(AP) – The last time the Chicago Cubs made a trip to Fenway Park, Cubs hitters were trying to figure out ace pitcher Babe Ruth, and baseball’s oldest ballpark was still a new-age novelty.
Nearly a century later, the Cubs are finally headed back to Fenway to face the Boston Red Sox when two of the sport’s most storied franchises open interleague play Friday night.
“This is a great series for the fans,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona, a part-time player for the Cubs in 1986. “I think it’s going to be a big ticket.”
Indeed, everyone on Yawkey Way was getting geared up.
Souvenir shops were hawking all kinds of Cubs-Red Sox merchandise Thursday, including a green T-shirt that read: “THE GREEN MONSTER. NO IVY ON THIS WALL.”
A front-row seat for Sunday night’s nationally televised game was available for $860 on StubHub.
“Everybody I know on the face of the earth is going to be there,” said Cubs manager Mike Quade, who has family in the Boston area. “It will be a fun weekend for all of us.”
In particular, fans with a thirst for history and tradition.
Way back in 1918, overshadowed by World War I, the Cubs and Red Sox squared off in the 15th World Series.
At the time, they were the two most successful clubs in baseball. The Red Sox already owned four Series championships, while the Cubs were coming off their fifth National League pennant in 13 years.
Because of the war, the baseball season ended a month early that year and the World Series was played in early September. Many key players on both sides sat out because they were serving in the military or working.
Hoping for big crowds, the Cubs played their Series home games at Comiskey Park instead of Wrigley Field, which had opened four years earlier.
After the first three games in Chicago, the Series moved to Boston and players threatened to strike over a dispute about gate money. The Red Sox wrapped up the title in six games despite scoring only nine runs, and the clincher drew just 15,238 fans.
The armistice between the Allies and Germany was signed exactly two months later.
So, are the Cubs bent on revenge for that painful defeat 93 years ago? Chicago first baseman Carlos Pena laughed.
“We’re not going to put all of that on us. We’re just going to do the best we can to win a game,” said Pena, who went to high school just outside Boston and attended Northeastern University in the city. “It’s a historic event. We’re going to enjoy it, and I’m sure the fans will also.”
Ruth went 2-0 with a 1.06 ERA in two starts during the 1918 Series and entered the final game as a defensive replacement in left field. He was still more accomplished as a pitcher than a slugger back then – even though he hit .300 with a league-leading 11 homers and 66 RBIs that season.
With the dead ball era winding down, The Bambino teamed up with 21-game winner Carl Mays to shut down a Chicago club led by first baseman Fred Merkle and pitcher Hippo Vaughn.
Recently, the Chicago History Museum put a 1920 court deposition on its website that raised questions about whether the Cubs threw the Series.
Of course, that was still the early stages of a long run of futility for the Cubs, who haven’t won a World Series since 1908. And the 1918 title was the last for the Red Sox until they ended an 86-year drought in 2004.
All the while, loyal fans fell in love with each franchise, cherishing summer days at sun-splashed Wrigley Field or creaky Fenway Park, which opened in 1912.
“Still loyal – loyal with a sense of what’s going to happen next? Once we were able to break through that then things changed,” Boston catcher Jason Varitek said. “I think it’s a fun matchup for the history of the game.”
But my, how times have changed. In recent years Boston has become a perennial contender (with another championship in 2007), while the Cubs have struggled. Knocked out of the playoffs three times in the past decade, they haven’t even been to the World Series since 1945.
The Cubs aren’t expected to challenge in the NL Central this year, either, and they’re off to a slow start.
“Both historical organizations, just one’s going in a different direction,” Red Sox outfielder Mike Cameron said.
Interleague play began in 1997, but the schedule had not sent the Cubs to Boston until this year. They took two of three games from the Red Sox in a 2005 series at Wrigley Field.
“We all appreciate history, but it is another game and you’re more focused on what you need to do as an individual and not the aura and stuff that surrounds it,” Quade said. “But one of the things that makes the game great is this kind of matchup. So many friends of mine and family members wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
Neither would some of the players.
“I’ve never been to Fenway before. I’ve never even been to Boston. I’m pretty excited to get up there and see what it’s all about,” said Cubs rookie Tony Campana, who made his major league debut Tuesday. “It’s two of the biggest baseball teams ever. For them to play each other, it’s going to be fun. We’re all pretty excited about it.”
Behind the Fenway Park press box, a grainy photo depicts that 1918 Series. Take a close look and it’s easy to marvel at all that HASN’T changed.
“As many times as I’ve been in Fenway, it’s still fun to walk in there and go, `Wow.’ Hopefully the ‘wow’ won’t last too long, and it’s time to go to work,” Quade said.
AP Baseball Writer Ben Walker, AP Sports Writers Steven Wine and Simmi Buttar, and AP freelance writer Doug Alden contributed to this report.
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