Fenway Park: This diamond is forever

Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox.
CBS

(CBS News) The oldest park in the majors is set to turn one hundred later this week. Mo Rocca takes a tour:

For fans of the Boston Red Sox, baseball isn't just a game - it's fate.

"I was born a Red Sox fan," said Amy Olsen. "You have no choice."

It's a consuming passion with soaring highs and searing lows, 86 years of them - a curse cast on the team, fans believe, for selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920.

And then, in 2004, the Sox won it all. A curse lifted - and jubilation.

It was the beginning of a new chapter in the saga that has played out year after year at Fenway Park - as idiosyncratic and storied as the team that plays there.

"It is a living room, it's a backyard. It is a temple. It is all those things," said Janice Page.

The "lyric little bandbox of a ballpark," as John Updike called it, celebrates its 100th birthday on Friday.

"We're sort of scrunched in here into what was reclaimed swampland," explained Page. She is editor of "Fenway Park: A Salute to the Coolest, Cruelest, Longest-Running Major League Baseball Stadium in America."

"Your first impulse is usually sort of, 'Oh my God, this is beautiful, and amazing!'" she said. "And your second impulse is, I think for most people - which kind of collides with it - is, 'It's so small!' It's both majestic and tiny."

"I feel like I'm walking into a place where things happen," said Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy. "Something special may happen today. Babe Ruth played there, Ted Williams played there."

For Shaughnessy, Fenway isn't just a place he goes to work: "Having my dad take me there for the first time in 1961; being with my sister when Fisk hit his homerun in '75; the last time I saw my father-in-law I was in Fenway Park in 1979. For me, it's a very personal place with a lot of personal memories."

Year-round, citizens of Red Sox nation (a far-flung diaspora) come to pay homage. One woman said she was from New Jersey, where everyone is a Yankees fan, "but I hate the Yankees."

Others come from Greenville, S.C., and Ireland to see the red seat where Ted Williams' 502-foot homer landed ... those quirky corners . . . that ladder to nowhere.

There's a magic here that touches even newcomers.

Young fan Abraham Rodriquez told Rocca, "I finally saw it!. Like, it's right here in front of my eyes and I can remember this for the rest of my life!"

And they all marvel at the legendary Green Monster, the 37-foot-high left field wall.

"Players such as Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski, they got to be able to really play this wall masterfully because they understood it," said Red Sox historian Dick Bresciani. "But balls could fly off at different angles, depending where they hit this wall."

Fenway owes its irregular shape to Boston's famously crooked streets . The Green Monster, says Bresciani, went up for a very practical reason: "There was concerns about balls going over the wall, breaking windows, and causing problems out on the street."

Bresciani took Rocca inside the famous left field wall. In there - Fenway's sanctus sanctorum - are the "high tech" metal plates still used for keeping score.

And what a view! "If this were for rent as an apartment, I bet you'd have a lot of people bidding," Rocca said. "Certainly would!" replied Bresciani.

But Fenway Park wasn't always the object of so much adulation. In 1999 it came within a whisper of a wrecking ball. New owners swooped in and saved it.

"The prevailing wisdom was that Fenway Park was a relic, it was from another era. But we saw its charm, its history," said Red Sox president Larry Lucchino. He also built Baltimore's Camden Yards in 1992, a ball park inspired by Fenway.

"Here we had an old-fashioned ball park and we sort of reversed it," Lucchino said. "We had the real deal already. And now we had to modernize it a little bit to make it more comfortable."

And you MUST call it a "ball park."

"Oh yes!" Lucchino said. "We don't allow people to use the S-word. We fine people $5 if they use the word 'stadium.'"

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How beloved is Fenway Park? In Fort Myers, Florida, the Red Sox take spring training on a playing field IDENTICAL to the one up north. It's where Rocca met Bobby Valentine, who this season assumes the mantle of Red Sox manager.

"In Fenway, they actually have tours 360 days a year of the ball park," Valentine said. "And here, they have tours of the REPLICA of Fenway. That's the story right there!"

It's Fenway without the lousy weather! Atop the replica Green Monster, Rocca met the fun- and sun-loving Jeanne Bowne, who said, "I've never had a chance to sit in the Green Monster. This is my first Green Monster I've been able to sit up here."

And, she can get a tan!

This Friday, the Red Sox will face New York, just as they did on Opening Day in 1912 when the Sox came out the victors.

Whether Red Sox fans end up celebrating or scowling, they'll be right at home - where they hope to be for the next 100 years.

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