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What’s new at Fenway this season

The rush is on to get the ballpark ready for April

While most of Red Sox Nation is paying attention to Florida and spring training, a small army of construction workers at Fenway Park is racing to finish the changes that started just a couple weeks after last season finished. They've got less than a month to go, and with all the work still to be done, they'll be lucky if the dust is settled by Opening Day.

It's part of the ongoing metamorphosis of Fenway from a classic but old (not to mention cramped and outdated) ballpark to a place proud of its charm but looking to bring a day at the ballpark into the modern world, for players and fans. And nothing better represents that change than one little room being built just behind the Red Sox dugout.

It's the players bathroom. That's all.

Just the place the players and coaches can go to, well, go, during the game. For the first time since Fenway Park was built, the bathroom for the players will have a sit-down toilet. Not exactly luxury, but believe it or not, the bathroom it's replacing had only a urinal. Other needs required the player or coach to go all the way back inside to the clubhouse. As Janet Marie Smith, the team executive in charge of all the changes taking place, says, "Fenway's got funky that we want to save, versus plain old funky that could go."

Of course, a lot more is being done at Fenway that just putting a new players bathroom behind the dugout. The area behind the dugout and below the stands on the first-base side is being enlarged to house a new batting cage the players can use during the game. Until now, they've had to share the one under the center field bleachers with players from the other team. And it'll have a video room where coaches and players can analyze a hitter's swings, a pitcher's sequence, and all sorts of in-game replays that will help them make adjustments as the game develops. They've been doing this for years, of course, but from a room much further away the players and coaches couldn't get to as easily.

Outside the park, fans approaching from Kenmore Square will find a new face on Fenway. The old "Jeano" building at the corner of Brookline Ave. and Lansdowne Street that at various times was home to a bowling alley, a pool hall, a car dealership, an auto repair shop, and a stationery store, is gone. Crews are hurrying to finish the "Game On Sports Cafe" that will open out onto the corner of Brookline and Landsdowne, opposite the Cask 'N Flagon, and stretch under the stands to serve fans in the left field corner. It'll be open year round, with large classic brick arched windows and a sidewalk café.

"There'll be better food than just the regular ballpark concessions, like what we're serving on the new right field roof area," Smith says. "No sushi yet," Smith jokes. "But never say never."

Landsdowne Street itself will look different. Or at least the sidewalk under the Green Monster will. The Sox are widening the sidewalk on their side of the street, and planting cherry trees that bloom as the season is starting up in April. The city is pitching in with some old time-looking street lights. The private property owners on the turnpike side of Landsdowne say they'll chip in to eventually do their side, too.

And over on the other side of Fenway, visitors will find a new two-story wing being added on Van Ness Street. The second floor of that wing will have an player's weight room four times the size of the one jammed into the corner of the clubhouse now. That, in turn, will allow for expansion and modernization of the Sox clubhouse, which, compared with a lot of other clubhouses around the majors, is as funky inside as Fenway is out in the stands.

The roof of that Van Ness Street addition will be level with the walkway behind the first base grandstand seats that always gets so jammed with fans heading to or from their seats during games. "We'll be able to expand that area to provide better circulation for the fans, and to allow seating for handicapped fans and their companions side by side, which we haven't been able to do so far," Smith says.

Smith is overseeing the work to modernize Fenway without making it seem too, well, modern.

"Fenway's definitely my favorite park," she adds. This from a person who helped design the much-praised Camden Yards in Baltimore. "Fenway's got a scruffiness and an authenticity that is what baseball is all about ... people love the fact that it's not perfect. There is nothing contrived about Fenway."

Yes, there will be new seats, though that's not a change you'll see until the 2006 season. The four rows of skybox seats over the luxury suites will be replaced by eight rows, adding about 1,000 seats. With standing room, Fenway's capacity will go from 36,298 to 39,928. Hey, every bit of revenue helps when you have the second highest payroll in baseball, and you're still about $60 million behind that other team you're always chasing in your division.

"We're not embarrassed to say we're in the business of making money, and trying to fund a payroll to bring a championship every year," Smith says. "But we're trying to modernize Fenway without changing its charm and character. There's a fine line between rickety and loveable and just plain rickety and we're trying to figure where the line is and be on the right side of it."

So, see you in the new/old/rickety/modern Fenway. Opening Day is April 11. The Yankees will be the opponent, and they'll get to watch with the rest of the crowd the best change of all: The raising of the World Championship flag over Fenway Park.

photos from the makeover
More from David Ropeik
Fenway insider homepage correspondent David Roepik lifts the curtain and sheds light on the inner-workings of one of baseball’s oldest ballparks.
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