The Grand Opening

Excerpted from Fenway Park: The Centennial (St. Martin’s Press, 2012)
By SAUL WISNIA  |  March 30, 2012

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Excerpted from Fenway Park: The Centennial (St. Martin's Press, 2012).

Three rainouts delayed the very first Opening Day at the new Fenway Park, and the sinking of the Titanic initially dimmed enthusiasm. But the Red Sox took the opener on a Tris Speaker walk-off hit, signaling a year — make that a century — of excitement and glory.

The rain had finally let up, and Peter Davis was busy. Standing beside his green pushcart in front of brand-new Fenway Park, he was handing bags of peanuts to fans as fast as they could slap coins into his hand. His powerful arms, which had already been taxed by pushing the cart several miles to Jersey Street from its downtown holding pen, were starting to ache. He didn't mind a bit.

Davis had never seen this many people in one place. It reminded him of the lines he had encountered at the docks after coming over from Greece years before. When the Red Sox played at the smaller Huntington Avenue Grounds in previous seasons, the most fans they ever drew to a game was approximately 10,000. This crowd had to be at least double that, and it seemed like all of them were walking right by his cart.

It was nice to see folks smiling as they looked up at the beautiful red-brick façade of Boston's first steel and concrete ballpark. But with three straight rainouts and the distressing news about the S.S. Titanic unfolding over the previous several days, the excitement leading up to Opening Day of 1912 had been largely subdued — even with the added factor of Fenway's grand unveiling. Some people were more concerned with scanning the lists of survivors that appeared in each day's newspapers, hoping they would find their relatives and friends among them, than reading how Tris Speaker and Joe Wood had fared during the season's first five games at New York and Philadelphia. For a week, baseball wasn't much discussed. But now, with the shock of the disaster having set in and the Red Sox and New York Highlanders set to play under sunny skies, Bostonians could fully focus on Fenway.

As Davis kept up his work outside the ballpark, John Fitzgerald took a good look around the inside. As mayor of Boston, he had been asked to throw out the first ball before that afternoon's game. Unlike many politicians who have performed this task before and since, the charming, flamboyant "Honey Fitz" was a true fan who was genuinely interested in watching the on-field action rather than just courting votes in the stands (although he enjoyed that, too). Born in Boston during the Civil War and the son of Irish immigrants, he had been devoted to his city's baseball teams for most of his 49 years.

As a rising young congressman in the 1890s, Fitzgerald had joined up with the "Royal Rooters" fan club headed by his equally ebullient friend, saloon owner Michael "Nuf Ced" McGreevy. A top-hatted Honey Fitz had led the Rooters in their march down 165th Street to the Polo Grounds during the final days of the 1904 pennant race, and his definitive Irish brogue could often be heard singing "Tessie" and other favorites during home games. He had been denied an opportunity to purchase the Red Sox in their earliest years — done in by some shrewd maneuvering on the part of a political rival — but he never stopped being a fan.

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  Topics: Sports , Fenway Park, Baseball, History
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