Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fenway (II)

So off and on over the past two months when time allowed, I’ve been parsing through the thoroughly-researched Forever Blue by Michael D’Antonio. This book explores the true story behind Walter O’Malley’s decision to move the Dodgers to Los Angeles; old-school Brooklyn’s Benedict Arnold as they consider him.

Ebbets Field, the epicenter of Brooklyn in the view of many Dodger blue-colored glasses, was a park whose small capacity, but central location gave off a certain charm that was hard to deny in the face of many of its shortcomings. Poor facility management, political wrangling and cheap skating by previous owners led to a rather stark decay. When you consider the lack of available parking as cars became relatively affordable, the rapid post-WWII suburbanization of America (Levittown in Long Island being the genesis of this change) and the Great Migration of lower-income southern Blacks and Latinos put O’Malley in a pretty tough bind.

For years, he did battle with “master builder” Robert Moses, who was given carte blanche to remodel New York City in his own mold. To make a long story short, Moses didn’t part the East River, but he’s considered a major reason for why O’Malley and the Dodgers departed.

I preface these pictures and the video below with the Ebbets Field synopsis because over the last nine years, I have followed the story behind Boston’s Fenway Park. While having attended college in the Boston area provides a few personal anecdotes – not exactly great ones, admittedly – the truth is that I paid more attention to its future rather than its past. We’re talking about the oldest active stadium in Major League Baseball, the home of the Red Sox since opening on Lansdowne Street since 1912.

Being in the area as former CEO John Harrington and other team leaders were hoping to negotiate with the City of Boston to build a new Fenway Park, I couldn’t recall one person actually in favor of replacing the beloved field. Though the new Fenway would be next door to the current park and carry over some of the original features such as the Green Monster, the idea that the ‘Sawx’ would play anywhere remotely different from the old park still gets a Bill Russell rejection back into Harrington’s soul.

The new stewardship of John Henry, Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner has committed to Fenway both by words and by cash since purchasing the Red Sox in 2002. They added capacity in many spots around the park, including the famous Green Monster seats that were erected before the 2003 season. A new drainage system was installed for the field, bathrooms were renovated, food concourses were added and dilapidated seats were replaced.

Yet, while these improvements were to keep Fenway going for another fifty years, the reality is that inevitably, the chatter for a new ballpark will come about again. Yes, there are plenty of commercial and residential buildings that have stood the test of time and population increases. Yet, outdoor stadiums are held in different standards.

They are exposed to nature’s elements more than any other building through years of rain, sleet, snow, humidity, whipping winds, sunbeams, etc. They have to withstand huge capacities on lower levels of ground (and don’t let those crowds be rowdy and pumped full of Sam Adams) compared to other structures. Most importantly, they are exposed to the bottom line. Even though this ownership group has certainly capitalized off of the high demand for Sox tickets and the intimacy of Fenway Park, their peers have turned to newer facilities in order to make a buck beyond the games themselves. As you have seen in previous ballpark visit videos, newer structures have wider promenades, longer food concourses, numerous and larger luxury boxes for companies looking to wine and dine clients, better pavilions to keep fans around during rain delays, more square feet for team stores and so much more.

This isn’t to say that a newer, more modernized stadium is exactly better for the team. Building onto Fenway, while pricey, is a much cheaper initial outlay of funds than a long-term investment into a decade of discussions and delays, 2-3 years of construction and another decade of hoping the team, city and home state can break even.

Truthfully, if the Sox didn’t win two World Series titles this decade and were not a contending team in recent seasons, who knows what the true future of Fenway Park would be? The Pittsburgh Pirates were able to move to the best park in the game (PNC Park) despite being the worst managed franchise in all of professional sports. On the flip side, the Florida Marlins, who play in (Dolphin) Land Shark Stadium, won two WS crowns and won’t have its new downtown Miami park until 2011. Minnesota and Oakland have battled local legislators for years, though the Twins will finally move to Target Field next year. Most other teams have gone into new stadiums without a sniff of the sustained success that Boston has enjoyed this decade.

Collectively, New Englanders had little qualms with the Bruins and Celtics taking residence in the ‘New Garden’ and the Patriots eventually replaced the Foxboro Stadium parking lot with Gillette Stadium. Yet, even the mere mention of a new home for the Red Sox will get you dirtier looks than Kanye West walking in a bar in Nashville.

Someday, though, Red Sox Nation will come to understand that the future of Fenway Park is going to be drastically reshaped. How and when; TBD.

Say What?!?!: Sincerest apologies for the lack of consistent updates here as of late. However, the conversations are always timely via Twitter. Feel free to chime in, ask questions and most importantly, send over your favorite 1990s references.
Also, most gracious and special thanks to CH for the tickets and BG for the company. It was a great way to end a great weekend.

No comments: