Old-timers fete oldest of ballparks on 100th birthday

BOSTON — For one more afternoon, Yaz had the Fenway fans cheering, Pedro had them celebrating and Johnny Pesky brought tears to their eyes.

Scenes from Fenway Park's first 100 years played out on the major leagues' oldest ballfield again on Friday, when the Boston Red Sox celebrated its centennial by welcoming more than 200 former players and coaches back onto its landmark lawn.

In a ceremony before their game against the New York Yankees, 100 years to the day before they opened the building against that very rival, the Red Sox held a birthday party for the only ballpark in the majors ever to last this long. The team invited every living player and coach in franchise history, and more than 200 took them up on the offer.

"It was awesome being able to see all the guys that have played throughout the years," said Adrian Gonzalez, who spent part of the day getting to know Mo Vaughn, one of his predecessors as a Red Sox first baseman. "For me to be able to say thank you for all the guys who paved the way, it was pretty special."

Walking onto the field to the theme from "Field of Dreams" and the cheers of the ballpark's 719th consecutive sellout crowd, players from Don Aase to Bob Zupcic gathered at their positions and then watched as Caroline Kennedy took part in a ceremonial first pitch from the first-base box seats — 100 years after her great-grandfather did the same.

The Red Sox won the opener on April 20, 1912, 7-6 in 11 innings over the New York Highlanders (who would soon change their name to the Yankees). Boston went on to win the '12 World Series and three more in that decade, but then embarked on an 86-year title drought in which the ballpark became the franchise's biggest star.

Doomed for the wrecking ball before the current owners bought the team in 2002, Fenway now has seats above the Green Monster and an HD video screen — not to mention lights above the upper decks and black and Latin players in the field — all unimaginable when it opened the same week the Titanic sank.

On Friday, the Red Sox brought out the bunting and the Green Monster-sized U.S. flag and hundreds of players from the franchise's not-always glorious history.

Jim Rice began the procession of former ballplayers, coming out of a gate under the stands and taking his familiar place in left field. What followed was a steady procession of graying ballplayers in starched white or yellowing jerseys, giving the fans one more chance to cheer for stars Carlton Fisk and Carl Yastrzemski or fan favorites like Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd, Bill "Spaceman" Lee, Bill Buckner, Luis Tiant and Nomar Garciaparra.

Pumpsie Green, who became the franchise's first black ballplayer more than a decade after Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier, received a warm cheer. The crowd did not seem to know whether to applaud or boo for Jose Canseco, whose two seasons in Boston were characterized by forgettable play and hints he would drop about a book he planned to write.

After taking their positions, the players all gathered around the oldest of the old-timers, Johnny Pesky and Bobby Doerr, who were pushed out to second base in wheelchairs by recently retired Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield.

Pesky, 92, was in tears.

Among the bigger cheers was the chant of "Tito!" that greeted Terry Francona, the manager of the '04 and '07 champions who was let go after the team's unprecedented collapse last September. Francona, who was angered by a newspaper article revealing details about personal troubles during the 2011 season, said he would not attend but then relented.

They were all joined on the field by the current players, who were wearing replica uniforms matching the 1912 style, including all white caps. The Yankees also wore throwbacks; it's believed to be the first time in franchise history they have deigned to do so.

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