April 20th is upon us, and although that date is notable for all sorts of reasons, it's also Fenway Park's birthday. The oldest active MLB ballpark is on the National Register of Historic Places as of March 2012, which means that fortunately for us it isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
Finding contemporary articles on Fenway's very first Opening Day (4/20/1912) can be a bit difficult due to the event being overshadowed by a much larger, far more tragic occurrence -- R.M.S. Titanic sank overnight between April 14th and April 15th of that year, with newspaper coverage for the week covering this major story. There was, however, quite a to-do upon the opening of the ballpark, as Boston, then the fifth-largest city in the United States, was long overdue for a then-modern ballpark. The Red Sox were making their home at the Huntington Avenue Grounds at the time, which was a wooden structure and, combined with large crowds, was a natural fire hazard. Moving to a more fire-resistant structure was a natural decision, especially for a team playing in a city that touted itself as highly civilized, and although Fenway wasn't the first "modern" stadium in Major League Baseball, in 1912 it was undeniably state-of-the-art, even without the 1934 improvements Tom Yawkey would add later.
Fenway was actually designed with improvements and expansions in mind. Per the Boston Globe on Fenway's 100th birthday in 2012:
They were not, of course, the only team in town. The Braves, who had been around since 1876 under various names (e.g. Beaneaters, Rustlers, Doves), played at the South End Grounds, which was so small (5,000 seats) that the National Leaguers had to borrow Fenway for the 1914 Series after their ‘‘miracle’’ club came from last place on July 18 to run away with the pennant. The Braves had their own place the next year, a 40,000-seat ‘‘wigwam’’ that was so spacious the Sox used it when they won the 1915 and 1916 World Series.
Yet there was ample room for Fenway to expand because architect James McLaughlin had planned it that way.
‘‘The smartest decision they made was to make the foundation substantial enough to support a second deck at some future time,’’ said [Glen] Stout. When new owner Tom Yawkey rebuilt the park in 1934, adding 15,000 seats and raising the left-field wall to 37 feet, the layout and dimensions didn’t change, and they essentially still haven’t.
Duffy’s Cliff may have been leveled, but fans still sit atop the wall, as they did in 1912.
‘‘Fans knew then that those were cool seats,’’ said Stout. ‘‘It took 90 years for ownership to come to the same conclusion.’’
Fenway did get an upper deck in 1946, although its most famous additions were part of the Yawkey renovation in 1934, when the manual scoreboard (with lights indicating balls, strikes, and outs, a revolutionary feature for the time) was added and the Green Monster was elevated to its mighty 37 feet. Official Monster seats didn't appear until 2003, but as the above photo reveals fans were sitting on and around it from the very beginning.
Despite Fenway Park having pretty much the same architectural layout as it did in 1912 due to being built with consideration for future growth and expansions, certain elements have long since vanished, the most famous of these being Duffy's Cliff, which ran along the front of the Monster and was roughly ten feet high at its "peak." Left fielder Duffy Lewis became so skilled at handling this particular ballpark feature that it was named after him. (Photos of the Cliff, which was flattened out in 1934 and finally completely removed after renovations in 2004, can be seen here.)
As for Fenway's first official MLB game? It went pretty much exactly the way most visitors to this site would have wanted it to, with a 7-6 win in extra innings over the New York Highlanders, who would go on to become the most reviled organization in sports history to most New Englanders. The game's box score, first printed in the Boston Globe on April 21st, 1912, has an interesting detail:
There were no hits in this game for more than two bases. Although this could be written off due to this being the Dead-Ball Era, when home run leaders would frequently top out at 10 dingers per year, the article accompanying the box score tells us something different:
Before the game started, the crowd broke into the outfield and remained behind the ropes, forcing the teams to make ground rules, and all hits going to two bases.
This ruling was a big disadvantage to the home team, for the Highland laddies never hit for more than a single, while three of Boston’s hits went into the crowd, whereas with a clear field they would have gone for three-base drives and possibly home runs, and would have landed the home team a winner before the ninth inning.
Tris Speaker eventually sent the Boston fans home happy in the bottom of the 11th with a single past the shortstop, but it appears that the crowd made getting to that point more than a little difficult for both teams. Fortunately for the players, we now live in an era where it's considered far too dangerous to enter the field of play during the game and fans need to be reminded that batted balls, stray bats, and even pieces of pizza can come flying at them without warning.
Well, maybe the pizza is just restricted to Fenway.