By Larry Fine
BOSTON (Reuters) - Major League Baseball's oldest stadium hits the century mark on Friday and the Boston Red Sox are throwing a grand 100th anniversary bash for fabled Fenway Park.
Thursday brought the Red Sox faithful an invitation to a remarkable house party, with thousands of fans welcomed into the quirky old ballpark to savor an up-close view of the diamond treasure nestled in the middle of the bustling seaboard city.
Another 100 fans won pairs of Fenway game tickets by finding the prize inside balloons placed around town.
From the towering Green Monster wall in left with its old-time scoreboard, to the triangle in deepest center, to the Pesky Pole down the short right-field line, Fenway Park is an instantly recognizable gem and the scene of a treasure trove of baseball history.
Babe Ruth broke into the major leagues with the Red Sox two years after John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, the eventual grandfather of John F. Kennedy, Jr., tossed out the ceremonial first pitch at Fenway on April 20, 1912, as the proud mayor of Boston.
Ruth was a magnificent left-handed pitcher before evolving into the game's greatest slugger after being sold to the Yankees.
Fittingly, Friday's anniversary game is against the New Yorkers, reprising the inaugural Fenway Park game between the Red Sox and the New York Highlanders, who a year later changed their name to the Yankees.
The game will be played at 3:15 pm, as on April 20, 1912 when the Red Sox won 7-6 in 11 innings, and the teams will dress in throwback uniforms for the contest following a ceremony celebrating the centennial.
The Red Sox and Yankees have been linked throughout the Fenway century.
The sale of Ruth to the Yankees in 1919 by Boston owner Harry Frazee, a theater producer who was short on funds, led to the end of a golden era for the Red Sox, who had won four World Series crowns in seven years, and the rise of the Yankees.
The move came to be known as The Curse of the Bambino and Red Sox fans suffered through 86 years of near misses and bad baseball before a delicious deliverance in 2004.
Boston finally got back into the winner's circle by becoming the first MLB team ever to overcome a 3-0 playoffs deficit, sweeping the last four games from the Yankees to claim the American League title on their way to winning the World Series with a sweep of the Cardinals.
Much of the charm of what has been called America's oldest living museum, built two years before the Chicago Cubs' home of Wrigley Field, can be traced to the necessities of fitting a ball park into a piece of big city real estate.
While the footprint of the stadium remains, Fenway has had numerous facelifts over the decades. The last 10 years have seen some deft upgrading that added comfort and additional, premium seats to the cozy, 37,000-seat stadium.
Changes were not so subtle in the early years after fires destroyed bleachers and grandstand seats and razed the wooden fence in left.
Tom Yawkey, who bought the club in 1933, began a major overhaul in January 1934 after another major fire.
Concrete bleachers replaced the wood bleachers in center field, and the 37-foot wooden left field wall was replaced by a 37-foot sheet metal structure.
Two years later a 23-1/2-foot tall screen was added on top of the wall to protect the windows of buildings on adjoining Lansdowne Street.
When the wall's advertisements were covered by green paint in 1947, Fenway Park's signature feature -- the Green Monster -- was born.
Fenway has been home to such luminaries as Ted Williams, one of major league baseball's greatest hitters, Carl Yazstremski, Luis Tiant, Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez, and to memories both painful and glorious of fly balls that carried over the Monster for home runs.
There was 1975, when Carlton Fisk ended one of the greatest World Series games with his 12th inning, Game Six walk-off homer against the Cincinnati Reds down the left field line that he desperately waved fair as he danced down the first base line.
Three years later, a high fly ball from light-hitting Yankees shortstop Bucky Dent barely scraped over the wall for a three-run homer that broke the hearts of home crowd as the Yankees won a one-game playoff to settle a division race that the Red Sox had led by 14-1/2 games in mid-July.
Just two moments illustrating the agony and ecstasy that have shared the stage in a century of baseball at Fenway Park.
(Editing by Justin Palmer)