MLB

Red Sox begin 101st season in historic Fenway Park

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BOSTON (AP)

The Red Sox may win or they may lose, but at 100 years young, beloved Fenway Park continues to win over fans as the team's most valuable player.

Loyal citizens of Red Sox nation returned to the oldest major league ballpark on Friday to celebrate a gorgeously sunny opening day game against Tampa Bay and the start of Fenway's 101st season.

''It's like going to church every day,'' retired knuckleballer Tim Wakefield said of his days at Fenway. ''The stadium is the star here. Fenway is the star.''

While formal birthday festivities are slated for next week, several Red Sox legends were on hand to start a season-long celebration. Wakefield and retired catcher Jason Varitek threw out dual opening pitches to former Red Sox greats Dwight Evans and Jim Rice. The fans roared when former coach and player Johnny Pesky, 92, walked out on the field.

Fenway, though, has always belonged to the fans. Sal D'Amico remembers coming to games here as a little boy; on Friday the 42-year-old Dracut, Mass. resident brought his six-year-old son Sal Jr. for what would be his first Red Sox game. D'Amico has seen other parks. Been to Wrigley Field in Chicago. It's Fenway that's home.

''It's just a magical place,'' he said. ''There's something about it, about the tradition, about how there's not a bad seat in the house.''

The Red Sox conjured a little of that magic Friday, beating the Rays 12-2 after a tough 1-5 start to the season. If new manager Bobby Valentine felt any pressure before his first opening day game at Fenway he wasn't letting on. Speaking to reporters before the game, he held out his hand to show it wasn't shaking.

''Woke up excited,'' he said. ''I think it's going to be a special day.''

Any day in Fenway qualifies as special, according to Colleen Myers, who brought her mother Susan to Friday's game. Myers doesn't remember her first Fenway game - she was three. But she still has the ticket stub. She now attends about 20 games a year. Last year, on her birthday, her name was lit up on the giant outfield video screen.

''I'm 26 years old but seeing my name up there, I reacted like a six-year-old,'' said Myers, of Revere, Mass. ''Fenway does that. Makes you feel like a kid.''

Fenway's formal birthday party is timed for the 100th anniversary of the team's first Fenway game, an April 20, 1912 extra-innings victory over the New York Highlanders, later renamed the Yankees. Boston Mayor John Fitzgerald - John F. Kennedy's grandfather - threw out the first pitch.

In the years since, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and countless others have come and gone. Fire struck in 1926 and 1934. Lights and night games arrived in 1947. The same year the Green Monster was painted green. Scoreboards have been installed and replaced. Curses were laid and lifted. World Series banners went up, most recently in 2004 and 2007.

The park is one of the smallest major leagues, with a top capacity of 37,500 for night games and 37,065 for day games.

The Red Sox considered moving to newer and bigger facilities over the years but in 2005 announced a commitment to stay at Fenway. The park was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places this year.

Season ticket holder Ray McPeck Sr. said the team was right to stay. As the smell of popcorn wafted over the grass and the bright blue sky framed the city skyline, McPeck and his son prepared to find their seats, just as they have for years.

''I remember coming with my father,'' said the 62-year-old Brockton, Mass. resident. ''It's opening day. The beginning of spring. Baseball is baseball. It doesn't matter where you are, what park you're at.

''It's special.''

Tagged: Red Sox, Tim Wakefield

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