There’s a small plaque just behind the bleachers at Nickerson that commemorates our soccer field’s past life as a baseball stadium. For 38 seasons, it was called Braves Field, and it was the home to Boston’s first baseball team, the Braves. The Braves were not very good during their time in Boston; they appeared in the World Series only twice, and their solitary victory came the year before moving to Braves Field. The Red Sox, however, were very successful in the 20th century’s opening decades, and in 1915 and 1916, they opted to play their World Series home games at Braves Field, which at the time had a larger capacity than Fenway Park. A crowd of 47,373 flocked to what is now BU’s campus to see Babe Ruth pitch 14 innings in Game 2 of the 1916 World Series, a 2-1 victory. The home plate Ruth threw towards was about on the spot of one of the modern soccer goals; had he hit a long foul ball down the right field line, it would have landed in the wooden grandstand that eventually became our metal bleachers. The buildings of west campus occupy the space once held by the grandstand behind home.
The point of this history lesson, if there is one, is to acknowledge that Boston has long been a sports city of some repute. It did not burst onto the scene when the Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2002; it long suffered with the Red Sox and Bruins and elated with the Celtics. The Hub has seen a great deal of recent success, but it has always been one of the best sports towns in America.
This is not an “our fans are better than your fans” thing; that’s an idiot’s game. This country has many great sports cities. That said, I believe that sports might have their roots a little closer to the core of Boston than other places. After this country’s first major city watched as its neighbors to the southwest outpaced it in finance, politics and population, sports remained as the one area where Boston could still assert its superiority. If you took sports out of New York, it would have Broadway, the Statue of Liberty, and Wall Street; if you took sports out of Boston, it would have a drinking problem. (This same concept makes Buffalo rabid about their Bills and Sabres, albeit without any success.) Fenway Park is in the top three* of Boston’s tourist destinations, and surely no event brings more people to this city than the marathon. In 8th grade, my middle school’s trip was to Boston, and nothing got a bigger reaction than when the bus passed by Fenway. To an outsider, Boston is very much its sports teams and their fans.
*I have no statistics to back this up.
The Braves left their namesake stadium when they moved to Milwaukee in 1953, but it served other professional teams. Braves/Nickerson Field briefly played host to the Boston Braves football team, who became the Washington Redskins; the Boston Patriots, who would spend a couple years at Fenway before moving to Foxboro; and the Boston Minutemen of the North American Soccer League, who folded after three seasons. To this date, neither of those sports has been able to make their home inside Boston’s city limits for long. That, however, is the subject of a future post.