The Boston Red Sox celebrated what was once an unthinkable feat, Fenway Park’s 100th celebration in a near-hour long pregame ceremony yesterday afternoon. Many pundits (with Bill Simmons, Ted Sarandis, being among them), and current Boston mayor Ton Menino were in favor of replacing the legendary field with a new park after former CEO John Harrington said in 1999 that it was not worth fixing up. But that was before a new ownership group led by John W. Henry, Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner took over 10 years ago and spent hundreds of millions of dollars into renovating and making it the #1 tourist attraction in Boston that it continues to be to this day.
On the day of April 20, 1912, at 3:00 p.m. EST, the Red Sox played the New York Highlanders (who would become the Yankees a year later) at Fenway for the first time. They won that game. Yesterday, however, they started the game at exactly the same time 100 years ago but lost 6-2. Still, the memories of yesterday will be the star-studded ceremony of this small but significant landmark.
There were performances by famed maestros John Williams and Keith Lockhart, a ceremonial first pitch thrown out by Menino in honor of the first mayor to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on this day 100 years back, John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, and was joined for the pitch by two great-grandchildren, Caroline Kennedy (JFK’s daughter), and Tom Fitzgerald.
But the real thrill and tearjerker for some came when over 200 former, recently and long retired Red Sox players came out of the center field tunnel in uniform to salute Red Sox Nation one more time. Some were in wheelchairs like Sox greats Johnny Pesky (92 years young) and Bobby Doerr, while others like Mike Lowell, Pedro Martinez, and Jason Varitek look like they could still play—and the way the Sox are struggling, that wouldn’t be such a bad idea right now.
Disappointingly, Curt Schilling didn’t make it, and neither did former GM Theo Epstein, two vital contributors to Boston’s most recent two World Series titles in 2004 and 2007. But the biggest cheers went to other Sox heroes in those championship runs, a very excited Pedro and former manager Terry Francona, who initially turned away the invitation to this celebration due to the smearing some in the organization did to him in the Boston media in the offseason (and the lack of the front office to get to the bottom of it). But Francona said he showed up for the fans, and that was a very wise choice, as he got a standing ovation and chants of “Tito, Tito!.”
The other notable, very loud and heartwarming cheers came early on when former villain Bill Buckner walked out to the field to first base to nothing but cheers. Despite that one costly error he made in 1986, he was a Red Sox great and it was about time the fans got to recognize him for it. Other Sox greats like Dennis Eckersley, Bill “The Spaceman” Lee, Luis Tiant and Jerry Remy got loud cheers as well.
Not so wise was the fact that someone gave an apparently sauced up Kevin Millar a microphone! Sure, he got a chance to “Cowboy Up” the crowd as he and Pedro led them in a toast to Fenway in what was to be the largest ever toast according to the Guinness Book of World Records. But someone should’ve turned Millar’s mic off once he started bringing up Karim Garcia, an ex-Yankee hitter Pedro once beaned—the New York Yankees themselves respectfully were watching the whole celebration from their dugout steps. Pedro exasperatedly said, “Who?” and soon after. Millar admitted it was getting “awkward” and wrapped that part of the ceremony up
Thank goodness there was one special (and more classy) moment left, when Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk, Pesky and Doerr got to officially end the ceremony and get the game going with the two most excitable words in baseball, “Play ball!”
In all, it was a ceremony unlike any other in Red Sox history, where generations of former Sox greats and other notable former players got to salute the fans one more time and meet up in the diamond (with former catchers like Fisk and Bob Montgomery gathering behind the plate). It was reminiscent of the unforgettable sight of the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park, which starred a wheelchair-bound Ted Williams being surrounded by the game’s best stars.
Will Fenway Park last another 100 years? I doubt it. On this day, nobody was thinking about that (or the lousy game the Sox played after the ceremony ended). Looking at Fisk, Dwight Evans, Lou Merloni, Nomar Garciaparra, Bill Miller, Mike Timlin, Rico Petrocelli, Jim Lonborg, Bruce Hurst, Oil Can Boyd, Billy Conigliaro (the younger brother of the late, great Tony Conigliaro), and Hall of Famer Carl “Yaz” Yastrzemski, amongst many others, one could only take away nothing but positive memories on a day like this, ones that make you remember why you formed a lifelong bond with this storied franchise in the first place.