By TERRY LYONS, Editor-in-Chief
BOSTON – This ball field – Fenway Park – opened its doors on April 12, 1912. It’s hosted World Series games, NFL football games, rock shows with Bruce Springsteen or The Rolling Stones. Fenway’s played host to the NHL Bruins and the Winter Classic, it’s hosted Irish Hurling and strange action sports events of ice and speed skating. Fenway had The Game last November between Harvard and Yale and it always shines brightly on Patriots’ Day when the doors open for an 11:00am game on Boston Marathon Monday.
We’ve seen Ted Wiliams and Yaz play here, Impossible Dreams and Big Papi. We’ve pretty much seen it all in all kinds of weather, too, hot and cold, dreary and perfect summer nights. The experiences in this park have become a thing of beauty, a way of life. Fenway Park means more to many New Englanders than any other place, including their place of birth or their own hometown or address.
Fenway Park is the greatest place on earth, and only Wrigley Field or Madison Square Garden can be compared.
Today, 107 years into its existence, Fenway Park enjoyed its best day ever.
While it wasn’t a World Series clincher nor did today include an iconic highlight moment like David “Big Papi” Ortiz’ homer in Game 2 of the 2013 American League Championship series, the one that capped a 6-5 Sox comeback and made Officer Steve Horgan a household name and cell phone photo celebrity cop for all of New England, today became a day which evolved into one of the greatest days ever for this ballpark.
The backdrop of the day is paved with the fact it was only the continuation of a suspended game (beyond a single day after said game was suspended) and this hadn’t occurred in more than 50 years.
It’s safe to assume that on August 4, 1968, no one in the Red Sox organization, nor any sports executive on the planet, thought the simple but ingenious thoughts that went into today’s love affair with the Red Sox and this ballpark.
That August 4, ’68 day of yesteryear, when the California Angels returned to Fenway to play the conclusion of their suspended game, our history books now show it was only twenty days before all hell would be breaking loose at the Democratic National Convention, out in Chicago. The original game date, June 13, 1968 came only a week after Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles in a God awful Summer of ’68 that no one would ever want to re-live.
The historical data is supplied as a way to measure the time, the time that is marked by life, death, war, turmoil, controversy, disasters, crisis, and change. The time is also marked by BASEBALL.
Generations of families come here in summertime. Our children’s, children’s, children will come to Fenway Park and they’ll be taught to love the joint. They’ll be taught to love the Red Sox, their team and their own wonderful players. Fenway Park is their home and no other Major League Baseball club has a home even half as great. But, the park was on display today in a way never seen before.
The suspension of the Sox vs Kansas City Royals game on a rain-soaked August 7th Thursday night was treated with a Sox Front Office hocus-pocus which turned rain drops into gold today, with two weeks fermentation time.
The ideas and the game plan was quite simple:
- 1:05pm start, Gates open at 11am
- Kids Under 18 get in for free.
- Adults gain admission to the park for $5
- The money generated would be donated to The Jimmy Fund, coming a day after WEEI-Radio and NESN combined in a radio/telethon that raised $3,523,206 (at last count – 8/22/19 at 2:22pm).
- Open the Park, let it shine.
- Fans were allowed to walk the perimeter of the field on the warning track in the two hours before the game.
- Hot Dogs and other concessions were discounted.
- $1 for a Hot Dog!
- Great music was played as the magic unfolded.
- GA seating allowed fans to sit anywhere, from the Green Moster to the Front Rows to the seats by the “Pesky Pole” (which we chose) to shady areas under the over-hangs, which were 10-degrees cooler than the 86-degree, hot humid sunlit areas of the park.
With the simple ideas behind today’s event in place, not a soul could predict what might happen, and we asked:
- Would people take a day off work and show up?
- How many?
- How long would the continuation of the game take?
- Would it end quickly?
- Might there be night baseball played if the 4-4 tie wasn’t to be broken for quite some time?
- Who would pitch?
- What state-of-mind would the Red Sox be in after their recent two-game skid against the Philadelphia Phillies?
- What state-of-mind would the Kansas City Royals be in after an 8-1 loss at Baltimore last night and a scheduled flight to Cleveland this afternoon?
- Just, what – on Earth – would happen?
