- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
ON A WARM LATE-SUMMER DAY 10 years and $285 million in renovations later, Jonathan Gilula, the Red Sox' executive vice president of business affairs and a key figure in remaking what is billed as America's Most Beloved Ballpark, leads a visitor on a tour of Fenway. He points out its myriad features and amenities old and new. "We followed what the owners came to call the Hippocratic Oath of Fenway," Gilula explains. "That is, 'Do no harm.'"
While the ballpark has lost none of the quirks and charm it has always had, it has been thoroughly modernized and improved in a long, incremental renovation that was completed before the 2011 season, the park's 100th year. The project wasn't cheap, but it cost less than one fifth of what the Yankees spent to build their new ballpark, which tries to replicate many features of their old one but lacks, many say, its soul.
The most famous addition to Fenway was the 2003 installation of the 269 Green Monster Seats that are perched where there was once netting above the wall that Tom Yawkey despised. The seats (which had a face value of $165 per game in 2011) have become baseball's most sought after, but like almost all of Fenway's improvements, they look as if they have always been there, not least because of the proprietary shade of paint, now called Fenway Green, that covers them. "We could have come in and built some gigantic set of glass-enclosed superboxes up there that might have generated more revenue," said Lucchino in mid-September 2011, sitting in a Fenway conference room that had once been Yawkey's personal bar. "But we wanted something that looked as if it had been there forever."
The renovation included a number of other large-scale improvements, among them the building of a section on the roof in rightfield that since 2004 has been home to a concession and seating area, called the Budweiser Right Field Roof Deck; it has room for 307 and features picnic tables shaped like home plate. There are also vastly expanded concourse areas throughout the park (with significantly upgraded food options), the room for which was found in many cases by carving into the adjacent Laundry and Jeano buildings. ("One of our slogans was, We fight for inches," says Lucchino.) The premium-seating clubs behind home plate also have been completely revamped. Finally, before the 2011 season, three high-definition video boards were installed in centerfield—three, not one, so that the tiny park would not be overwhelmed by an LED-lighted monolith.
Such renovations, notes Lucchino, represented only the iceberg's tip. "There was a lot of less glamorous stuff that had to take place as well, be it infrastructure improvements or something as simple as Yawkey Way," he says. In fact, the game-day blocking off to traffic of Yawkey Way, which runs parallel with Fenway's third base line and has engendered 81 pregame San Gennaro--like street festivals for Red Sox fans per year, may fall into the glamour category. Less enticing—but costly and crucial—projects included the modernizing of the ballpark's electrical and sewage systems and the waterproofing of its concrete. While the Sox clubhouse remains among baseball's smallest (and the vermin that plague any 100-year-old structure are still occasionally spotted by players), it is now well-appointed, and is connected to a new weight room and a players' lounge in which the Sox can enjoy the latest in healthy food. There was also the replacement of every seat in the park so that all chairs would automatically flip up when unoccupied, allowing easier access in long rows. One of those new seats, still red in a sea of green, is in the exact spot where Ted Williams hit that famously long home run in 1946.
THE NEW NEW FENWAY HAS DONE MORE THAN PROVIDE RED SOX FANS with a pleasant environment in which to take in a game. It has helped the Red Sox do what Tom Yawkey lamented could never be done: build a perennial championship contender to play within it. Fenway's 37,493 night-game capacity, 3,500 more than before the renovations, remains among Major League Baseball's lowest. (Only the Tampa Bay Rays' Tropicana Field and the Oakland Athletics' O.co Coliseum are smaller.) But through the end of the 2011 season, Fenway had sold out 712 straight games—a major-league-record streak that dates to 2003. And that's at the game's highest average ticket prices ($53.38). "There's a direct correlation between the efforts to renovate Fenway Park and the efforts to improve the baseball team," says Lucchino. "The more appealing the ballpark, the more sellouts the ballpark can engender, the more revenue can be invested into the team, the amateur draft, scouting, areas that we've increased dramatically over the past 10 years. Fenway Park is the little engine that could."
Indeed, the Red Sox' team payroll in six of the past 10 seasons has trailed only the Yankees', and that—combined with a deeper understanding of the type of player who can prosper in Fenway's environs ("Fenway Park's playing dynamics used to be misunderstood—it's a doubles and triples park, not a home run park," says Lucchino)—helped the club hoist the World Series trophy for the first time in 86 years in 2004 and then again in '07.
"When you sign up to be a Boston Red Sox, I think you understand that almost every night—and for us it's been every night—you're playing in front of not just loyal and passionate and smart fans, but a full house," says Werner. "I think that's got to have an impact on our won-loss record."
In addition to the much-improved clubhouse conditions, Boston players know that their stadium will be full of energy. As David Ortiz, a Red Sox mainstay since 2003, says, "It's a place you want to perform, you know? It was a great idea not knocking down this place right here but renewing it."