Hitting the Century Park
100 years ago to date, the Harvard baseball team faced the Red Sox in Fenway Park's first-ever contest
Amidst freezing temperatures and snow quite irregular for an early spring afternoon, the Harvard baseball team packed into an electric street car in Harvard Square at 1:45 p.m. and headed to the opening day they had been preparing for all winter.
But the Crimson’s first game of 1912 was unlike any the country had seen before.
Coming off a 17-6 season under manager Frank J. Sexton, Harvard was going downtown, to the corner of Jersey and Landsdowne Streets. There, it would be playing the third installation of its annual matchup with the Boston Red Sox in the Sox’s brand new home, Fenway Park.
At approximately 3:30, amidst the snow, the wind, and the gray skies, Crimson third baseman Dana Joseph Paine Wingate, class of 1914, stepped up to the plate against Boston’s Casey Hageman as 3,000 passionate fans of America’s pastime looked on in anticipation.
Hageman wound, aimed, and fired, and on April 9, 1912—100 years ago to date—the first-ever baseball game at Fenway Park was underway.
Most in attendance at Fenway that chilly day had paid a nickel to arrive by streetcar, as there was no subway service to nearby Kenmore Square and few felt like walking thanks to the dreary weather.
Though there were certainly more people in the streets around the stadium than there were on a normal afternoon, it was truly only the diehards who had come out to see the Red Sox play an exhibition against the Harvard nine. For almost everybody that lived in the area knew somebody who had worked on the construction of the new park, which until recent days had been easy to approach and get a good look at.
“A lot of people had already seen it, particularly the people in the neighborhoods around the stadium,” says historian Glenn Stout, the author of “Fenway 1912: The Birth of a Ballpark, A Championship Season, and Fenway’s Remarkable First Year.” “There was probably more interest from the people coming over from Cambridge and Harvard.”
Local Bostonians, most wearing homburg hats and heavy coats, lined up at the new ticket office at the north end of Jersey Street and waited patiently despite the strong winds. Many people from Cambridge already had tickets to the contest; the weekend before the game, The Harvard Crimson had informed readers that they could be purchased for 75 cents at both the Harvard athletic office and at Leavitt & Pierce in Harvard Square. According to the article, boxes—if completed on time—could be purchased for between $1.35 and $1.50.
Once tickets had been obtained and spectators began to enter the stadium, fans who had purchased grandstand seats saw the words—“FENWAY PARK”—that make up the same red-letters-on-concrete sign visible to fans walking down Yawkey Way today. Those arriving for the contest on that overcast April afternoon only needed to hand their tickets to an usher, as the 18 brand new turnstiles the park was purported to feature would not be installed for another week.
As they stepped into the stadium, attendees came across high, cavernous walls and roof made of concrete (older stadiums, made of wood, tended to burn) situated above a dirt floor that would often become muddy on rainy days until the organization covered it in concrete two years later.
If they continued walking, fans would have been surprised to see that the new stadium contained two toilet rooms—a large one to accommodate gentlemen and a smaller one for women. They would have then followed the signs to the ramps that led to the grandstand, and as they reached the top, attendees would have gotten their first glimpse of the vast playing field.
As Wingate dug in against Hageman, he probably did not realize the magnanimity of the moment, nor the significance his name would one day hold as the first batter in the history of Fenway Park.