by Crystal Swartz
SC Sports Editor
The oldest living ballpark in America celebrated its centennial on April 20, 2012. One hundred years ago, Fenway Park opened its doors and birthed a Red Sox nation. The 1912 Red Sox won their first home game against the New York Highlanders (who would change their name to the Yankees) and went on to win the ’12 World Series. Now fast-forward a century to the throwback setting of MLB’s version of a civil war reenactment. Wearing replica uniforms, the Red Sox and Yankees were again set to battle while immersed in the bustling Fenway atmosphere for an afternoon game in April.
The history of baseball carries time-honored traditions, earning its role as America’s pastime. While modern ballparks wear corporate names and replace peanut vendors for sushi terrace cafes, Fenway has preserved its apple pie charm. The green bandbox did get a little nip and tuck a few years back with the additions of seats above the Green Monster and HD video screens. To the delight of generations of fans, plans to demolish and rebuild a new Fenway in 2004 were soon thwarted after the franchise decided to honor the park’s rich memories of baseball’s past.
Over 200 Red Sox players and coaches accepted the franchise’s birthday invitations to return home. Cheering fans and hugging teammates, old and new alike, filled Fenway. Black and white film clips of early days played on the big screens. Old-timers Johnny Pesky (the Pesky Pole’s namesake) and Bobby Doerr rode wheelchairs onto the field. An emotional 92 year-old Pesky was brought to tears.
But it was beloved manager Terry Francona who received the loudest applause from the Fenway faithful. Initially, a salty Francona had declined the festivities because of personal attacks by the Boston press after he parted ways with the franchise after last season’s disappointing finish. But his ESPN broadcasting colleagues nudged him, and he ultimately showed up, he said, “To acknowledge the greatest fans in the world.” During his years as Boston skipper, Francona brought two World Series titles to a cursed city. When he stepped onto the field, the park roared and chanted “Tito!”
Former first daughter Caroline Kennedy threw out the first pitch, reenacting her great grandfather John Fitzgerald’s ceremonial toss exactly 100 years to the day. As birthday ceremonies came to an end, the long-standing rivals got down to work.
Perhaps the Red Sox forgot to make a wish before they blew out the 100 candles on Fenway Park’s birthday cake; for it was the Yankees that threw a game time bash inside the park. Yankees starting pitcher Ivan Nova, confident with a 14 game winning streak under his cap, was locked in the moment he took the mound. Boston’s starting pitcher Clay Buchholz gave up five homeruns before Boston manager Bobby Valentine yanked him in the seventh inning. Frustrated Red Sox fans chanted “We want Tito!” Although early in the season, Red Sox pitching has been shaky at best. But it’s always easier for fans to blame the outspoken newcomer Bobby V. for not “fitting in with the club.”
The Bronx Bombers spoiled the Boston baseball party with a 6-2 win. The glorious Fenway celebration faded into an afterthought as the Yankees’ pitching and hitting stole the spotlight. However, in baseball, the quantity of 162 games/season can soon erase a not so quality of an outing.
When the Red Sox faced the Yankees the following day, they weren’t hung over from the Fenway birthday bash. Boston bats came alive. It was the Yankees turn to have a weak performance by their starting pitcher Freddy Garcia. He gave up five runs and couldn’t make it out of the second inning. Fenway Park and its fans exhaled and gathered some pride back.
In the start of the sixth inning, the Red Sox had a commanding nine run lead over the Yankees. Fox Sports broke its coverage to switch coasts to something a little more interesting going on in the Seattle Mariners and Chicago White Sox game. White Sox pitcher Phil Humber was three outs away from becoming the 21st pitcher in MLB history to pitch a perfect game. Humber succeeded, White Sox players rushed the mound, and Mariners fans at Safeco Field gave him a proper standing ovation.
Fox Sports eventually switched back over to Boston. Bobby Valentine took the ball from starting pitcher Felix Doubront and handed it to relief pitcher Padilla, the first of three pitching changes to unfold in the seventh inning. Yankee Nick Swisher grand slammed and Mark Teixeira hit a three run homer, suddenly the score was 9-7. In the eighth inning, the Yankees scored another seven runs. After playing duck duck goose with his bullpen, Valentine tipped his cap to the angry boos from the Fenway mob. Big Poppy sat in the dugout in disbelief. Doubront hung a towel over his head; he couldn’t bear to watch his six innings of control just squandered. The Yankees stunned a city and earned the persevering win, with the final score 15-9.
A short time earlier, White Sox perfect-gamer Humber had notched his name into MLB history, but the Red Sox bullpen collapse managed to eclipse some of Humber’s glory, just like the sparkless Red sox had done to Fenway’s landmark recognition the day before. After the game, Valentine said, “ I think we’ve hit bottom. That’s what I told them after the game. If this isn’t bottom, then we’ll find some new ends to the earth I guess.”
The baseball gods cried for Boston on Sunday and bestowed a rainout, which postponed the final game of the first series against the Yankees.
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