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On Opening Day 2004, the Fenway Park makeover continues

BY CHRISTOPHER YOUNG


At 4:15 p.m. on Thursday — a full 23 hours before the first pitch was slated to be thrown at Fenway Park’s season opener — a hardy soul had already planted his lawn chair outside the stadium’s ticket office. His goal: to head the line of those hoping to secure a ducat for Opening Day.

With his chair, boom box, and rain gear at the ready, he epitomized the absolute mania surrounding this year’s edition of the Boston Red Sox. This young man was ready to sit in the rain throughout the night just for the opportunity to pay $20 for perhaps merely a standing-room ticket that would get him into the stadium for the game, which would likely still be rainy and boast temperatures in the mid 40s.

That’s dedication. Or signs of mental derangement.

Still, should he get into the 92-year-old ball yard for Friday’s game, he will see the vast improvements that the Red Sox brass — led by Planning and Development vice-president Janet Marie Smith (who oversaw the creation of Baltimore’s Camden Yards) — has made to the existing structure. Remarkably, it’s been only two seasons since the new ownership took over the franchise, but this group has done more in just those 24 months than the Yawkey Trust regime did in the previous 24 years.

The media were given a tour of the park on Thursday, and Smith and Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino took great pride in unveiling all the improvements accomplished since "the last out was made last October," according to Smith. Some of the changes are merely cosmetic, while others continue to add to the fans’ experience and enjoyment of the facility. In any event, it’s plain that the current Sox ownership has made the distinct choice to renovate, rather than replace, Fenway Park. And for now, given the results, that’s a good thing.

In the hustle and bustle of Opening Day and weekend, it may be difficult for arriving fans to notice some of the subtle nuances outside the park, but if you attend a game this season, you may well recognize some of the enhancements. Perhaps you’ll realize that the sidewalks on Van Ness Street — the thoroughfare that runs behind the right-field grandstand — have been widened by seven feet, or that Japanese cherry trees have been planted there, and will, come next year, blossom in springtime like those that adorn the tidal basin in our nation’s capital. You may even notice, as you’re leaving the park, the decorative acorn lamps that also line the streets and take fans back to a long-ago time when talk of curses and whining millionaires was still decades away.

And once inside, maybe the new signage that directs patrons around the park will catch your eye, since it was designed to replicate the signs that were erected back in 1934 when the stadium received its first real makeover (after a massive off-season fire).

But the one thing you can’t possibly miss — particularly if you have tickets for it — is the brand-new right-field roof pavilion, where 14,000 square feet of space has been added for seating, concessions, and restrooms. Towering over it is a huge BUDWEISER sign, with the initial "B" alone measuring about 20 feet high. In tandem with last year’s Monster Seats, which were constructed on top of the left-field wall, the new area offers a similarly spectacular view of the park, as well as the Boston skyline behind it. Wrigley Field has a similar picnic area behind home plate, but those fans cannot see the game in progress. In Fenway’s new space, there will be 48 tables (each shaped like home plate) with four barstool-type seats at each, and waiter service will allow you to eat and drink without missing a minute of the action down below. Another 85 feet of stand-up counter space will accommodate another 100 standing-room fans. While this open-air pavilion could get downright chilly during the first month or so of the season, perhaps those cold fans will be placated by the expanded menu, including such novel Fenway items as barbecued ribs, fish and chips, clam rolls, tacos, and cheesesteaks. The builders incorporated some inventiveness and history into the area, as the bar’s façade contains some of the original bricks used in the park’s construction, and the bar top is made of wood from the lanes of the now-defunct bowling alley that resided in the stadium basement. The four-seat tables go for $300 per game ($400 for premier games like the Yankees and Dodgers), but include a $100-per-table concessions voucher. Most tables face the left-field foul pole and the Green Monster, and folks will likely be watching the entire game sideways. Still, the view is as magnificent, or more so, than the year-old Monster seats. Most of these added seats have already sold out for the entire season, but the club will put a select number of standing-room spaces on sale on game days.

Steel reinforcements were necessary so that the ballpark could support the pavilion, which sits right above the right-field grandstand and the façade where the retired numbers are posted. Previously, the space was used only for an added camera angle. One can only hope that people on the left side of the area will behave, and refrain from throwing debris down at those right-field bleacherites in section 43 who will be at their mercy throughout the game.

But the right-field addition is hardly the only major change at Fenway this season. In the past, it seemed like the main entrance at Gate A (next to the main ticket office) and the bleacher entrance (Gate C) on Lansdowne Street were the only ways into the park. The team has since upgraded the entrance ways at the other gates and installed additional ticket booths to ease the usual crush of people coming up from Kenmore Square.

The other big news regarding the gates is that Gate B will be phased out as an entrance to the park, but a statue of Ted Williams will be brought in and unveiled at that spot on Friday, April 16. The bronze image of the late slugger (apparently Boston mayor Tom Menino’s idea) will be located at the corner of Ipswich and Van Ness Streets behind the right-field grandstand.

Not everyone will get the opportunity to sit in the coveted Monster seats or the new right-field pavilion this season, but even those patrons down below will see improvements throughout the park, including:

• Wider concourses and bigger restrooms (including family bathrooms), particularly in the area behind the third-base grandstand.

• Additional and more diverse food choices, including a Hood counter serving root-beer floats, booths that offer Papa Gino’s pizza and Legal Sea Foods chowder, and even a concession stand where you can buy Chinese food (!?).

• Bike racks will soon be installed inside the concourse for those fans who (wisely) choose not to drive into the congested Fenway area for the game.

• Along with the aforementioned redesigned signage, which adds some character to the joint, there are lots of vintage Red Sox photographs adorning the concourse walls.

Those fortunate enough to attend Opening Day will get to see in person some of the heroes pictured in those classic photos. Legends like Jim Lonborg, Bruce Hurst, Luis Tiant, Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, Carl Yastrzemski, and Hall of Fame inductee Dennis Eckersley are expected to be introduced to the crowd during pre-game ceremonies.

With all that good news for potential Fenway visitors, there’s bound to be some bad news, and it’s pretty much cut and dried: if you don’t already have tickets for this season, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to buy any, even at this early date. Pre-sales of tickets have been unprecedented this off-season, and the big tote board in the ticket office declares that every single home game is already sold out — allegedly 2.4 million tickets sold before a single pitch has been thrown. Lucchino insisted on Thursday that the team is hoping for a season-long goal of 2.7 million tickets sold — which implies that there are several hundred thousand tix still available — but realistically, those remaining tickets are most likely single seats scattered throughout the park on any given night of the team’s 81-game home slate. So if you intend to take the family to a sunny weekend afternoon of baseball this summer, you’d better have some connections or a Steinbrenner-size wallet to pay scalper prices out on the street.

Or good timing. Your remaining best shot at tickets is to keep pounding away at the ticket office or the phone, particularly on the day of the games, since tickets are often turned back into the box office on game days and made available. Otherwise, call a ticket agency, check with the concierge of your hotel, or prepare to pay top dollar to the weasels hawking their wares in and around the perimeter of the park.

Whatever you do, however, find a way to get yourself to the new-and-improved Fenway this season. The team itself may continue to confound and frustrate even its most loyal patrons, but the ownership has made it clear that the fans come first, and has continued its commitment to giving the Sox’ loyal patrons one of the best baseball experiences they’re ever going to find.

Not cheaply, mind you, but their collective hearts are obviously in the right place. In their two years at the reins, they have shown Boston’s fans that they "get it," and that they truly and without question give a damn.

Live from Fenway Park, it’s time to play ball!

"Sporting Eye" runs Mondays and Fridays on all 3 Phoenix sites. Christopher Young can be reached at cyoung[a]phx.com.

The Game On archive.
Issue Date: April 9, 2004
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