Why Fenway, The Gazette’s mascot, has that name
I wasn’t sure what was the most unique sight this past weekend: the Hammonton High School prom being held on the high school football field, promenade and all, or the Boston Red Sox swept the (hated) New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium.
Watching the Sox during the weekend reminded me of all the good times I spent in and around Fenway Park when I was attending Boston University beginning in the fall of 1991. The venerable old ballpark near Kenmore Square was within walking distance of my classes. It was like it was part of the campus.
Built in 1912, Fenway Park is the oldest in major league baseball, two years older than the second-oldest ballpark in the majors: Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs.
In the Boston I lived in during the 1990s, the Red Sox were considered a cursed franchise. Their longtime owner, Tom Yawkey, had died, and his wife, Jean R. Yawkey had run the team from his death in 1976 to her death in 1992. Then it was run by a trust, which is no way to run a baseball team.
The alleged curse was called “The Curse of the Bambino” a name and idea furthered by Boston Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy in a book he wrote with that title in 1990. The idea was that the best player in baseball was traded away after the Sox won the World Series in 1918 by Red Sox owner Harry Frazee to fund a Broadway show called No, No, Nanette.
That player’s name was Babe Ruth. The team he was traded to was (of course) the New York Yankees. They piled up championships in the decades since the trade, and the Red Sox won exactly none. By the 1990s the Red Sox fan base (the term “Red Sox Nation” had not proliferated yet) was pretty damn grim.
There was good news though: it was easy to score the cheap ($8 bleacher seats!) tickets to the park. In fact, the team even had a standing policy that you could just walk into Fenway Park from the street after the seventh inning if you wanted to watch some baseball. I know. Different era.
So many good memories flowed from the ballpark, which looked like an old brick warehouse when you walked down Yawkey Way (now called Jersey Street) until you looked up and saw the huge light standards or walked inside and saw the manicured field and the huge wall in left with the manual scoreboard: the Green Monster. Later, the grass for the ballfield would be grown by Tuckahoe Turf Farms in Hammonton.
Small world, isn’t it?
A few memories jump out from more than a hundred days and nights spent watching the Red Sox at Fenway Park back then. One was watching an entire group of guys in tuxes from Harvard get thrown out of the bleachers, basically for acting like a bunch of guys in tuxes from Harvard at a baseball game. One of them was hit in the back by a mustard-laden hot dog on his way out of the stands. Quite a night.
I was there to see Roger Clemens pitch, and Andre Dawson hit his 400th home run and Ken Griffey Jr. crush a pitch from Aaron Sele into the netting beyond the Green Monster seemingly at will after being heckled by young people in festival-style seating at Fenway. They wouldn’t have been in those seats, but the Seattle Mariners series had been moved to Boston when tiles fell in the Kingdome.
In the summer of 1994, I spent my days and nights across Yawkey Way working during the strike-shortened season in what was called The Souvenir Store then (the Red Sox Team Store now) and owned by the D’Angelo family, who started by selling two-cent newspapers outside Fenway Park in 1947. Arthur D’Angelo, who started the company with his twin brother Henry, was still manning the counters back then and is now in his early 90s. He was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2019. His four sons went on to expand the company into the incredible business formerly known as Twins Enterprise that is now known as ’47, named in honor of the year the D’Angelo’s started in business. It was an amazing summer, and the lessons I learned from the hard work and fun of dealing with thousands of customers only made me a bigger Red Sox fan (if that was possible). The manager of the store, then and now, was Scott Saklad—which tells you a lot about him and the company.
Other memories from Fenway: meeting Elizabeth “Lib” Dooley, who billed herself as “A Friend of the Red Sox” and watched more than 4,000 Red Sox games, including playoffs and four no-hitters, but never saw them win a World Series; meeting with Red Sox Vice President Larry Cancro in his office on the second floor of Fenway Park about a press pass I won that let me take photos on the field. That a vice president of a major league baseball club met with a college kid tells you something about the Red Sox organization. So does the fact that Cancro is still a vice president with the Sox today. (The night I won that press pass a fellow Hammontonian, Hammonton High School Class of ‘91 and Boston University graduate Jay Maccarella was sitting next to me. Thanks to free tickets we scored at BU, we were sitting in what was then called the 600 Club (later renamed the .406 Club, later still renamed the EMC Club). We met Lib Dooley, announcer Curt Gowdy and writer John Updike, whose 1960 article “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” in The New Yorker remains the definitive article about Ted Williams and Fenway Park, there that night. Great night.)
Most of you know the “curse” was broken since those lean, but fun, years in Boston and Fenway Park in the early 1990s. The Sox went on to win the World Series in 2004, 2007, 2013 and 2018.
I have been back to Fenway Park many times in the years since I left Boston, but those first memories and impressions remain the strongest, as first memories and impressions often do. When you connect with a place, it never really leaves you, and that includes Fenway Park. I loved the place so much Gina (a Mets fan!) and I named our dog after the Boston ballpark—and now you know how Fenway came by her name.
Gabe Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.