BOSTON — From the edge of the grass at Fenway Park, Washington Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty points to straightaway center field.
That’s where the memories are.
“I used to run out from there,” says McCatty, who spent nine years with the Oakland Athletics. “Have 5,000 people in the stands there where that Aetna [sign] is yelling, ‘McCadey sucks! Hey McCadey! McCadey, you suck!’
“So I loved pitching here. It was always fun.”
Fenway Park opened in 1912 and is the oldest stadium in Major League Baseball, two years older than Wrigley Field in Chicago. The Nationals don’t make many trips here, so each one is special. Being guests for the Red Sox’s home opener, as they were on Monday, is even more so.
The Nationals played at Fenway Park in June 2012, sweeping a three-game series. But for players who were injured at the time or have since made it to the major-leagues, this week’s trip to Fenway Park is a first.
“It’s definitely awesome,” center fielder Michael Taylor said. “A story that I’ll have forever.”
Before Monday’s series opener, manager Matt Williams and bench coach Randy Knorr ran stairs in the grandstand section of seats. Starter Max Scherzer jogged back and forth atop the iconic “Green Monster” in left field. Closer Drew Storen, who was on the disabled list during that 2012 series, paused at the edge of the grass for a moment, soaking in the atmosphere before joining the rest of the pitchers in left field to stretch.
“A lot of tradition here,” Williams said. “We get a chance to stand on the line that many, many Hall-of-Famers stood on for Opening Day. We get a chance to do it again today.”
Beyond the aura of Fenway Park, there are also unique features that can influence a game. There’s the short right-field fence and “Pesky’s pole,” the jagged edge in right-center field, and, of course, the towering left-field wall.
Before Monday, left fielder Jayson Werth hadn’t played in front of the “Green Monster” since June 2004, when he was with the Los Angeles Dodgers. A reporter asked him about the challenges the wall presents.
“It’s big. Tall. Short,” Werth said. “So all the challenges that come with those scenarios. Manny [Ramirez] played out there for a long time and did alright, so we’ll see.”
McCatty chuckled when asked about playing at Fenway Park. He went 2-4 with a 5.57 ERA here and doesn’t have many fond memories on the field. He remembers former Red Sox all-star Fred Lynn wrapping one of his pitches around the right-field foul pole. The cramped infield. The boos in the bullpen, some of which he brought upon himself.
“I’d act like I was going to throw them a ball and then I’d turn around and throw it somewhere else,” he said, grinning. “Whatever I could do to torture them, make it worse for myself, I did.”
But the aura of the park, the history in these walls — that always resonates with McCatty. He compared it to Wrigley Field, the old Yankee Stadium and Tiger Stadium. Walking into the stadium Monday morning, he had thought, “Man. This is what a ballpark’s supposed to be like.”
“It’s the walls,” McCatty explained. “Babe Ruth walking through that tunnel. Ty Cobb. Every other freakin’ guy that ever played this game. I mean, that, to me, that’s what’s really cool about this. We’re at the same place everybody’s played.”