Homers, Hot Dogs and History

Boston’s Iconic Fenway Park

Baseball stadiums – not many entertainment venues are as unique, varied and captivating as the hallowed homes that host the players and teams that participate in the American national pastime. Baseball stadiums range wildly in many different aspects. Some are new and very modern with all the newest and latest amenities, while others are very old, with a certain charm that can only be found in a structure built in a bygone era.
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The physical layouts and designs of these buildings also span a plethora of varying options. From domes with retractable roofs to cavernous open air stadiums, no two baseball stadiums are exactly the same. The very nature and history of the game of baseball ensures the uniqueness of the parks in which it is played.

There exists a certain amount of flexibility with regards to the dimensions of the playing field in baseball, allowing designers of stadiums to create some very interesting and unique layouts. Unlike with other sports, where the field dimensions are firm and the layout dictates a certain stadium shape, baseball has always had unique stadium layouts. One of the biggest reasons for the added emphasis on the physical appearance of a baseball stadium is the laidback pace at which the game of baseball is played; frequent pauses in the action mean that spectators aren’t always solely focused on the game. A greater importance is thus placed on creating a venue which is comfortable and ideal for watching baseball, while still being welcoming and conducive to the creation of a pleasant atmosphere for the spectator – because in baseball, more so than in any other sport, the stadium is part of the experience.

When it comes to classic charm and a unique environment, few stadiums ever built can compare to the ageless wonder that is the home of Major League Baseball’s 2018 World Series Champions, the Boston Red Sox. Fenway Park is a stadium that’s been described as iconic and historic.

Fenway Park is the oldest ballpark still in use by a major league team. Located in the “Fens” neighbourhood of Boston, Massachusetts, Fenway Park was built in 1911 and opened for use in 1912. This iconic stadium is proof that with proper care and upgrading, even our oldest entertainment venues can serve the roles they were designed for even after many decades of games, concerts and gatherings.

“America’s most beloved ballpark,” Fenway Park was built in 1911 by then Boston Red Sox owner John I. Taylor to replace an 11,000 seat stadium that was built out of wood and described as “rickety.” The historic home of the Red Sox came to be out of fears shared by both the owner and the City of Boston that the Huntington Avenue Grounds, then the home of the ball club, would burn down and embarrass the entire city.

Originally, Fenway Park took only a little over a year to build, costing all of $650,000, and when it opened it boasted a seating capacity of 27,000, which more than doubled the previous capacity of the Huntington Avenue Grounds. Ironically, the long-held fear of fire would be proven valid on a couple of occasions – the first in 1926, when a fire burned down a large part of the left field bleachers that was then left in ruins until 1933.

The bleachers were rebuilt in 1933 as part of a massive construction project undertaken by the new owner of the Red Sox, Thomas A. Yawkey, who wanted to update and expand the already 20-year-old stadium. The seating capacity was expanded to almost 34,000 seats and the most iconic and memorable feature of Fenway was added: the 37 foot tall left field fence. The fence was added because previously, games were visible to passersby on the street and residents of the buildings along Lansdowne Street. Mr. Yawkey wanted to prevent Bostonians from watching their Red Sox without paying for a ticket, hence the iconic green wall came to be.

Unfortunately, fire would once again ravage Fenway Park, destroying much of the construction and the wall. The park was immediately rebuilt and the “Green Monster,” as it would come to be known after a green coat of paint replaced advertisements in 1946, would receive another of its iconic features: a hand-operated scoreboard at its base.

For the next three or four decades, the home of the Red Sox would see few changes. Minor improvements were made during this time period, such as the addition of an electronic scoreboard in 1975, but it would be another decade before any other improvements were made. In 1984, 44 luxury boxes were added as well as seating on the roof in right field. The scoreboard that was installed in 1975 was also replaced in 1988 with a new video scoreboard.

The stadium would start to take on its modern day appearance after another change of ownership. John Henry, Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner were committed to not only keeping Fenway Park but to modernizing it and making it as good an entertainment venue as possible after they purchased the team in the early 2000s. In the two decades prior to the aforementioned ownership group taking over, there had been discussions about building a new Fenway Park to replace the aging icon.

Over the next decade, the group would complete a number of construction projects to refurbish and expand America’s most beloved ballpark. One of the best seating locations of any sporting or entertainment venue in North America – perhaps even the world – the Green Monster seats were added above the iconic left field fence as part of the modernization of the park. As sportscaster Steve Berthiaume put it, “There is no seat in baseball that gives you the view like that from atop the Green Monster.”

From 2002 to 2011, many small tweaks and additions would take place. The addition of seats in many spots around the park as well as the upgrading of services and amenities would make the oldest ballpark in use a must-see for any baseball fan and a bucket list trip for any diehard Boston Red Sox fan.

The current seating capacity of the park is just under 38,000 for baseball games, more than 10,000 seats over its original capacity when it opened 106 years ago. All the improvements have made for a venue that’s not only welcoming but also modern, while still preserving all the history and splendour of this 100-year-old cathedral of baseball. Bart Giamatti, the seventh Commissioner of Major League Baseball, may have put it best: “As I grew up, I knew that as a building (Fenway Park) was on the level of Mount Olympus, the Pyramid at Giza, the nation’s capital, the Czar’s Winter Palace, and the Louvre — except, of course, that it is better than all those inconsequential places.”

In spite of its age, the old ballpark built in the “Fens” still attracts an enthusiastic gathering before every Red Sox home game. Yawkey Way is closed prior to games and fans can mingle and shop outside before entering the shrine to worship their favourite players in an atmosphere that’s taken over 100 years, several owners, millions of die-hard fans and one amazing stadium to create.

Fenway Park serves as a prime example of the longevity that can be achieved from a building if it’s maintained and updated through its lifecycle. As a stadium, it’s been the scene of many memorable and historical moments and that’s due, in large part, to its long lifespan. Baseball stadiums are unique and hold a certain charm that most other entertainment venues simply can’t match. Even within that unique group of structures, Fenway Park distinguishes itself as one of the most unique and charming stadiums, reflected in the ballpark’s being named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

After this past season, the ownership will have to make yet another cosmetic upgrade to the park, however. When Fenway Park opens for its 107th season in the spring of 2019, it will boast a brand new World Series Championship banner, an upgrade the ownership and the fan base are all undoubtedly eagerly awaiting.

September 19, 2019, 1:41 PM EDT