AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block.
The Boston Red Sox take on the New York Yankees tomorrow at Fenway Park. The game comes 100 years to the day after their first matchup at the very same ballpark. Fans jammed an open house at Fenway today to wish the park a happy 100th birthday.
NPR's Tovia Smith has this look at Major League Baseball's oldest and, for many, most beloved ballpark.
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TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: It's hard to pinpoint exactly what it is about Fenway.
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SMITH: This lyric little bandbox, says John Updike gushed.
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SMITH: Fans coo about its magic, its mystique and its soul.
ED CARPENTER: I love this place. I mean, it's not mortar and bricks and seats. It's...
SMITH: Even a grown man like Ed Carpenter...
CARPENTER: I'm going to start tearing up. If you'll bear with me.
SMITH: ...still gets weak in the knees recalling his first time here.
CARPENTER: We walked up this ramp right behind home plate and I can still see it. Everything was green, emerald green. I remember going - it was love at first sight.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Everybody quiet now here at Fenway Park. One on one to Williams.
SMITH: Those were the years of the Ted Sox, the famous lefty slugging them up and over Fenway's right field wall until his very last at-bat.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And there's a long drive to deep right. That ball is going and it is gone. A home run for Ted Williams.
JOHN CORBETT: This is - this is pretty cool. I got goosebumps.
SMITH: Nineteen year old construction worker, John Corbett felt it trying to bang out a kink in Fenway's same old metal doors that once opened up for Pedro, Big Papi and the Babe.
CORBETT: A lot of history here. That's what's the cool thing about it. It's one of a kind.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And now the Boston Red Sox.
SMITH: Today, the players are new, but Fenway's right foul line is still marked by Pesky's Pole, the old Citgo sign still shines over the park and the iconic Green Monster still keeps score in left field.
LOU LUCIER: Today, when I walk in the park, I don't feel no different at all.
SMITH: At 94, the oldest living Sox player, Lou Lucier, can still remember taking the mound for his first Fenway game in 1943.
LUCIER: Oh, Jesus, it didn't feel too good.
SMITH: To a pitcher especially, that Green Monster in left field loomed large.
LUCIER: That fence is so damned close, you get on the mound and you turn around it seems like it's at second base.
SMITH: Even worse, all the nooks and crevices in the monster and that funky triangle deep in center field made Fenway like a pinball machine.
LUCIER: I thought, what the heck kind of a baseball park is this? The way that ball bounces off that wall. Gee.
CARPENTER: This is probably my favorite section of the ballpark.
SMITH: Today, Ed Carpenter leads Fenway tours up to the new seats on top of the Green Monster.
CARPENTER: What do you think? Pretty neat?
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SMITH: During games, inside the wall, three people in just about eight feet of space still change the score by hand.
CARPENTER: Only way to see what's happening here at the ballpark. Look at the words, at bat. It looks like a mail slot. Those are peepholes.
SMITH: It was through one of those peepholes that a camera captured Carlton Fisk in the '75 World Series waving his line drive to stay right.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: ...left field. If it stays fair, it's gone. Home run. The Red Sox win.
SMITH: The Fenway Baseball has had highs, from stunning strike-outs thrown by Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez to balls blasted by Jim Rice and Carl Yastrzemski.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: There goes a ground ball. Base hit. Number 3,000. Yastrzemski's got it and all hell breaks loose at Fenway Park.
SMITH: But sit anywhere at Fenway from the grandstand on down to the first base line and you can also feel decades of heartache seeping from the seats.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Finally.
SMITH: Losing in the post-season to the Cardinals in '67, the Mets in '86 and the Yankees in '78.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Home run. Home run for Bucky Dent. Home run and the Yankees win it, three to two.
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SMITH: The thing about a park as small as Fenway, fans literally become part of the game.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Boo. Go back to Florida.
SMITH: Dis a player here and he could actually answer you.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Bye-bye, baby. Yeah, you hear me.
SMITH: It is as intimate, says fan Dan Wilson, as it is intense.
DAN WILSON: Every game is electric and you can feel that. The ballpark itself is, you know, the soul of the city.
SMITH: Shoehorned in the center of Boston, Fenway has also hosted high school kids playing football. FDR and JFK campaigned here. Duke Ellington, Bruce Springstein and Paul McCartney sang here.
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SMITH: You could call it an accident of history or divine intervention that Fenway has lived to see 100.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: The future of Fenway doesn't look too good.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: The Fenway death watch has officially commenced.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: This ballpark probably won't be here in just a couple years, but...
SMITH: Fenway barely escaped the wrecking ball in the '60s when massive new concrete doughnuts were all the rage. By the time small became big and retro was new again in the '90s and Fenway facsimiles like Camden Yards were all the rage, the real Fenway was falling apart and owners had given up on it.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: It's time to look for some alternatives. And, economically, we need the revenue of a new stadium to complete.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: Babe Ruth pitched here.
WILSON: Help save Fenway.
SMITH: Back then, Fenway faithful like Dan Wilson were a minority.
WILSON: When it's gone, it's gone, folks.
We were vilified for a number of years there. We were standing in the way of a shiny, new stadium. We were made fun of. We were looked at as being just dreamers.
SMITH: Indeed, plenty of more ornate ballparks like Ebbets Field had already been raised. Fenway's red brick exterior was so unimpressive when Roger Clemens first arrived, he didn't believe he could be in the right place and he asked his cabbie to turn around.
By 2002, when the Sox were sold, Larry Lucchino and his partners were the only bidders promising to resuscitate Fenway rather than replace it.
LARRY LACCHINO: We made everyone who worked on the ballpark take the Fenway Park equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath, which - rule one, do no harm.
SMITH: Over 10 years, the Sox managed to maintain Fenway's field while squeezing in thousands of new seats a handful or 100 at a time atop the Green Monster on a new right field roof, behind home plate and in new rows on the field.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And the wait is over. After 86 years, the Boston Red Sox are the champions of the baseball world.
SMITH: When the Sox finally broke the curse of the Bambino in 2004, it seemed to the Fenway faithful and Lucchino nothing less than an act of God.
LACCHINO: It does seem fair, doesn't it, that the baseball gods would approve of the way that we approached this sacred - this hallowed ground of baseball and then allow us the miracle of 2004.
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SMITH: Sure, there are gripes about baseball's highest average ticket prices and seats that are still squished and facing away from the field or into a steel beam. But to fans like Steve Pell(ph), that's Fenway's charm.
STEVE PELL: When you're sitting there at a game and you're watching the Red Sox play, your tush forgets what you're sitting on.
SMITH: Today, the nation's oldest ballpark has sold out for a record nine years. A century after Fenway was built, as its owners like to say, it never gets old.
Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.
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