Wood: Fenway still delivers “firsts” for fans

By Michael Wood

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

I was 17-years-old the first time I set foot inside America’s most beloved ballpark, and it’s a moment that will stand out next to all the other sporting experiences I’ll ever have in my life.

When I finally got tickets of my own – a birthday present from my dad – Fenway Park was turning 95 years old, and had delivered more than its fair share of classic games and historic events since its construction in 1912.

Obviously I was pumped to go, and what made it even better was that the game was against the Yankees, my favorite MLB club. Think about this for a second. You’ve never been to a pro game of any kind, and the first chance you get, it’s a game between the two most storied and decorated rival franchises in sports, in a hostile stadium that’s as historic and concrete as the sport itself. Now, throw in fourth-row seats behind home plate. Yeah, it doesn’t get much better than that.

The Yankees even did me a solid and won the game that afternoon, much to the chagrin of the sold-out crowd of Bostonians. It’s really hard to improve on that kind of day for any kid, regardless of their age, and up until just a few weeks ago, I didn’t think it was possible.

Now, entering its 100th season, I didn’t think Fenway could give me anything better than what I saw during that first game in 2007. But, as it has for millions of fans throughout history, the old ballpark delivered again during Frozen Fenway 2012, pumping out yet another intense and unforgettable night in Boston.

The streets had the same traffic, the subway was the same, the bars outside the park were the same and the shops were the same.

The fans – although clad in new apparel –were reincarnations of the same people I saw the first time I was there. The chants were the same, the field was the same and even the seats were the same.

But a few things were different.

It was January, not July, and the field wasn’t covered in rakes and lawn mowers, but instead by boards and subflooring. No coaches and ball boys milled around the foul lines before the game; they were replaced instead by camera crews and VIPs. And the infield dirt that we’re all so used to seeing was covered over by something not pertaining to baseball at all: a rink of ice.

Looking out over the makeshift rink (which wasn’t, in fact, so makeshift at all, and actually looked pretty impressive), I realized two things.

First, five years had passed and though I had changed a lot since my first visit, Fenway itself remained mostly the same. This is what we love about sports, and why they have such a profound effect on us. It’s that feeling of knowing that whenever we manage a visit to the ballpark, things will be almost exactly the same as they were that first time we walked down the tunnel. It’s a time machine of sorts and something that everyone who’s ever been to Fenway Park can appreciate, even on a January evening where no baseball was played.

Second, as I sat in the press box and watched the Massachusetts hockey team defeat Vermont in a fantastic overtime thriller, it dawned on me that regardless of how many baseball games the old park has hosted, playoff pushes and World Series games, rock concerts and National Hockey League exhibitions, few people in the park that night had ever seen a college hockey game at Fenway Park before.

I have to admit it was truly unforgettable to be a part of something that so many people were experiencing for the first time, and even though Frozen Fenway had its inaugural year in 2010, it felt like another “first” for the old ballpark.

After a century of service, thrilling the fans who pack into its confines every summer, Fenway still has a few “firsts” left in it, and in such a historic setting, that’s pretty cool. I know it meant a lot to everybody who came out for the games.

As for what Frozen Fenway 2012 meant to me, I’ll yield to the winning goaltender, UMass’ Jeff Teglia, who put it so perfectly succinct.

“I’ll never forget it.”

Michael Wood can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Wood.