Americana: From fen to Fenway

The view of the Green Monster at Fenway from right field an hour before the game.

It started as a fen, a sort of wetland layered deep in peat.

Its water flowed in from the Charles River, forming a large saturated basin that leaked into the sea at low tide. But when humans began to congregate in large numbers around Boston, their sewage turned the wetland into a stinky civic problem. Fens don’t ever drain completely, and the half-decayed detritus builds up.

Bostonians began to reclaim the area shortly after the Revolutionary War. It was soon filled, dammed with the remaining wetland scrubbed clean by the tides. Bostonians began transforming The Fens into an inviting area for Bostonians to enjoy some sunshine. How better to enjoy sunshine than watching a baseball game?

So in 1912, Red Sox owner, John Taylor, built a baseball stadium for his team in The Fens. Fenway Park held 27,000 fans. The Red Sox won the World Series, (the pro-baseball playoffs) their first year in their new home.

John Taylor promptly sold the team to Joseph Lannin, who signed a man named George Herman Ruth. The Babe was born into Major League baseball in Fenway Park.

The common notion in big league baseball is that pitchers can’t hit. Babe Ruth started out as a fantastic pitcher. But Ruth wanted to play every day and pitchers rotate play every few days. He changed to outfield and began earning one of his nicknames, “The Sultan of Swat.” In the seven years Babe Ruth played for the Red Sox, they won three World Series.

But after winning the World Series in 1918, Babe Ruth was sold to the New York Yankees for $100,000. The move launched a gigantic rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox, helped the Yankees become one of the winningest teams in baseball and birthed the 86-year-long World Series win dearth nicknamed “The Curse of the Bambino.”

Though largely associated with baseball, Fenway Park has been home to professional football teams, too. The Boston Redskins and the Boston Yanks each played four seasons there and the Boston Patriots made Fenway home from 1963 to 1968.

But as football came and went, the Red Sox continued at Fenway. Though the park didn’t produce any World Series championships again until 2004, it had no shortage of superstars. You don’t have to be a baseball history buff to recognize a few of the Red Sox hall of Famers like Cy Young, Ted Williams and Carl Yastremski.

My husband, Jeff, has wanted to watch a baseball game in Fenway Park since he was a kid. He has grieved that he was in a parking lot traffic jam at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park the only time Willie Mays hit a home run at a game he attended. He heard it on the radio in the parking lot. I realized that baseball is like a deep-seeded tradition, like presents on Christmas or flags on the Fourth of July to many Americans.

We had visited Boston in two other summers, but the Red Sox were not in town. So this was the year of fulfilling his dream. He arranged the trip so that we would pull into the Boston area on the afternoon before the Red Sox played the last of a series against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Fenway.

We sat in the right side of the field, facing “The Green Monster” the iconic 37.2 foot-tall left field wall.

Though Fenway Park was one of the worst-attended parks in the midst of its lengthy slump, fans have enthusiastically returned to set records for consecutive sell outs. The park is the second smallest in Major League Baseball, seating only 37,949. The lowest price tickets cost $36 apiece.

The seats packed with a melting pot of ethnicities who roared their pleasure after the national anthem and the symbolic first pitch. Hot dogs, ice cream, beer and other fanfare vanished with the innings. Roars and groans ebbed and flowed with the fortunes of the Red Sox. The pitch of the party atmosphere continued inning after inning, though things looked bad for the Red Sox.

I captured one of two home runs Xander Bogaerts hit over the Green Monster on camera. Though the Red Sox lost the game, we still relished our slice of American Pie.

Only in America, God bless it.