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If these walls could talk: Favorite tales from Fenway Park’s legendary years

From a ballpark usher to the man who invented Wally the Green Monster to the mayor of Yawkey Way, inside stories from the field, the stands, and the sidewalks outside the venerable old ballpark.

Fenway Park overflows with memories. Not just recollections and replays of cherished moments by players on the field, but from fans, who have their own favorite stories, from visiting, working for, or simply being near Fenway Park. This year marks the 70th anniversary of ’47, the sports lifestyle brand founded by Arthur and Henry D’Angelo that operates the Boston Red Sox Team Store on Yawkey Way. So we asked the ’47 family, as well as other notables in town with connections to the ballpark, to share their favorite stories of Fenway and the Red Sox.

A front row seat to the ’67 season

For anyone approaching or over the age of 60, the year 1967 dominates their Red Sox memories. Even for people who have lived through the pennant-winning and championship-winning years of 1975, 1986, 2004, 2007, and 2013 (and the heart-breaking year of 1978).

Consider Steve Russo. Russo started working as an usher at Fenway Park when he was 16 years old. He has now worked for the Sox for 50 years in various capacities, and has two World Series rings and years of memories about great games, great seasons, and great people. Yet, when asked to zero-in on his most memorable moments at Fenway, he immediately accesses 1967, his first year on the job.

Arthur D’Angelo with Ted Williams.

“At the beginning of the year, there weren’t many people to deal withthe team finished in 9th place in 1966,” Russo says. “But as the season progressed, the bleachers started to fill up.”

There were no seats out where Russo ushered, he recalls. Only long, wooden benches that required a single dollar to claim.

“I get a kick out of listening to the tour guides today show people the red seat where Ted Williams supposedly hit one of his home runs,” he says. “I’m laughing because there were no seats there.”

There wasn’t much security either. No one saw the need until later that year. The day the Sox clinched the playoffs in a game against the Minnesota Twins on the last day of the season, Russo was told to keep people from jumping on the field if they won.

“I remember I turned and saw the pop-up that [Rico] Petrocelli caught and I turned back to the crowd and faced a mass of humanity coming at me,” he says. “I’m trying to pull people off the fence and someone kicked me in the head and I said, ‘I don’t think I’m doing this.’ People were grabbing numbers off the scoreboard, ripping up sod, climbing the screen behind home plate… It was bedlam. One fellow jumped from the bleachers in center field where the garage doors are. I saw him go, he fell to the ground, got up and tried to walk and fell again because he had broken both his ankles. It was crazy, but so exciting.”

Globe staffOn October 12, 1967, loyal Red Sox fans crowded outside the press gate waiting for Sox players to leave the park before the 7th and deciding game of the World Series.

The Impossible Dream Year also sparks Bobby D’Angelo’s nostalgia.

I remember everything about that year,” says D’Angelo, co-owner of ’47, and son of founder Arthur D’Angelo. “Those last two games against the Twins were phenomenal. They came from winning nothing to all of a sudden winning the pennant and going to the World Series.”

And when the topic of pennants arise, D’Angelo must point out the family’s hard-to-believe legacy with actual pennants.

“My dad was the first one in the world to sell a major league baseball pennant,” he says. “There were college pennants, but no baseball pennants. When he started selling stuff in 1947, it wasn’t about shirts and hatsit was about novelties. Badges and buttons and pins and pennants, and rabbit’s feet. Now, of course, the business is all sportswear.”

Not your average ballpark

Globe StaffRed Sox relief pitcher John Wyatt scrawled tongue-in-cheek notes to himself on his glove. From top to bottom they say: “Cheat,” “Bear Down,” “Stay on Top,” “Keep it Down” and “When in doubt fork.”

The unique aspects of the country’s oldest ballpark also are top of mind when people are asked to recount their memories of Fenway and the Red Sox. Novelist Leslie Epstein (and father of former Sox general manager Theo), remembers having to drag his three reluctant kids to the park shortly after the family moved to Boston, and depended on the unusual aspects of the park to keep the kids engrossed.

“I said, ‘Kids, listen: Whatever you do, don’t bring any pepper to the stadium,’” Epstein remembers. “It’s strictly illegal. There was much infantile scoffing until we arrived at our seats, where, a little triumphantly, and quite sternly, too, I pointed out the ‘NO PEPPER’ signs. All three were abashed.”

Fenway provided plenty of material for the dad that day, he says.

“Only at Fenway did they have hay ice cream,” he said. “The kids rolled their eyes, but I knew a small part of their fragmentary minds was intrigued. And, lo, once again, as soon as we took our seats, I called their attention to several young men with large tubs tangling round their necks. Listen, I said. Listen closely. What was their wonderment on hearing, ‘HEY, ICE CREAM HERE. HEY, ICE CREAM!’ I have been something of a god to them ever since.”

To Janet Marie Smith, Fenway Park looked like a dark and dingy place, replete with underutilized space, cramped walkways, and unforgiving access points. But she has the eye of an architect, naturally drawn to how design and form can be altered to improve the fan experience. Her work with the Sox is well known and obvious when you consider it wasn’t that long ago when there were no Monster Seats, State Street Pavillion, Fan Concourse, and many other improvements she oversaw as the Red Sox chief architect. However, when asked to recount her time with her team, one of the first things that comes to mind is the view outside her office window on Yawkey Way.

“I remember seeing Mr. (Arthur) D’Angelo outside his store every morning sweeping the sidewalk,” Smith says. “At first I thought, wow, this is amazing, regardless of how well off he is, he owns that store and sells all that stuff and yet he still takes the time to clean off his own sidewalk.”

Further observation, though, convinced her there were other motives at play beyond cleaning up the street.

