Friday, November 7, 2008

Huntington Avenue Grounds and South End Grounds

Now that the baseball season is over and the Hot Stove League is warming up, you may find yourself in need of a hardball fix sometime in the next few months before pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers. If so, head over to the campus of Northeastern University. 

If you get off the Green Line's E branch at the Northeastern stop and cross Huntington Avenue and wander behind the Cabot Center, you'll come across a small courtyard area that feels like a typical college quad with its trees, benches, and flanking collegiate buildings. Inside the quad, you'll find a singularly focused man. He's crouched over, fiercely staring straight ahead at something. He's unflinching; not even the constant stream of co-eds that hustle and bustle by on their way to class can avert his laser-like gaze. No matter what time of day, what time of year, the bronze figure of Cy Young is always in that crouch, five-fingered glove on his left knee, waiting for the catcher to flash him a sign to deliver his next pitch.

The statue of Cy Young, the gold standard when it comes to major league hurlers, stands on what used to be the mound of the Huntington Avenue Grounds, home to Boston's American League franchise before they moved about a mile away to Fenway Park. The Huntington Avenue Grounds are notable not only for being the first home of the Red Sox, but for being the site of the first World Series in 1903. Boston defeated Pittsburgh in eight games (it was best of nine at the time) to capture the inaugural fall classic and usher in baseball's "modern era." From the ballpark's mound, Cy Young spun some of his record 511 wins and pitched baseball's first perfect game of the twentieth century on May 5, 1904. 

Embedded in the ground sixty feet away from Cy Young is a granite marker shaped like home plate that commemorates the first World Series. That marker is laid at the spot where batters dug in at the ballpark. Imagine what they must have felt looking out at Cy's steely gaze and digging in for the next pitch from the flamethrower.

Back on the Huntington Avenue side of the Cabot Center, you'll find a small plaque that commemorates the Huntington Avenue Grounds and the 1903 World Series. The plaque is located approximately on what was then the left-field foul line. The left-field fence ran along the Huntington Avenue sidewalk. 

Inside the Cabot Center is a display case on the second floor, next to the entrance to the basketball court, that houses a very small collection of artifacts related to the old ballyard, including old photographs and replica wool jerseys. You'll need to check in at the front desk to get into the gym, but the collection is pretty small and sports fans might actually be more interested in the adjoining display cases that honor some of the greats of Northeastern athletics. 

While the Red Sox were playing at the Huntington Avenue Grounds, Boston's National League franchise was playing just a tape-measure shot away at the old South End Grounds. The ballpark was first home to the first professional team and the first baseball dynasty, the Red Stockings, who won four of five National Association pennants between 1871 and 1875. Over the years, the team's name would evolve until it became the Braves, who played at the South End Grounds until 1914. Between 1888 and 1894, the ballpark featured a grand pavilion that looked like a fairytale castle with its medieval-style turrets. Unfortunately, the grandstand was destroyed by the Great Roxbury Fire of 1894, which started in the right-field bleachers during the game. 

Today, the Ruggles T station stands on the site of the South End Grounds. It's just a short walk from the Cy Young statue. Go down Forsyth Street, go up into the station, and just past the turnstiles for the Orange Line is a small green marker on the left-hand side. The marker, erected by The Bostonian Society, is the only sign connected to the old ballyard. 

More on these two ballparks will be included in the forthcoming book, The Die-Hard Sports Fan's Guide to Boston

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