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ON BASEBALL
Park denizens look to past and future

By Gordon Edes, Globe Columnist, 7/26/2000

e was sitting at an old desk tucked underneath the third-base grandstand, down a corridor between the men's room and the rusting iron grate marking the entrance to the visitors' clubhouse, past the sign that said ''Employees Only.''

Yes, he'd heard the news, that the state's politicians had all lined up, like the pigeons Ted Williams used to shoot out of the light towers atop the Green Monster, and agreed on a plan to finance a new Fenway Park.

''That's nice,'' said Larry Knowles, wearing a cap that identified him as ''head usher.'' ''But I don't know if I'll live to see it.''

For what is left of his life, he said, he imagines he'll still be working right here, as he has for the last 55 years. At 85, Knowles, who lives in Brockton, is only three years younger than the ancient ballpark itself. These days, as the chief of ushers, he walks around, checking on the hired help.

''I just make sure everybody's doing their job,'' he said. ''I'm not too harsh on 'em, only when they start talking to the girls. I tell them, `Hey, take the tickets first.'''

His first job was in the bleachers, right about the time Ted was coming back from World War II. But he got around.

In time, he worked the left-field side, where he could slip notes from adoring female fans to his favorite player - Ted, of course. Later, he worked in the tunnel on the first-base side, where the legendary Elizabeth Dooley, who sat in Box 36 for decades, would wave him over if the fans around her got too loud.

''Mrs. Dooley, she's gone now,'' he said.

Soon, it will all be gone.

''Will I miss it? In a way,'' he said. ''But it is falling apart, you know. They need a new park. You see the cracks? They don't do something, somebody might get hurt.

''I'd like to see the new park, to be truthful,'' he said. ''Everybody will be looking down, no poles in front of you. Everybody can see. I'd love to see it, really.

''Mary, my wife, she's alone now. The kids are all grown up. But she knows how much I like working here. I'd like to work in the new park, too, but maybe they'll tell me I'm too old, that they just want the young people.''

Pete Alibrandi (''All brandy, no scotch'') remembers being a kid and coming here with the knothole gang, slipping into the bleachers for a nickel. He and his wife, Catherine, were headed back home to North Quincy after last night's game.

''I paid $25 to park, $28 for a seat,'' he said. ''I'm glad she wasn't hungry.''

Catherine Alibrandi said she was glad to hear the new Fenway was a step closer to becoming a reality.

''I think even if they built a stadium for 50,000, they'll fill it up every night,'' Pete Alibrandi said. ''The Red Sox have been great, all the time.

''I don't know about the Patriots.''

Jim Rooney stood outside the entrance, checking IDs and exchanging greetings with the customers streaming into the Baseball Tavern, the corner bar (Boylston and Jersey streets) that his father, Joe, and uncle, Lenny Coppenrath, had run together since 1963. Rooney has expanded the place, taking over the liquor store that used to hug the corner.

''We've made it more like a sports bar,'' he said. ''Used to be a gin mill. But we've never had an ounce of trouble here, not a single violation.''

The TVs hanging over the bar had broadcast the news of an agreemnt for the new Fenway.

''Outstanding, great for us,'' said Rooney. ''We're going to be golden right here.

''You see where Yawkey Way is now?'' he said, gesturing across the street. ''I think that's going to be the entrance to the bleachers and right field. The neighborhood here, some people were worried about having the ballpark right across the street. But they're going to put some shops there, they're calling it an urban village.''

What do you call the spot where the Baseball Tavern is? A female customer, listening to the conversation, chimed in.

''Oceanfront property,'' said Caroline Krause.

They had sat, the four of them, in Section 19, choice real estate in the grandstands behind home plate.

''We had a pole,'' said Joe Crane. ''If you're going to pay money to see a game, you should be able to see it.''

Only one seat was obstructed, so they took turns sitting there. ''Except for Rachel, the princess,'' Christina Morelli said, teasing her friend, Rachel Zaltman.

Sharon Soutter, the rental car agent from Savin Hill in Dorchester, got a phone call recently from her brother, who lives in San Francisco.

''He went to the new park out there,'' she said, referring to Pac Bell Park, the new home of the Giants. ''He grew up here, but when he looked around, he said that Fenway Park was so outdated.''

They were all agreed that a new park was needed. Zaltman was the only one who expressed any reservations.

''There's something so historical about the old ballpark,'' she said.

But this, apparently, was no night for nostalgia.

''History is great,'' Crane said, ''but we're going to get a new park and put some history in there, too.''

This story ran on page E1 of the Boston Globe on 7/26/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.



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