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BOSTON – On Friday July 25 over 1,800 people associated with the NAFCU Annual Conference will head to Fenway Park to watch one of the fiercest rivalries in all of sports. For the non-baseball fans out there, here’s a little history on that special stadium and the storied rivalry. Unlike many baseball cities where new ball parks are the order of the day, Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, has been around for over 90 years. Opening in April of 1912, it is baseball’s oldest park, just a few years older than Wrigley Field, home to the Chicago Cubs. Fenway doesn’t look the same today as it did when it opened in 1912. In its early days, the park was hit with two damaging fires – one in 1926 that burned down bleachers in left field, and another in January 1934, which left most of the park singed. Amazingly, construction crews were able to get the park ready for the season opener in April of that year. The park opened with a whole new look. Wooden bleachers were out and concrete bleachers were in. The 37-foot wooden wall out in left field was replaced by a metal one. That wall later became known as the Green Monster and is the signature landmark of the park. Nowhere else in baseball does a wall loom so large. The Green Monster is 240 feet long and was originally built from some 30,000 pounds of iron. It has a reinforced steel and concrete foundation that sinks 22 inches into the ground. The wall was revamped in 1976, with tin panels being replaced by a Formica-like material. Above the Green Monster is a 23-foot high screen that protects Landsdowne Street from flying baseballs. Fenway also has one of the last hand-operated scoreboards in all of baseball. While green and red lights are used to show balls and strikes, the score itself is posted manually using 16-inch by 16-inch number cards. There is however an electronic scoreboard that shows scores from other baseball games. Fenway is not only the oldest ballpark, but the smallest, with a seating capacity of 33,871. Interestingly, the park’s record attendance for a game is over 47,000, reached back in 1935. How could 47,000 people fit in a stadium that only seats 33,871? Newer fire laws and league rules attempting to prohibit overcrowding forced the park to cut its capacity. Baseball in the `30s was notorious for overcrowding. Looking at the left field bleachers, it may appear as if the painters missed a seat as there is one lone red-painted seat. They didn’t miss it. That seat, (Seat 21, Section 42, Row 37) marks what is believed to be the longest home run ever hit at Fenway, a 502-foot blast by Red Sox Hall of Famer, Ted Williams. Legend has it the ball went through the straw hat of the man sitting in that seat. Williams, now deceased, was known as the Splendid Splinter for his slight frame and graceful agility on the field. He is the last man to have a .400 batting average and is considered one of the greatest Red Sox players ever. Williams himself was the source of a structural change at Fenway. A dead-pull left-handed hitter, the year after his arrival to the Red Sox, Fenway’s bullpens were placed in right field to bring the fence 23 feet closer to home plate for Williams. The new bullpens were soon known as Willamsburg. Cursed? Talk to Red Sox fans and you may quickly hear about the “Curse of the Bambino.” What is it? The Red Sox were rolling along as one of the most successful baseball teams in the early 1900s. By 1918, they had won five World Series championships, the most of any team. One of the stars of the Red Sox was then a very young George Herman Ruth (Babe Ruth), who was both a skilled pitcher and a tremendous slugger. In 1920 Red Sox owner Harry Frazee traded Ruth to the New York Yankees. There are some odd circumstances around the trade, namely that Frazee traded Ruth mostly to raise money to help finance a play for his girlfriend. Since the Ruth trade, the clubs have been polar opposites in terms of championships. While the Yankees are arguably the most successful sports team ever, having won 26 World Series championships, the Red Sox haven’t won since 1918. The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry has grown to become one of the most storied in all of sports. There have been many memorable moments, but probably none as much as back on Oct. 2, 1978. The Red Sox were a few games behind the Yankees in the standings in the Amercian League East Division, yet managed to come back and tie the Yankees in the standings, forcing a one-game, winner-take-all tiebreaker game. Things looked good for the Red Sox. They had a 2-0 lead going into the seventh inning until Yankee shortstop Bucky Dent, a very unlikely hero, blasted a three-run homer just over the infamous Green Monster. Why does this add to the curse? Dent had only hit four home runs for the entire year and had a total of just 40 for his 12-year career, but he managed to rocket one over the Green Monster in that winner-take-all game. The rivalry grew over the years, but it’s been a bit one sided. Looking at just the last five years shows the Red Sox as a strong team, but not strong enough. In each of those five years they have finished in second place behind the same team, the Yankees. And oh by the way, at press time the Red Sox were in second place again by just two games – the Yankees were in first. [email protected]

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