About 15 years ago, there was talk that ol’ Fenway Park in Boston might be living its last days. The home of the Red Sox was built back in the day when baseball was played in parks, not stadiums and it seemed like Fenway might be the latest victim of out with the old and in with the new.
In the early 1900s, a baseball park wasn’t built all at once. The basic field dimensions and a modest grandstand were constructed for the grand opening day, but as more people began to come out to the games, over the decades that followed, more seats were added down the foul lines and in the outfield.
Baseball parks were fit into oddly shaped lots in the middle of existing neighborhoods. The right field line might end up being much further from home plate than the left field line. No two outfields were the same. Players would learn the eccentricities of how a ball hit off the outfield wall might ricochet off in an unusual direction.
What resulted was a beautiful hodgepodge of what a classic baseball park looked like, unlike the perfectly symmetrical stadiums that were built in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, with so little character. We in Chicago have examples of both. Beautiful Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs, a true timeless gem. And then there is the last of the badly designed modern ballparks, U.S. Cellular Field, home of the White Sox, with all of the character of a major airport mall.
The Red Sox Nation turned out to be very smart about their beloved Fenway. They kept it. They added as many seats as they could here and there. And they put aside any plans to tear it down and build something new that would never live up to the historic and imperfect park that they all loved.
In 1999, when the future fate of Fenway seemed grim, I flew my parents out to Boston to take in a few games one weekend. We wanted to experience Fenway before it was gone. The hurt of the tearing down of old Comiskey Park in Chicago, where the White Sox played for over 80 years, was still a fresh wound for us. Fenway, as one of the greatest baseball parks in the world, deserved a proper visit.
Yes, the seats are small and uncomfortable. And yes, some of them don’t face home plate, but instead some seemingly random point in center field. That’s okay. Fenway is baseball history.
And today it celebrates its 100th birthday. These photographs are from our 1999 visit, when we thought it might be gone soon. It’s a happy birthday indeed.