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The .406 club was blamed by hitters for hindering their ability to hit home runs.
The .406 club was blamed by hitters for hindering their ability to hit home runs. (Globe Staff File Photo)

More expansion eyed at Fenway

Plan adds seats, replaces .406 Club

The glassed-in .406 Club at Fenway Park, blamed by Red Sox hitters for hindering their ability to hit home runs after it was constructed behind home plate in 1989, will be overhauled next year under a proposal filed by the team with city officials.

Proposed renovations would create two levels of exclusive club seating where one exists now, and expand capacity of the area from 606 seats to 816 seats, with standing room for 200 more.

''Our fans who sit in the .406 Club, as much as they love the conditions on a cold April day, feel while they have the best seats they are divorced from the game by not being part of the collective experience," said Janet Marie Smith, the Red Sox's vice president for planning and development.

''On the flip side, all the fans who look at it simply felt it wasn't 'Fenwayesque,' " she said. Smith said executives have not determined whether they will keep the .406 Club name, which honors the batting average Red Sox great Ted Williams attained in 1941, the last time a major league hitter averaged more than .400 for a season.

The club recently received approval to add 2,107 seats or standing locations on the roofs extending above the left- and right-field stands, which also would be constructed in time for the 2006 season. Taken together, the additions would increase the capacity of Fenway to 38,815 from 36,298.

''They're growing and growing and doing the right things on behalf of the ball club," said Mayor Thomas M. Menino. ''The .406 Club, it was like a fishbowl. Now it will be open."

Red Sox owners John W. Henry, Tom Werner, and team president and chief executive Larry Lucchino have indicated they eventually want to increase the park's capacity, including standing room, to 39,928 -- 10 percent more than its 2004 capacity.

Fenway Park, built in 1912 and renovated in 1934, is the oldest major league facility still in use in the country and has the smallest capacity in Major League Baseball today.

In their application, Red Sox executives made clear, as they have since acquiring the team in 2002, that they have not yet reached any final decision about whether Fenway Park will be replaced.

''The interim steps taken from 2002 to 2006 are not to be construed as part of a 'master plan' to renovate or redevelop Fenway Park," they wrote, ''but rather are part of an ongoing commitment to improve the fan experience and neighborhood presence while evaluating the long-term options for renovation and Fenway Park's ultimate future."

(New York Times Co., parent company of The Boston Globe, owns 17 percent of the Red Sox.)

The latest plans, filed with the city late last month, would ''recreate the horizontal lines of the original 1934 roof," team owners say, and be ''compatible with the historic park setting."

Concessionaires would bring food to the fans in the new .406 Club -- where seats may even be heated, according to the application the team filed with the Boston Redevelopment Authority. The .406 Club renovations, if approved, and the roof seats will be constructed at the same time.

Red Sox executives received a building permit about two weeks ago allowing them to replace four rows of seats, located on top of most of the private suites, with nine rows. They argued in their filing that there is an urgent need to repair the roof over the private suites, and they successfully sought approval to expand the seating at the same time those repairs are made.

The .406 Club and adjacent Volvo Hall of Fame Club are late-1980s additions to the ball park. Although they offered premium seating for Red Sox fans and enclosed shelter on cold nights, they diminished the game experience by shutting out the sounds from the field and the odors of popcorn and Fenway Franks.

Expanding the .406 Club seating to two tiers ''creates a cohesive design for the upper areas of Fenway Park . . . creating a uniform look across the ballpark that is consistent in scope and scale with the historic nature of Fenway Park," the application said.

But the glassed-in structure, which opened in 1989, affected more than just the profile of the park, according to some Red Sox hitters.

A year after the club, originally called the 600 Club, was built, players swore they detected a negative effect on their ability to hit home runs. The large glass facade apparently altered wind conditions in the park, they said.

''Without a doubt, it's had an effect, third baseman Wade Boggs told a Globe columnist in 1990. ''Before it was built, you could hit 'em in the back of the center field bleachers. Now you rarely see a ball blow out that far."

Said former left fielder Mike Greenwell: ''It's almost like when the wind's blowing out, it comes over the building and pushes the ball down."

That height of the structure will not change after the 2006 renovations. ''We're not doing anything that would change wind patterns, for better or worse," said Smith.

The application for changes to the .406 and Hall of Fame clubs gave details of the planned club renovations. It also offered specifics of the changes planned for the seating areas on the roofs on top of the private boxes.

The changes to the .406 and Hall of Fame clubs are proposed under the city's zoning code. Comments from other city agencies are due Feb. 22.

Menino said the Red Sox are finding creative solutions to the problems of a historic ball park.

''The new challenge they face is how they continue to maintain the status of that ballpark," he said. ''They're not changing the footprint at all. They're adding seats in places most people wouldn't have thought of."

Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at tpalmer@globe.com.

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