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'You have to let it go'
Demise of Fenway Park drawing mixed emotions
Posted: Thursday June 03, 1999 05:19 PM
BOSTON (AP) -- The late A. Bartlett Giamatti once compared Fenway Park to Mount Olympus, the pyramids at Giza and the Louvre.
"Except ... it was better than all those inconsequential places," wrote the scholar-turned-baseball commissioner who, like many American intellectuals, was given to poetry and hyperbole about Fenway.
Fenway and Tiger Stadium are the oldest ballparks in the majors, having officially opened on the same day, April 20, 1912. Fenway is also the smallest, with 33,871 seats.
Old and small, however, do not add up to major league profits.
The Red Sox want a bigger park across Yawkey Way, inspiring an outpouring of opposition, nostalgia and, surprisingly, even support from some of Fenway's most faithful.
"Whatever tears I've had for Fenway, I've long since shed," said Roger Angell, an editor at the New Yorker who wrote the classic baseball book, "The Summer Game." "We can let some of these parks go."
Certainly the most treasured features of the park that writer John Updike once called a "lyric little bandbox" would be missed.
A recent Boston Herald poll showed 49 percent of Massachusetts voters don't want to let go of Fenway's beloved nooks and crannies, its hand-operated scoreboard, the outfield bullpens where Ted Williams used to crack homers and the Green Monster, a 37-foot-high wall listed as only 315 tantalizing feet from home plate.
"Fenway's awesome," said David Doucette, a 28-year-old corporate banker during a cigarette break Thursday.
"I like the old Fenway just like I liked the old Garden," he said, referring to the Boston Garden. The home of the Celtics and Bruins finally was torn down last year after a larger arena was built next door.
Another 31 percent of those polled supported tearing down the park, which was featured in the 1989 film, "Field of Dreams." They'd like to get rid of the narrow seats, the obstructed views and the puddles of standing water when it rains.
"It's about time they did it," said Pedro Martinez, the team's Cy Young award winner. "It's like an old man who passes away. You have to let go."
The Red Sox say they need the revenue from a bigger park if they're ever to win a World Series, a prize that has eluded them since 1918, the year of the heartbreaking sale of Babe Ruth to the hated New York Yankees.
"No one should, with that treacly 'baseball is life' stuff, convince you otherwise," said filmmaker Ken Burns, a Fenway fan who chronicled baseball's history in a nine-part public TV series. "I believe baseball is life, but life is profits."
People actually opposed Fenway when it was built in 1912 because the flavor of the game would be lost without the old wooden grandstands, Burns said.
The Red Sox plan is to build a ballpark that's 35 percent bigger than the house that Ruth left, but -- like Baltimore's Camden Yards and Cleveland's Jacobs Field -- one that retains the intimacy and charm of older ballparks.
Residents of the Kenmore Square neighborhood that defines the park's quirky geometry also agree the Red Sox need a better home field.
But the neighbors, many of whom work or study at nearby colleges and hospitals, object mightily to the team's plans to move home plate 206 yards to the southwest, destroying 24 buildings in the process.
"I don't believe that this new megaplex belongs in this area at all," said Stephen M. Mindich, chairman of the Phoenix Media Group and owner of several buildings the Red Sox want the city to take by eminent domain. "It's just wrong."
A neighborhood group called Save Fenway Park! hired an architect to draw up plans to renovate the ballpark by adding seats, luxury boxes and concession areas.
Red Sox officials, along with commissioner Bud Selig, have said saving the park is not feasible. The team has carefully cultivated the state's most powerful politicians, who may be asked for up to $200 million in assistance to buy land and build infrastructure to support the projected $350 million park.
But the preservationists are also wooing key lawmakers, who say they're open to saving Fenway.
The debate will likely intensify during the days leading up its starring role in the All-Star game on July 13.
The Red Sox best-case scenario has a new park opening in 2003, but Dan Shaughnessy, The Boston Globe columnist who wrote two books about Fenway, thinks it will take at least five more years.
"I'd like it to be forever, but I understand the reality," Shaughnessy said. "We could all be dead by the time this is done."
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