Stadium aims for new-old design

Sun Journal

Ballpark: The Boston Red Sox look to increase their revenue potential with a new Fenway Park, and are looking at Camden Yards as an example of how to maintain an old-fashioned ambience.

July 15, 1999|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

BOSTON -- If you look closely enough, you'll see a little bit of Fenway Park -- where baseball's All-Star Game was played Tuesday night -- in every new-old ballpark that springs up around the major leagues.

The famous "Green Monster" spawned the short right field porch at Camden Yards and the huge scoreboard wall at Cleveland's Jacobs Field. The turn-of-the-century ambience has been replicated in such disparate locations as Denver and Dallas.

If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, then the new wave of stadium construction is proof that the old ballpark on Yawkey Way is the most distinctive monument ever built for baseball, with all due respect to Yankee Stadium -- which no one is in any hurry to copy.

Now, a movement is afoot to build a new Fenway Park, complete with a 21st-century version of the great wall and all the amenities that would allow the Boston Red Sox to tap into the huge revenue streams that have put well-housed teams such as the the Orioles and Indians among the economic elite of professional sports.

It makes economic sense, of course. Cozy Fenway holds just under 34,000 people, with no fancy club level for big-money Bostonians to entertain corporate clients. The millions that the Red Sox would realize from luxury-box rentals would allow the team to spend more liberally to compete with the wealthy Yankees and Orioles in the tough American League East, though they seem to be doing just fine as it is.

It makes sense for the walk-up fan, too. The old ballpark may be a monument to all that was once good about the sport. It may be the place where Babe Ruth broke in and Ted Williams was the last to break the .400 barrier, but it is -- when the warm and fuzzy fog of nostalgia lifts -- cramped, uncomfortable and inconvenient.

There have been proposals to renovate the existing stadium, but baseball officials insist that they are impractical. Instead, the Red Sox and Major League Baseball are proposing a $545 million project that would raise up a new Fenway next door to the old and preserve parts of the historic stadium -- including the original Green Monster -- in a park outside. Commissioner Bud Selig and Red Sox CEO John Harrington unveiled the plan Monday in the hope of using the All-Star festivities as a springboard to garner public and political support.

The project will require substantial public investment and figures to create a major policy debate in Boston and in the Massachusetts legislature, but it appears to be only a matter of time before the old Fenway Park is just a few monuments and a memory.

"I understand all the history," Selig said, "but this is, for baseball, a very critical franchise. They play in a very tough division, in the American League East. One can spend a lot of time talking about baseball economics, but the only way for this team to generate the revenue that they have to to be successful is with a new ballpark. And so, recognizing the history and tradition, they're going to build a new ballpark right next to their old one. They're going to keep much of the history of this park right here."

The new Fenway Park has the blessing of Williams, the greatest living Red Sox player, and figures to get a thumbs-up from many a past or present major-leaguer who has dressed in one of the tiny clubhouses and navigated the dank tunnels that extend from the locker rooms to each dugout.

Former Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk, whose game-winning home run in the 1975 World Series is considered one of the greatest single moments in baseball history, says that the end of the old Fenway Park would not be the end of the baseball world in Boston.

"I know that Fenway Park holds a lot of special moments for a lot of people," Fisk says. "It's one of the old ballparks that is revered. There is a plan to build a new old-fashioned ballpark, but that doesn't cut off the stories and memories from the old ballpark. You just transfer them to the new one."

Predictably, Red Sox officials point to Baltimore's Camden Yards as the perfect example of how a franchise can carry its storied baseball tradition from a venerated old stadium to a new state-of-the-art ballpark without losing touch with the past. They even organized a trip to Baltimore in June to tour community leaders around Camden Yards and dispel concerns about the possible negative impact of a larger stadium on surrounding neighborhoods.

"We owe a great debt to Camden Yards," Harrington says. "That was the first of the new classic ballparks. ... They have all the modern conveniences in an old-fashioned, classic, open-air urban ballpark. And we hope to present the same here to our fans in the city. We have tried to preserve the intimacy of Fenway, which everyone talks about. Camden Yards has captured that intimacy, and their fans love it."

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