
By Jamie Allen
(CNN) -- It's the kind of event that would make Norm from the TV show "Cheers" cry in his beer. For that matter, a lot of Bostonians will shed a tear when Fenway Park -- the Red Sox venue that's hosted Sox games since five days after Titanic sank in 1912 -- finally closes its doors for good.
And it's happening much to the dismay of longtime, long-suffering Sox fans who'd give up their precious clam chowder, lobster bakes, liberty and every tea party there ever was in exchange for a Red Sox World Series championship on Fenway's bucolic green field.
Alas, the team is well into plans for a new stadium, a more profitable one, to be built right next to Fenway Park. But for now, Boston and the Major Leagues will celebrate Fenway's storied past during baseball's annual All-Star Game on Tuesday night. Unless the baseball gods suddenly decide to be kind to Sox fans, it's the last time the mid-season classic will be played at the game's oldest park.
"This is going be the greatest," says Dan Shaughnessy, sportswriter for the Boston Globe. "My kids are going. It's really a thrill that they're having (the All-Star Game) here. The whole town's charged up."
Shaughnessy has a special connection to Fenway. He grew up in Groton, Massachusetts, and first attended a Sox game at the park in 1961, Carl Yastrzemski's rookie season. Now, as a writer who covers the Sox, he's penned several books about the team, most recently a tribute to what has served as their home for most of the 20th century.
"Fenway: A Biography in Words and Pictures," published in April by Houghton Mifflin, is Shaughnessy's collaboration with friend and Pulitzer Prize-winning Globe photographer Stan Grossfeld. It's a last look at the cracker-box stadium of green stands and a giant green left-field wall that's housed some of the most exciting and heartbreaking moments in sports.
'The place where your father was baptized'
The Red Sox' relationship with Bostonians is a unique one. No other sports franchise has so often stomped the hearts of its supporters, tantalized them with championships only to steal them away in the most agonizing ways.
And it all happened at Fenway Park, matched for age only by Detroit's Tiger Stadium, which also opened in 1912.
Fenway is where Babe Ruth pitched before he was the world's most famous slugger. In 1918, the year before Ruth was sold to the Yankees, the Sox won their last World Series, and the curse of the Bambino has plagued them ever since.
Fenway is where the Major Leagues' greatest hitter, Ted Williams, became the last man to hit over .400 in a season. It's where Williams, in his last at-bat ever in 1960, hit a home run.
It's where in the 1975 World Series, Sox catcher Carlton Fisk hit that dramatic Game Six-winning home run, the one recalled in the movie "Good Will Hunting." Fenway's where the arch-rival New York Yankees beat the Sox in a one-game playoff at the end of the 1978 season, thanks to a home run by lightweight shortstop Bucky Dent.
"There are spots in Fenway where you can sit and it could be 1934."
Fenway is also where generation after generation of baseball fans poured in to experience a rite of passage.
"It's the place where your father was baptized and you go there and get a chill," says Shaughnessy, who says everyone remembers their first visit to Fenway. "A tremendous amount of people tell me their stories about first time walking in and this expansive vast of green in front of them. It's often been compared to 'The Wizard of Oz' scene when it switches to color. That's the emotion for a lot of people."
Shaughnessy and Grossfeld have tried to capture that essence in their book, which features a foreword by Williams. "Game Day," a section of Shaughnessy and Grossfeld's collaboration, follows the progression of Fenway from sun-up, through batting practice, to the end of the ninth inning.
Another chapter focuses the lens on left field's 37-foot high wall known as the Green Monster, perhaps the Major Leagues most recognizable ballpark idiosyncrasy. There are sections on the All-Star Game and memories of Fenway, as well.
'A very humble genius'
Shaughnessy and Grossfeld are a unique combination for this project. While Shaughnessy has always been a Sox fan, Grossfeld grew up in the Bronx cheering for the Yanks. He later moved to Boston and can now be trusted by Red Sox faithful, Shaughnessy says.
The writer has kind words for his partner, who's won Pulitzers for his photojournalism in Ethiopia, at the United States-Mexican border and in Lebanon.
"He's a very humble genius," Shaughnessy says. "I was pretty much done with (writing about) Fenway. I had written a lot about it and had no need to go the well once again. But with Stan, there was no doubt because I knew what he would bring to it. The guy is just a genius, plus he loves baseball."
Baseball purists, no doubt, consider the Red Sox' desire to move out of Fenway to be another sign that baseball has no respect for its past. Shaughnessy says the team plans to build a new stadium by 2003 at a cost of $540 million. There's also a movement to retain part of Fenway's structure, including the Green Monster and the infield, to serve as "sort of a museum and arcade as you walk into the new place."
"There's populist movements of groups of zealot fans who want to preserve it," Shaughnessy says. "But the Red Sox are a private business and it's their house, really. They can do what they choose to do with it."
But for those seeking one last trip to Boston's baseball shrine, Shaughnessy says there's still plenty of time.
"The thing is, by the time they do what they say they're going to do, we'll probably all be dead so I don't really sense any urgency about it."
Baseball has been paying tribute to Fenway with its All-Star festivities, which began on the weekend and are to peak with Tuesday night's game.
Shaughnessy says each time he visits Fenway Park it's like stepping back in time to an age when baseball had never heard of artificial turf or luxury boxes.
"There are spots in Fenway where you can sit and it could be 1934," he says. "The scoreboard's hand operated ... the real grass ... it could be an earlier time. It's a connection to our past. It's overstated but I really think there's something to that with baseball fans."
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