The spotlight of the sports world returns to Fenway Park on Tuesday night, when the Boston Red Sox invite the Los Angeles Dodgers into the historic, one-of-a-kind, green-monstrous ballpark they call home for Game 1 of the World Series.
Fenway is the oldest stadium in Major League Baseball -- by way of comparison, the Titanic launched that same month in April 1912 -- and it still looks pretty good for 106.
The original layout of Fenway, named for its Boston neighborhood and owner John Taylor’s real estate business that thrived in the area, was fitted snugly into an asymmetrical downtown block. That urban squeeze job gives Fenway its unique architecture and the mini-golf course worth of obstacles and quirks that survive to this day.
It’s also one of the majors’ smallest venues, with a capacity of less than 38,000, giving it a cozy -- claustrophobic, for the visiting team -- vibe that the New York Post often refers to lovingly (we think) as “New England’s living room.”
"It's a completely different atmosphere," Boston reliever Heath Hembree said this week, via the Associated Press. "Are they going to feel the Monster breathing down on them?"
That’s the Green Monstah (with the requisite Boston inflection), the 37-foot-high wall in left field that is Fenway’s most famous attraction. The wall was erected in 1934 after fires kept breaking out in the bleachers and threatening nearby businesses. It wasn’t actually painted green until 1947, replacing the billboard ads that used to festoon the wall. There have been prime seats located on top of the Monster since a round of renovations in 2003.
The towering wall in left field, combined with the “triangle” of space in deep center field and the tight corner in right field that ends in Pesky’s Pole, a mere 302 feet away from home plate, presents navigation challenges for opponents.
The Red Sox were aided in the past two rounds of the playoffs when the Yankees and Astros left fielders had run-ins with the Monster. The Dodgers, from the National League, are even less familiar with Fenway’s unusual dimensions.
"It's not an easy place to play as a visitor," said Chris Sale, who will start Game 1 for the Red Sox. "This ballpark definitely brings its challenges in terms of it's different. … [We have] nooks and crannies and some sharp edges and some different things going on out there."
Added Rich Hill, now with the Dodgers after several seasons pitching for the Red Sox, "Crazy bounces, all the odd angles. Off the scoreboard, off the numbers. Or you hook one down the line toward Pesky's Pole, it's probably less than 200 feet down there. There's not a park like this."
And along with Chicago's Wrigley Field, just two years younger, there’s not a park that has changed less in a century than Fenway has. You call still step inside the Green Monster, braving the notorious rats scurrying about, to the cubby hole where workers operate a manual scoreboard and visitors add their signatures to the collection on the interior walls. You can still buy an obstructed view ticket for a seat in front of one of the pillars holding up the second deck.
And they still play the World Series there, as they did 100 years ago (in Game 4 in 1918, a guy named Babe Ruth got the win for the Red Sox as a pitcher and also hit an RBI triple). The Red Sox and Dodgers can now add to the magical baseball memories that, along with the design quirks, give Fenway its charm.