The Grand Opening

By SAUL WISNIA  |  March 30, 2012

Distance was no concern because this was the Dead Ball Era, roughly a decade before Babe Ruth and subsequent sluggers redefined the home run and made it a far more common part of the game. Frank Baker had led the American League with just 11 homers in 1911, a season in which entire teams hit fewer than 20. Much of the reason was the baseballs they were hitting, which were scuffed, muddied, and otherwise beaten up by pitchers and general wear-and-tear but were seldom replaced during a game. As a result, they were rarely struck great distances. Yet nobody really minded. Line drives and hit-and-run plays were the preferred style carried out by pre-1920 clubs, and short outfield fences were not considered a major deterrent in a ballpark's design.

Besides, Fenway really wasn't that small. It was still well over 380 feet to the right-field fence, and the deepest center-field corner fence was nearly 550 feet from home plate. The wall running from left field to center was considerably closer, but it was also 25 feet high. The wall served as a long, wooden smorgasbord of ads that pitched everything from whiskey to biscuits. This was the predecessor of today's Green Monster, which would replace it in 1934.

Fenway's cozy image stems in large part from its lack of a second deck, and this was due to circumstance rather than planning. Perhaps thinking about both the majesty of the old South End Grounds and the potential for bigger paydays, Taylor initially envisioned building a double-deck ballpark like Navin Field and many of the other new venues. But since he wanted to be ready by the home opener — just six months away — such plans had to be put on hold.

For the time being a single, uncovered grandstand would surround the infield, while a roofed pavilion would run down the right-field line. There would also be a naked bleacher section in deepest right field, and the design left provisions for a second deck to be added later. Original capacity was about 29,000, nearly three times what the Huntington Avenue Grounds could "officially" hold but less than most other parks built during the period. To meet a growing demand for reserved tickets, management offered a "special price" of four box seats to all 77 home games for $250.

One sign of the times noted by author Michael Gersham in Diamonds, his excellent anthology of ballparks, was the decision to add a parking lot behind the outfield. The automobile had exploded in popularity in recent years. Car ads dominated the Boston newspapers, and dealerships were popping up all around the city — including in Kenmore Square. The Boston Post even ran a daily feature, "Gossip for Motorists," which let drivers know which streets had the worst potholes and how to avoid accidents.

With these and other revised plans in place, ground was broken for the new facility on September 25, 1911, a week before the Red Sox finished their last season on Huntington Avenue. Major design and civil engineering work was undertaken by Osborn Engineering of Cleveland, a large firm that was simultaneously designing Navin Field and a few years later would aid in the construction of Boston's other modern major-league ballpark: Braves Field. (Ironically, Osborn in the early 1920s would also help design Yankee Stadium — so long a house of pain for Red Sox teams and fans.)

As a way of honoring the team's former home, sod from the Huntington Avenue Grounds was removed and replanted in Fenway as construction continued through the winter of 1911–12. By the time the Red Sox completed their long train ride up from spring training in Hot Springs, Arkansas, the new facility was ready for action. The first game played at Fenway was an exhibition match on April 9 between the Sox and Harvard University, which the big-leaguers won 2–0 amid a cold wind, snow flurries, and 3000 shivering fans.

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  Topics: Sports , Fenway Park, Baseball, History
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