By HOWARD ULMAN, AP Sports Writer
BOSTON (AP) _ Jaime Gutierrez flew all the way from his home in El Salvador to attend Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary celebration.
“It’s a dream come true,” the 28-year-old Red Sox fan said.
“Let’s just say I can scratch it off my bucket list.”
Bill “Spaceman” Lee came from a more distant place– somewhere north of normal _ to the ball park where he made his name as a pitcher in the late `60s and `70s with a penchant for speaking his counter-culture mind.
“I’ve been around this park when it was just a vacant lot and it was under water,” he said, as if creating a fantasy on the spot. “I used to hunt ducks here when I was in India and I had a canoe that used to come in here and park all the time and I dreamed that there would be a ballpark here.”
The oldest major-league park, indeed, has seen it all.
On Thursday, thousands of fans wandered throughout the stands and on the warning track at an open house, the day before the Red Sox play the New York Yankees on the 100th anniversary of Boston’s first game at Fenway. Gutierrez was there to collect autographs from past players. Lee was there to sign them.
Fenway, its weird dimensions crammed tightly into a vibrant neighborhood, has been home to all sorts of history– fanatics, flakes, fires and flameouts– since the Red Sox beat the New York Highlanders in the opener.
Last year’s September collapse came after two World Series championships, the Red Sox first since 1918, in seven years.
This year, the Yankees, the successor to the Highlanders, and Red Sox are off to slow starts, the Yankees at 6-6 before facing Minnesota on Thursday night and the Red Sox at 4-8.
“I’ll always remember the first time I hit a home run over the Green Monster,” Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. “It was my second year in the big leagues and I’m like, `Wow, that’s pretty cool.”’
Teammate Derek Jeter has mixed feelings about the wall.
“That’s what makes it different than anywhere else,” he said. “I still aim for the wall. … That’s been my problem.”
The Red Sox invited all uniformed personnel who they were able to track down to Friday’s pregame ceremonies.
Former manager Terry Francona plans to be there after declining the invitation because of lingering bitterness over the way he was let go following last season and the aftermath. Pitcher Curt Schilling, the “bloody-sock” hero of the 2004 championship, said it will be “impossible” for him to participate because of business at his video-game company.
“Please understand that should in no way indicate my love and passion for Red Sox Nation,” the outspoken Schilling, who already has criticized new manager Bobby Valentine, said in a statement.
The Red Sox beat the Highlanders in the Fenway opener 7-6 on an 11th-inning RBI single by Tris Speaker. Boston went on to win the World Series that year.
In January 1934, a five-alarm fire damaged seating areas along the left-field line and the center-field bleachers during a construction project to refurbish the park. The work was finished in time for the season, with the addition of the 37-foot high left field wall, the Green Monster.
But in the `90s, there were numerous calls for the wrecking ball. Advocates of a new stadium, including then owner John Harrington, contended that Fenway was too old and decrepit to be saved.
But after John Henry and Tom Werner became the primary owners in February 2002, they embarked on a program of annual upgrades that added seats above the Green Monster and on the right-field roof, upgraded concourses and seating areas and took other steps to insure that Fenway would flourish well into the new century.
“There’d be a revolution in this town if they got rid of Fenway Park,” said Gary Bell, a pitcher on the 1967 “Impossible Dream” team that won the AL pennant after finishing ninth the previous year. “They can’t ever get rid of this place. Look at it. It’s like a cathedral.”
And, said longtime fan Dolores LeGeyt of Medford as she stood on the warning track, “it’s like walking on history.”
Fenway’s first game actually was played on April 9, 1912, an exhibition between the Red Sox and Harvard played under chilly conditions.
Joan Babson Eaves’ father, Richard, played left field for the Crimson.
“He played right there,” she said Thursday, standing on the warning track in front of the scoreboard and pointing to the spot where Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski –and her dad– chased fly balls. “It’s awesome.”
Her brother John even posed in front of the Green Monster while wearing his father’s letter sweater– crimson-colored with a big “H” across the chest.
“It’s 102 years old, this sweater,” he said.
On Friday, the Red Sox and Yankees will wear throwback uniforms, replicas of those they wore long ago. Maybe that will change the home team’s fortunes. Their poor start seems like a carryover from last season when they blew a playoff spot with a 7-20 September fold. They also struggled at the start of last season, opening at 2-10.
“Give `em time,” said LeGeyt, who remembers seeing Williams play at Fenway. “Everybody’s got to prove themselves.” Just like Fenway.
In 1999, Harrington proposed moving the team across the street to a new stadium. In 2000, Boston developer Frank McCourt– who went on to a troubled ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers– revealed a plan to build a new park on land he owned at Boston’s seaport.
But on April 19, 2012, Gutierrez stood in a modern third-floor restaurant behind home plate and couldn’t wait to get down to the field to collect some memories to take home to El Salvador.
He was headed for the Green Monster, the same height it was in 1934.
“It looks bigger than on TV. It’s pretty impressive,” Gutierrez said. “Hopefully we can go down there and snap a couple of pictures.”
AP sports writer Howie Rumberg in New York contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)