As with any centenarian, people talk about Fenway Park with respect. “To come out here, it really is wonderful,” says Red Sox historian Dick Bresciani.
He says anyone’s first visit to the home of the Red Sox is one to remember.
“The first time into Fenway, so many fans have walked up the ramp right over there, or right over there,” Bresciani says. “They come in from underneath and they say look at that wall, look at that grass, on a nice day people are amazed.”
Nothing's constant except change
Bresciani, or “Bresh” as he’s known at the ballpark, has been with the Red Sox for 40 years. He’s been a fan for even longer. Bresh says that the unusual nooks and crannies of Fenway — the deep center field triangle, the monstrous left field wall, seats that are close to the action — these hallmarks have not changed since his father took him to Fenway as a boy.
“It’s still basically the same watching a game as your grandfather did,” says Bresciani.
At 100 years old, Fenway feels like the baseball park your grandfather knew as a child. But this is not because it has remained the same. Glenn Stout, author of "Fenway 1912: The Birth of a Ballpark, a Championship Season, and Fenway’s Remarkable First Year," says that what makes Fenway so special is that it has constantly changed.
“That’s one of the reasons that Fenway Park survives today. It has never been preserved under glass like an antique,” Stout says. “[For most of its life] it was seen in a very utilitarian, very functional way, so if it needed to be changed, if it needed to be adapted, they did that.”
More seating and a big green wall
Adaptations to Fenway started as early as the park’s first season. Nearly 12,000 seats were added after the park’s opening in anticipation of the October 1912 World Series, which the Red Sox won.
Changes to the park continued throughout the years, including a complete renovation after a devastating fire in 1934, the addition of lights in 1947 and the complete replacement of the dented tin left field "monster" wall in 1975.
“Beginning in 1967, when the Red Sox made the World Series, and then in '75 when they made the World Series again, that put Fenway in the spotlight,” says Stout. “People suddenly looked at it and saw that it was a classic ballpark, saw that it was unique and different, something special.”
An influence across baseball
At the time, it was popular for teams to build cookie-cutter multipurpose stadiums. “In contrast to those other stadiums, Fenway Park looked great,” says Stout.
Then, in the early '90s, the Baltimore Orioles decided to build a classic ballpark, and they used Fenway as a model.
“The building of Camden Yards sparked a revival in ballpark building and of so-called retro ballparks — ballparks that tried to imitate Fenway Park,” Stout says.
And imitate they did. Just visit Pittsburgh, Cincinnati or San Francisco, and you’ll find a lot of elements in common with Fenway, such as an asymmetrical field, exposed brick and concrete and a view of the city skyline.
Turnabout is fair play, says the ref
But get this: As Fenway approached 100, it looked to its imitators for new ideas.
“A lot of things that current management has done with Fenway Park has been imitating the retro ballparks that were first built to imitate Fenway,” Stout says.
For example, outside Camden Yards is Eutaw Street, directly behind the right field wall, where fans can buy hotdogs, beer, programs and other stuff. Fenway’s version of Eutaw Street: Yawkey Way. “That’s something the retro ballparks did as an innovation and now Fenway has copied that,” Stout says.
Honoring the history and the historian
So a ballpark can be a decade-old, or a century, but what really matters? The fans.
The Red Sox announcer tells the crowd that something special is happening at this game: “Ladies and gentlemen, tonight we proudly recognize a member of the Red Sox family who is celebrating his 40th anniversary with the organization. He’s been a part of some of the biggest moments in franchise history, and is an encyclopedia for all things Boston Red Sox.”
On this night, the Sox are paying tribute to Dick Bresciani. Bresh winds up and throws the ball to David Ortiz: a fitting reminder that even after 100 years, the game always starts with the first pitch.