Saturday, October 23, 2004

Fenway Park

In preparation for the World Series, I wanted to write about the two ballparks where it will be played: Fenway Park and Busch Memorial Stadium.

Fenway's history is pretty well known. It is the oldest venue for baseball that is currently used by a professional team. Arguable Fenway is unattractive, but seeing a game there epitomizes the urban baseball experience--you are very aware that the game is taking place in the city, that the baseball game is folding into the urban fabric. The place and design of Fenway is the perfect example of of how baseball defies the conventions of space and place that limit other sports. You can still step off the tram and walk through the crowded streets to get to the entrance. The interior of the stadium is so small that almost any seat is close to the action (but there are bad seats). The Green Monster is infamous--all Red Sox teams are designed around the unusual dimensions of the part and the short, tall left field fence. Ironically, the Green Monster has a practical purpose: preventing people outside the stadium from viewing the game.

Fenway takes its name from the "Fens", now reduced to a stretch of public gardens in the Boston Backbay area. Interestingly, the Fens themselves were not natural: Frederick Law Olmsted , who later designed Central Park in New York, designed and constructed the man-made environment. According to Anne Whitson Spirn:
The transformation of Boston's Fens and Riverway from urban wasteland into urban "wilderness" ... was the first attempt anywhere ... to construct a wetland. It was built over nearly two decades, the 1880s and 1890s, the Fens dredged out of the muddy flats of a former millpond, the Riverway shaped from floodplains fouled by sewage and industrial effluent ...

Everyone at the time was aware of the transformation of a filthy, stinking, muddy mess into the Fens and Ridgeway. Their awareness became part of the social meaning and aesthetic power of the Fens and Riverway. But today these works are widely, and falsely, assumed to be preserved bits of nature in the city, not the designed and built places they really are, daring experiments of engineering, ecology, landscape design and city planning.
The park was designed by James McLaughlin, who would later design Yankee Stadium (perhaps that is the basis for the curse). The first professional game occurred after several delays due to rain. They played against their future rivals:
The Red Sox defeated the New York Highlanders — later known as the Yankees — before 27,000 fans,7-6 in 11 innings. The event would have made front page news had it not been for the sinking of the Titanic only a few days before
I will continue to update this post as I get more info. I will also put up some stuff on Edward Durell Stone, who built Busch Stadium.


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