Arthur and Henry D’Angelo started their business selling pennants and other souvenirs in the Fenway area.

“He’s not just sweeping the sidewalk, that’s just a prop,” she says. “He’s keeping his eye on the world. He’s out here with his blue-collared shirt and little broom and he’s checking on everything like the Mayor of Yawkey Way. It’s almost a marketing strategy. It continued all during the time we were improving the area around Fenway Park and he didn’t want to really change the look of his store. He wanted to present it as it was, that was the way he wanted people to see it, as a simple store for the people. It was smart.”

Patrick Lyons also recalls seeing Arthur D’Angelo sweeping and shoveling and breaking ice in front of his store and figures passersby probably thought it was a homeless man trying to curry favor with the store’s owners, unaware that the man was one of the biggest property owners around Fenway Park.

“I think it speaks to his work ethic which was passed on to members of his family,” says Lyons, co-founder of The Lyons Group, which owned and operated a string of nightclubs and entertainment venues around Fenway Park.

But today Lyons said what most comes to mind when thinking about the Fenway area—he’s worked around there since the late 1970s—are the many positive changes that have taken place.

Globe staff34,193 people attend a game between the Boston Red Sox and the California Angels at Fenway Park in 1967.

“We used to close the iron doors on our nightclubs when the games ended years ago because we didn’t really want that bleacher crowd coming into our venues,” he says. “It’s not like that today.”

The business cycle around Fenway, he notes, was always a bumpy ride.

“If the team was winning, business was great,” Lyons says. “When they weren’t, it was a different story. Always up and down.”

Lyons recalls the lean years with a sense of awe.

“I remember the night Clemens struck out 20, I think there were 9,000 people in the ballpark [paid admission was about 14,000],” he says. “And it wasn’t a turning point. There were fewer people the next night.”

Lyons credits the new owners with the change, not just in win-loss percentage, but with altering the character and flavor of the area.

“Truthfully, you could count on one hand the number of games I attended before 2003,” he says. “Now, I’m a season ticket-holder.”

A first at Fenway

The man who invented Wally The Green Monster is currently senior vice president for Fenway Concerts and Entertainment. Larry Cancro, a 31-year veteran with the organization has probably forgotten more than most people remember about their time at Fenway Park. The few moments left with him are filled with outstanding stories and recollections of team play, but also behind-the-scenes marketing and innovation and the beginning of traditions that last today.

“In 1986, my second year with the team, we had both national and local merchandise licensees and our local licensee was ’47, or Twins,” he says. “And one day I’m talking with Bobby (D’Angelo) and he said, ‘If only there was some way the fans could see the championship merchandise on the players, we could sell a lot more of it.’ And a light bulb went on. And I thought, ‘I’m going to hand it to them to see if they’ll put it on.’

Arthur and Henry behind the counter.

We were pretty far ahead in the division, so I had special hats and shirts made up. When we won the division championship, I handed them to the players. Some of them looked at me like, ‘What do you want me to do with this?’ I said, ‘Put it on.’ Some did, some of them thought I was a jerk, but that was the first time in the history of sports that players put on special championship hats and shirts after a win. And sales, of course, skyrocketed. Now every sport does it. In fact, I’ve heard players on the field after games saying, ‘Where’s my hat?’ It’s done all the time now. But the first time it ever happened was in Fenway Park.”

Stadium standouts

Current Red Sox President Sam Kennedy swears that he worked in the Twins Enterprise store across the street from Fenway Park when he was 14 years-old during the summer of 1987, the year following the team’s improbable – and ultimately heartbreaking – run for the World Series championship.

“I sold a lot of hats,” says Kennedy, now 44. “You can quote me on that.”

His salesmanship helped propel him to an internship with the New York Yankees and eventually positions with the San Diego Padres. Now, with a Fenway Park office that overlooks the store where it all started, he looks back with a laugh.

“Apparently I did not make an impression,” Kennedy says. “The D’angelo family has no recollection of me whatsoever.”

Although Jeff Goldenberg has spent a lifetime around Fenway Park, beginning more than 30 years ago with the Sox when he was a Northeastern College co-op, the 2004 World Series and the 1999 All-Star Game are the events that come to him first when asked to think about his time there.

Globe StaffAfter the 86-year-long curse was reversed in 2004, fans packed Fenway Park to celebrate the World Series Champions.

“The crown jewel would be the World Series and being a part of that,” says Goldenberg, now general manager at House of Blues, which has offices just a few steps away from Fenway on Lansdowne Street. “The ’99 All-Star Game would be a close second. We worked on that for more than a year in advance.”

Fenway Park, Goldenberg agrees, has been a part of so many memorable moments, events, and games that it’s difficult to pinpoint one. He was part of the group that brought rock concerts to Fenway, which had been unthinkable before the new ownership.

“Bruce Springsteen was our first one, which was great,” Goldenberg agrees. “But our second one was in the summer of 2004 with Jimmy Buffett, and he came out with a short film and song about breaking the Curse of the Bambino so he takes credit for that year and breaking the curse.”

Of course, perhaps Mr. Margaritaville had a little help breaking that curse. The summer of 2004, after all, was full of magic, and business boomed on Yawkey Way. That was the summer when Jason Varitek shoved his mitt into the face of A-Rod. When favorite son Nomar Garciaparra was traded. When a 3-0 series deficit to the hated Yankees in the playoffs was just a bump in the road. When a bloody sock became the stuff of legend. And when another legend, the legend of Big Papi, began. For Red Sox fans, and for the neighborhood around legendary Fenway Park, a new chapter had begun.

 

 

This content was produced by Boston Globe Media's BG BrandLab in collaboration with the advertiser. The news and editorial departments of The Boston Globe had no role in its production or display.