After a rather strange – you have to use the word SURREAL – morning, the park was readied and everyone from security guards to ticket-takers to concessionaires to ushers to grounds crew members to media to players and managers just wondered what was going to happen, being that no one had experienced this type of thing in some 50-plus years of baseball.
Then, with all the wonder, maybe even doubt in place … They Opened the Gates!
Now, this reporter has been to five Olympics, and covered the very World Series and ALCS games mentioned above; Covered Michael Jordan in the NBA Finals and All-Star games and Slam-Dunk contests; Covered the NHL Stanley Cup Finals and PGA golf tournament thriller; Covered the games and traveled the world following sports of all kinds. While the level of play, the high stakes, the stakes were often much more important, bigger and better, NEVER, EVER, EVER have I seen the magic that was created in this ballpark today.
It would take galleries and galleries of photo/art exhibits to show the thousands of images taken today – some were selfiesm but more often, the memory was captured when someone handed an iPhone to the fan next to them and asking for a favor. Every single request was met with a smile.
Why? Let us count the reasons:
- THEY WERE ON THE (FRICKIN’) FIELD at FENWAY PARK!
- THEY WERE TOUCHING THE GREEN MONSTER!
- THEY WERE TOUCHING PESKY POLE!
- THEY WERE TOUCHING THE GRASS!
- THEY WERE WALKING IN FRONT OF THE DUGOUT!
As the time moved on, it just kept getting better. Mothers and Fathers strolling with their little ones in STROLLERS! Kids and fans ON the warning track! Kids smiling, skipping, happy as could be. It was so heart-warming and precious.
Sensing and seizing the moment, dozens of players did what they do best, they let down the guard of being a professional baseball player and simply became people, remembering what it was like the first time they ever stepped on a field at a pro park. It only took a few minutes and the PLAYERS were right out there with the fans, strolling around, or stretching on the field, just feet, maybe a yard from the very track the fans were strolling. The players signed baseballs, and t-shirts and hats, and they smiled smiles that will remain etched in our memories until the day we die.
It was THAT GOOD!
The Boston Red Sox organization took a nothing event, an inconvenient fact of the rule book that governs the game and dictated that it must be played until conclusion – worthy rules to be sure – and the Sox made it a slice of HEAVEN. They took a lemon of a situation and turned it into Dom Perignon.
And, it kept getting BETTER and BETTER and BETTER, and, for the first time ever – no one wanted the game to start!
The fact of the matter was, had to start and it did at 1:05pm, without player introductions or a National Anthem or any of the usual pre-game ceremonial 1st pitches. Normalcy returned to the game operation at Fenway and it was a No Frills return to the 10th inning of a 4-4 game, delayed 14 days, 14 hours and 18-minutes, or 21,018 minutes, depending on how you like to measure your time.
Boston’s Josh Taylor retired Kansas City in 1-2-3 fashion and the Red Sox came up to bat in the bottom of the 10th.
With Richard Lovelady on the mound for KC, Boston’s Christian Vazquez cracked a double to left-center field. Sam Travis was sent in to pinch hit, but we was intentionally walked to set-up the any base force out. Chris Owings pinch ran for Vazquez and Brock Holt stepped up to the plate.
A crack of the bat later, and the game was over!
Holt singled down the left field line, scoring Owings, a guy who wasn’t even on the team when the game began. The Red Sox won, 5-4.
The fans cheered and the smiles continued as the players mobbed Holt and Owings and it became a bit more of a typical game-winning, walk-off celebration.
Of course, the euphoria of the walk-off victory two weeks in the making won’t last all that long as victories have come less frequently for the Sox this season than last and the prospects of making a run to the MLB Playoffs seems somewhere on the slimmest side of none.
But, just as reality set back into place in the clubhouse and as the standings were updated on the Green Monster scoreboard in left field of this great park, the large garage door in center field was opened and thousands and thousands of fans – kids with their parents, aunts, uncles, care-givers and guardians – all filtered back to the warning track with an open invitation to RUN THE BASES of Fenway.
The smiles returned tenfold, the magical day here at Fenway was reborn again, and for a good 45 minutes as the children ran from first to second to third and home again. Touching home plate at their home park, a place they will remember and love forever.
Everyone was safe!