It has been an extraordinary decade in the life of Fenway Park under team president Larry Lucchino and the current Red Sox ownership group. The team’s partners has poured $285 million into the 100-year-old structure, with an eye towards preserving the one-of-a-kind aesthetic while at the same time integrating trappings of modernity.
It has been a time of both restless and relentless ideas, the product proving startling. Innumerable elements -- the Monster Seats, the right field Budweiser pavilion, signage on the Green Monster, the liberation of concourses that once resembled chicken coops, the end of an almost offensively classist partition (a chain-link fence, no less) that separated the bleachers from the rest of the ballpark, the presentation of team artifacts throughout the ballpark to create a feel of a living museum -- have changed the ballpark experience dramatically. Not since 1934, when the ballpark was rebuilt as New Fenway Park, torched by presumed arson and then rebuilt again has the ballpark been so dramatically transformed.
In some ways, an appreciation of what has been done requires an appreciation of what has not taken place. The creative brainstorming that went into changing a century-old park in a fashion that was at once dramatic yet seamless was intense. To understand the ambition of the ideas that helped to modernize Fenway, it is worth contemplating the ideas that were never implemented, most of them dismissed for a simple reason.
“You know the Fenway Park Hippocratic Oath? We make people who work on Fenway Park work on the Fenway Park version of the Hippocratic Oath,” said Sox CEO/President Larry Lucchino. “Rule 1: Do no harm, which is what the Hippocratic Oath says to doctors.”
And so, the id that roams free to create a fountain of ideas for tweaks is often reigned in by a loyalty to the 100-year-old aesthetic sensibilities of the park. Here are some examples:
SEATS IN FRONT OF THE BULLPEN
The first alterations to Fenway Park occurred almost as soon as the current ownership group assumed control of the club in 2002. The team installed nearly 400 seats, including 161 dugout seats by adding two rows in front of what was then the first row behind the dugout.
But additional seats were contemplated at that time. Specifically, there was dialogue about adding a row of seats in front of the bullpen in right field.
“We talked about seats in front of the bullpen, little round stool seats with another wall in front,” said COO Sam Kennedy. “But we didn’t think it made sense to dramatically alter the dimensions and change the layout of the ballpark.”
The team also considered other changes to seating around the bullpen – or rather in it.
“Another one we talked about was using the bullpen and moving the relievers,” recalled Dr. Charles Steinberg, a senior advisor to the club.
But where would the pitchers have gone?
“Great question,” said Kennedy. “That was the problem.”
THE SEAT CONUNDRUM
Certainly, there was consideration given to redoing the grandstands to create wider seats and to correct the angle on those seats in right field that are angled towards the Green Monster and away from the most relevant action on the field.
But the Sox ultimately had to dismiss that idea given the substantial loss to the seating capacity (and, of course, revenues) that would have resulted from such a move.
FROM MONSTER SEATS TO MONSTROUS SUITES?
The installation of seats atop the Green Monster was ultimately a slam dunk. But that doesn’t mean that other options weren’t considered prior to that momentous change to the landscape of Fenway Park for the start of the 2003 season.
“Certainly some things were well left on the cutting room floor, like a giant glass and steel addition to the Green Monster, which would have housed several suites. This was before we put the seats there,” said Lucchino. “We never wanted to do it, but it was an idea that bubbled up through the system. Once we saw it, it was relegated to the cutting room floor.
“Some of these [cutting-room floor ideas] may survive to appear in another time,” added Lucchino. “I don’t think you’ll see a glass-and-steel suites section up above the Green Monster. I think that time has passed.”
The signage above the Green Monster seats, too, was a significant discussion point. There was some thought to going with a bolder color scheme along the lines of the Budweiser sign in right field. Essentially, a band of neon ads would have ringed the park from above the Green Monster seats all the way around to the top of the right field roof.
There were renderings and serious consideration was given to proceeding.
“It looked cool but it was a little too much,” said Kennedy. “It was Larry who said, ‘No way. Let’s keep it a simple white on green.’”
There were numerous off-the-wall ideas, some of them literally qualifying for such a designation. That was the case with an idea to install opera boxes that would have hung from the brick wall adjacent to the Monster Seats, behind the camera well and bleachers in left-center, below the Bank of America pitch count scoreboard.
“You could have four or five people sitting in an opera box over the bleachers, looking out over the field,” said Kennedy. “They would have bean affixed to that brick wall beneath the scoreboard, above the bleacher seats, but below the top of the wall. So you’d either climb up on a ladder or you’d climb down from the Monster Seats area. It’s hard to picture, but Janet [Marie Smith, the Fenway Park renovations director for several years] would have made them look like they’d always been there.”
It would have been an interesting signature, but again, it was deemed impractical.
While opera boxes don’t appear to be on the horizon, the Sox continue to explore actively the idea of installing a theater somewhere in the ballpark. The team has yet to identify the location, but inspired by some of the state-of-the-art screen technologies that the Sox saw on a visit to Sony while visiting Japan in 2008, there remains a desire to create such a space that could become part of the tour of the ballpark and also house, for instance, school auditorium presentations.
“That is a big one,” Kennedy said.
A WRIGLEY-STYLE ROOFTOP
Behind the bleachers in right-center field resides the so-called laundry building. The Sox considered bringing the two-story building up to grade with the top of the bleachers in right-center, up to where the New Balance sign is currently located. The idea would have brought one of the signature elements of the second-oldest ballpark to Fenway Park.
“There was the Wrigley rooftop concept,” said Kennedy. “You would have people sitting on rooftop-style seats that would look into Fenway. The rooftops are such a social space.”
THE MUSEUM DEBATE
There was a discussion about creating a museum in Fenway Park. Ultimately, however, there was a feeling that the better way to approach the celebration of the franchise’s history was not to consolidate it, but instead to integrate historic displays throughout the park, a concession to the idea that history is ubiquitous in the ballpark.
“One of the things that’s been important to us has been to not have a museum here, because we sort of new that the whole place would feel like a museum if we did preservation properly,” said Kennedy. “A lot of ballparks and stadiums have museums. At Fenway, it seems like there’s too much stuff all over the place.
“We have this concept that we’ve been talking a lot about that Fenway is a living museum,” he added. “It looks like a museum but they actually still play baseball here.”
WHERE IT STANDS AT 100
Just because the Red Sox have reached the end of the Year X improvement cycle, and just because Fenway Park will commemorate its 100th birthday on Friday, that doesn’t mean that the projects are done.
After all, there was never a unified, overarching plan that outlined all of the changes that the team would make to the park. The projects evolved over time.
“There was no master plan at the beginning,” said Steinberg. “Those were all evolving. In 2002, we didn’t say what we’d do in 2007. You needed some of the early victories to give you the oomph, the confidence that you could do the next things.
“What if the Green Monster seats hadn’t been received as well as they were? What if Yawkey Way hadn’t been as well received as it was? We didn’t know that going in,” he continued. “We didn’t know what would be hits and what wouldn’t. But it’s been a succession of hits. … It was very evolutionary. It wasn’t, ‘Here is everything we’re going to do over the next 10 years.’ One victory begat another ambition.”
That was true to the point where most of the ideas that had a consensus behind them have been implemented. There are ideas that were considered and left behind, but those, seemingly, were outnumbered by those brought to fruition.
“We’ve done a lot of the stuff that we wanted to do,” said Lucchino. “We did so much that I don’t remember as well what we didn’t do.”