By TERRY LYONS, Editor-in-Chief
BOSTON – They broke ground on Jersey Street in the Back Bay Fens-meets-Kenmore neighborhood of Boston on April 25, 1912, nearly 105 years ago and somehow, the greatest generation of builders reached for and obtained perfection. Besides the fact there’s the perfect distance of 60-feet, six inches from the rubber on the pitcher’s mound to the rear point of home plate and 90-feet between the bases, the rest of Fenway Park is truly unique.
Now, “unique” is a dangerous word to a journalist because very few things can be considered absolutely unique. New York is unique. Fingerprints are unique. Augusta, Tiger Woods and The Masters are unique. John Lennon was unique and Yoko Ono is really unique. In Boston’s classic rock history, Steven Tyler is unique, while conducting the Pops, Arthur Fiedler was unique. In basketball, Bill Russell and Satch Sanders are unique, just as Red Auerbach and Larry Bird were each and in their very own ways, one-of-a-kind and well beyond unique.
Traffic on 93, snowy days in April, Dunkin Donuts shops and Legal Seafood are not unique.
The word unique is over-used by public relations professionals in their trumped-up press releases. Frequently, I’ll take a “unique” press release or an “I’m excited … quote” from said release and toss it in the little trash bin conveniently located on the right corner dock of my failing computer, as hard drives can never qualify as unique because of their 100% failure rate.
The exception to my rule is the fact a news release or any type of commentary about Fenway Park has Carte Blanche or an unlimited AMEX Platinum card of available credit to use the word “unique” simply because, since the building of that monstrosity next to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, only Wrigley Field in Chicago and Fenway Park can claim uniqueness among major league parks.
That brings us to the preparations for Opening Day 2018 at Fenway, and our invite a couple days before the Boston Red Sox host the Tampa Bay Rays, when we gathered with the New England media corps for a sneak preview of the improvements to “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark.”
Opening Day and Patriots’ Day are the two New England holidays everyone celebrates and Sam Kennedy, the President, CEO and highly capable steward of the Boston baseball franchise from a working man’s perspective, was joined for our tour by the equally-capable Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans, a.k.a. “America’s Most Beloved Policeman.” We all wanted to see what the harsh winter months did to the beloved ballpark since we last saw it in the fall when the Houston Astros dumped the Red Sox into the Charles.
Changes, err, “improvements” to Fenway are nothing new. The most significant and noticeable change to the ballpark came about in the winter of 2002-03 when the famed Green Monster became the foundation to some 274 “Monster Seats,” located atop the 23-foot wall, some 310 feet away from home plate. But, while the change was significant, the goal of keeping the authenticity and appeal of the origins of Fenway was met and possibly exceeded. So, too, were the changes made to the scoreboard (added in 1934 until the National League scores were removed in 1976 but restored in 2003), the old 600 Club and main pressbox renovation, the installation of lights (1947) and a slew of cosmetic improvements, seating options, suites, and technology gadgets, not to mention improvements to the concourses and concessions.
“We thrown some ideas against the wall to see what sticks, but then everything is highly debated,” said Sox Executive VP and COO Jonathan Gilula, one of Kennedy’s right-hand men in the front office who oversees these renovations. “We’ve got a design team that’s worked on Fenway improvements since 2002 and they really care deeply about respecting Fenway Park, maintaining the look and feel and charm of the place.”
For 2018, the most important improvement is the fact the club extended protective netting well beyond the dugout to allow for 12-feet, eight inches of protection to fans in the field level seats. The netting is a new “field green” color to minimize the distraction factor for sightlines, a welcome and now MLB-wide protection for fans at all 30 major league parks.
The most innovative change was the installation of a new 25-seat field level group seating area to be known as the “Jim Beam Dugout,” (think Bourbon). The new space will be sold on a game-to-game basis and fans will have a viewpoint similar to the players and coaches, complete with bats, helmets and a gatorade cooler or two. Fans will have to bring their own sunflower seeds but in-game service for frosty refreshments and snacks are available for purchase if fans are still thirsty after a pre-game invite to the Royal Rooters Club out in the right field (Gate K) concourse.
The take-away from the new dugout was the fact it blended in with the rest of the field level aura of Fenway, as the contractors from Gilbane Inc. worked with DAIQ Architects of Somerville to take only one row from prior seating and build-out slightly to the 1B/right field line warning track, tucking the new seating area almost incognito.
“We’ve had a good run since 2002, and literally every off-season we came up with some level of improvement,” Gilula added. “Between 2002 and 2011 was our 10-year period of major improvements to Fenway. Probably the last six or seven years, it’s been more modest but still important improvements for fans.”
For fans of the big right field roof “Budweiser” deck, you’ll need to change your brew to Sam Adams, as the Red Sox struck a major beverage deal with the Boston Beer Co. and it resulted in a refreshed and rebranded “Sam Deck.” Along with the news signs and availability of Boston Lager, Sam ’76, Rebel IPA and a host of others, including the ever-so-popular Sam Seasonal varieties (think Sam Summer until September when the Octoberfest rolls in). Somehow, the signature 74-feet by 10-foot high Sam Adams sign actually complements the iconic John Hancock billboard atop the center field bleachers while the “Sammy’s on 3rd” bar near Gate E might be the most popular and utilized “improvement” in Fenway history.
Sammy’s on 3rd at Fenway Park
The tour continued all around the park to showcase new seats in left field just past the visitor’s dugout and a refreshed “Coca-Cola Corner” on the left field side of the park, opposite Sam Adams’ joint. The media relations crew hit a grand slam with our sneak peek concluding with a sampling of some of Aramark’s finest, including New England Lobster Rolls, Cavendish Farms Tator Tots, topped with bacon bits, sour cream and fresh chives, popular make your own salad offerings and a list of treats far too long to list, but well worth your time and hard earned bucks.
On Patriots’ Day, April 16th’s 11am first pitch, look for Creme Brûlée French Toast as the show-stopper, along with Jane Dough cookie dough with or without ice cream.
All-in-all, Opening Day to Patriots’ Day, right on to the third most important day on the baseball schedule will be celebrated nicely from every angle a baseball fan might expect, especially from a safety and security stand-point.
Three important days, you said?
Yes, maybe we’ll see you the night you’re lucky enough to have tickets or at World Series Game 7.