Whether you’re a lifelong Red Sox fan or not, there’s something magical about Fenway Park. Take a trip behind the scenes at Fenway Park’s 100th Anniversary Celebration, where fans attempted a new Guinness World Record for “largest toast at a single venue” on April 20, 2012.
Let’s get one thing straight before we start – I was not born a baseball fan, or any sports fan. I am not athletic, and I grew up with all sisters and a stepfather that spent his free time on the weekends either working in the yard or holed up in his office talking in Morse code to other ham radio operators in China about the weather. “Sports” was something that existed, but not in my immediate world – like diet ice cream. My summer pastime was getting armfuls of paperbacks from the library and wishing I could be a pilgrim at Plimoth Plantation.
It took years (and by this I mean a few boyfriends and a memorable viewing of “Field of Dreams”) for me to begrudgingly learn the basics of Red Sox baseball, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there was a fan in me after all, as well as a rich past for the historian in me to appreciate. Red Sox roots run deep. I started to hate the Yankees and felt my pulse quicken when Manny or Big Papi got up to bat. In time, I understood that baseball – and all of its elation, heartbreak, and nostalgia – was something special.
For this reason, I jumped at the chance to volunteer behind the scenes at Fenway Park on April 20th to help celebrate the famous Boston park’s 100th birthday. My sister Courtney works for Welch’s, which was sponsoring a toast before the game during which all of the fans, players, and guests at the park would simultaneously drink to Fenway, and hopefully break a Guinness World Record for “largest toast at a single venue” in the process. The number to beat was 27,126 — set at a Japanese baseball game in June 2010.
The big day (April 20, 2012) officially started at 5:45 AM when my sister poked me awake and told me we had to hurry to make the 7:18 AM commuter rail train from Lowell into North Station to guarantee we would be at Fenway on time.
It was a perfect sunny morning, and as we left Kenmore station (the unofficial MBTA home of the Red Sox) and strolled the Brookline Ave bridge over the Mass Pike with other volunteers towards Lansdowne Street and Yawkey Way, my excitement started to build. Yes, the coffee was helping, but the line of news trucks and tourists milling around the park despite the early hour, posing for pictures, said this trip to Fenway was going to be something different.
At 9:00 AM we reported to Gate C. As Welch’s volunteers, we were issued special Concord grape hued t-shirts with “Cheers to 100 Years!” written on the back. Before orientation, we were allowed to head up into the open air of Fenway just behind the bullpen. That’s me, mostly awake.
Then it was back down under the stands for a brief overview on the day’s agenda. We were an attentive and eager purple cluster as representatives from the park told us how to put the toasting kits together and how the counting would work.
Our job was to place a can of fizzy fruit juice and a small business-card sized slip of paper explaining the toast, both tucked inside a larger plastic cup, at each of Fenway’s 37,000 seats. Later, we would serve as official Guinness World Record counters during the toast, and then assist the Fenway Green Team with clearing away the cups and cans.
My group of three was responsible for roughly 700 seats in left field. We got to work breaking down the pallets of cans, then approached the task like an assembly line — cup, can, paper, cup, can, paper.
Some of the seats, meaning the ones with cup holders, were a lot easier and didn’t require a full stoop, but overall there was a lot of teamwork happening and all of the cups and cans were set up well before our noon break for lunch.
That meant we had some free time to stroll the park before it opened to the public. Courtney and I agree that this was our favorite part of the day. We got to check out the view from just about any seat in the park, no questions asked.
This included Fenway’s famous “Green Monster” seats (I had to see it since I doubt I will be back in that section anytime soon!), and as we made out way there, we got a look at the gathering crowds gathering below on Lansdowne Street, excited for the doors to open.
What a view!
When noontime rolled around our stomachs let us know it was time for our volunteer lunch. As Courtney and I made our way back down to the pavilion just inside Gate C where a table heaped with boxed lunches was waiting, we couldn’t resist stopping at the visitors’ dugout to have our photo snapped sitting on top.
The contents of my boxed lunch were a welcome sight. Since the tables were full, Courtney and I sat ourselves down right on the ground next to Jason Varitek’s cemented hand prints, filled out our Guinness counter cards, then read the inscriptions on the fan-sponsored bricks at our feet while eating Caesar salad wraps as the action unfolded around us.
The bricks are funny, touching reminders that Red Sox nation is flung far and wide, but strong and true.
At this point, thirty minutes before the doors opened, staff were setting up the concession stands, members of the Boston Pops were arriving, carrying their instruments and white suit coats, and past Red Sox players were milling around the park, greeted at every turn by the volunteers with friendly applause and hurried, nudged whispers of “Oh my Gosh, it’s Pedro!” Fenway was buzzing.
When the doors opened finally at 12:30 PM, the party started. Fans streamed in, decked out in their favorite Red Sox gear (some wearing birthday party hats) and sporting special lanyards made for the anniversary game.
My Guinness counting section was right by Pesky’s Pole (the right field foul pole), and the usher in my section (the great Bobby) was very patient with the many purple shirts darting around without seats to report to. Courtney and I like to think that his initial “You guys are killing me!” softened into a special ballpark friendship by the time we left. Right, Bobby?
As the ceremony started, the names and team photos of past Red Sox players (and one memorable, beloved former manager) began flashing on the smaller screen to the left of the bleachers, while the jumbo screen showed a live video of the player emerging onto the field and heading over to stand in his former position. Any player that had ever worn a Sox uniform was invited to participate, and it was moving to see them proudly smiling and waving at the crowd as they walked, jogged, or were assisted to their spot, depending on their age and mobility. Fans kept turning to each other to share personal memories of each player, and it seemed like every cell phone in the park was raised high to capture the moment.
After the past players were announced, the current 2012 Sox lineup joined them. It was time for five-time Academy Award winning maestro John Williams to conduct the Boston Pops in “Fanfare for Fenway,” Williams’ ode to the park, before the American flag spilled over the Green Monster in time for the Star Spangled Banner — complete with a military flyover.
The ceremonial “first pitch” honors went to Caroline Kennedy, whose great-grandfather Honey Fitz tossed the first pitch at Fenway 100 years earlier. She also has extra Sox bragging rights, as Neil Diamond credits her as the official “Caroline” in his Fenway classic-anthem “Sweet Caroline.”
Next up was the big toast. I’d be misleading you if I said it went off without a hitch, and I wasn’t alone in thinking so. It turns out Pedro Martinez and Kevin Millar were slightly overly enthusiastic toastmasters, so fans were told to get their glass ready, but then never told exactly when to drink.
But no matter, drink they did, and when the numbers were tallied 32,904 people toasted — setting a new world record! Not a bad birthday gift for Fenway, especially considering the Sox would lose to the Yankee a few hours later.
After collecting the cups and cans, it was time to make our way home. We were invited to stay and watch the game in the standing-room sections of the park, but I suspected (correctly) that I had a nasty sunburn, and after dashing all over the park for six hours, I was ready to sit — even if it was on the vinyl seats of commuter rail. The beautiful thing about baseball is that each season offers dozens of opportunities to see a game, so the next time I am at Fenway as a paying customer, with a monster pretzel and a fistful of mustard packets safely balanced on my knees, I’ll pause for a minute before my first sip of beer to raise my own plastic cup and toast to America’s oldest and most beloved ballpark. Better to fall in love later than never.
Cheers to 100 years!