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April 23, 2012
From the moment it opened in April 1912, Fenway Park has been a muse for poets and a monster for pitchers and modernists. What, you never thought it would see its 100th birthday? It might have 100 more
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April 23, 2012

A Lyric To The Little Bandbox

From the moment it opened in April 1912, Fenway Park has been a muse for poets and a monster for pitchers and modernists. What, you never thought it would see its 100th birthday? It might have 100 more

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When a retired theater manager named Abraham Stoker expired in England at age 64, after a series of strokes, the international news reports that he was dead and gone weren't entirely accurate. Stoker was dead, certainly, but not gone. Or rather gone, but not Dead.

For Bram Stoker had already staked (if you will) his claim to immortality, creating a deathless count from the Carpathian Mountains in an 1897 novel called The Un-Dead, a title that was changed on the eve of publication to Dracula. And though Bram Stoker, through Count Dracula, never really died, he was emphatically declared dead at number 26 St. George's Square, London, on April 20, 1912, the curtain ringing down on one celebrated existence just as it was rising on another.

For that debut, we have to cross the Atlantic—not an easy task on April 20, 1912, as passengers steaming for New York City aboard the SS Bremen would attest. In the frigid waters that day they reported "many piteous sights," including three lifeless figures clinging to a single steamer chair; empty life rings afloat in the water; and the stiffened body of a woman in a nightdress, baby still clasped to her breast.

All had been passengers on the RMS Titanic, which struck an iceberg six days earlier en route to New York. If not for that tragedy, the Titanic would have launched its return voyage to England that very day—at noon on April 20, 1912—an exceedingly inauspicious date to be setting out on a long journey.

The only baseball player to embark on a major league career that day—the unfortunate Benny Kauff, who debuted for the New York Highlanders—would be banned from the game for life in 1921 by commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, for alleged ties to an auto-theft ring. Kauff would never be reinstated to the game, despite his unambiguous acquittal in a court of law.

Two ballparks were born on April 20, 1912, with very different life expectancies. Tiger Stadium opened in Detroit, initially named Navin Field, and would survive into a beautiful blue-rinsed old age, finally passing after 87 years in a kind of crumbling grandeur.

The other park born that day, would not, it appeared, be so lucky. Malevolent forces were trying to do away with the fledgling Fenway Park in Boston as early as October 1918, only six years after it opened.

America was gripped by a new austerity following its entry into World War I when the owner of the Red Sox, Harry Frazee, joined manager Ed Barrow in inspecting Braves Field only weeks after the Sox had won the 1918 World Series. Frazee was considering sharing that park with the National League's Boston Braves. Maintaining two ballparks in Boston for limited summertime use seemed "out of harmony with the systems of efficiency in vogue at present," as The Boston Daily Globe put it that Halloween, an apposite date for this horror-born ballpark near Kenmore Square.

In the end Frazee did nothing quite so karma-fraught as abandoning Fenway, and made do instead with selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees.

When the Great War could not kill Fenway, Mother Nature took a stab. Three separate fires in 1926 consumed the wooden bleachers that ran along Fenway's leftfield line. The park would be rebuilt—and refurbished, and reconfigured, for the rest of the 20th century—but by the end of the millennium, when Tiger Stadium closed in 1999, Fenway Park was finally declared unfixable.

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