Park it here for the future
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Meet the new ballpark. Same as the old ballpark. And put in an order now for Opening Day 2012, when the Red Sox will become the first major league team in history to celebrate 100 years in the same ballpark. Hopefully, Ted Kennedy can toss out the first pitch 100 years after his grandfather christened Fenway.
Today the Red Sox owners officially will announce what has been apparent for quite some time. They will tell the world that Fenway Park is going to be their home for the indefinite future. They will unveil plans for more ballpark work and accompanying neighborhood improvements. Don't be surprised if they tell you there will be premium seating on the Citgo sign in the not-too-distant future.
No more transparent talk of ballpark improvements. Now it's officially a full-blown renovation. This has been the obvious intention of the new ownership for three years. If they were planning to tear the old house down and start new, they wouldn't have spent the money they have spent to change and improve Fenway.
It's a major victory for the "Save Fenway" demonstrators who were mocked by the likes of me and others when they first organized their grassroots campaign. I compared them to the Japanese soldiers found in the Philippines still fighting months after World War II was over.
In those final, forgettable years of the John Harrington reign, we were told that Fenway was a moribund structure. It could not survive. It would crumble. Rust never sleeps and all that.
When the bag-job sale from Harrington to Messrs. Henry, Werner, and friends (including the New York Times) was complete, few envisioned a day when the new owners -- handpicked by Uncle Bud Selig -- would stand before us and say that Fenway is Forever.
But it is. You'll be taking your children and grandchildren to the same ballpark where your parents and grandparents took you. You'll be craning your neck around those same poles and crushing your knees into those same chairbacks for another 10, 20, 30, or more years. This Old House is going to be home to the Red Sox for a long, long time.
One of the remarkable things about Fenway in recent seasons is how few complaints it prompts from those who attend. There are many things wrong about the ballpark -- things that not even the magical Janet Marie Smith can fix. And fans are still happy. They don't complain about the prices, the lack of parking, the poles, the smells, the standing water after it rains, or the fact that every person in a row has to stand if one person gets up to go for a beer or bathroom break. They are happy just to be there, worshipping at the altar of New England's hardball cathedral. They are tangled up in green and darn happy about it.
Baseball players have been known to complain about the cramped quarters of the Yawkey Yard, but clubhouse conditions are improved and the new owners continue to cater to the demands of modern athletes. Blueprints for new home clubhouse improvements and photos of new batting cages adorn the walls of the Sox locker room at City of Palms Park.
Kevin Millar was happy to hear Fenway is staying.
"No doubt about it," said the first baseman. "I don't like all those new stadiums. I love tradition. Some stadiums need to be smoked, like old Milwaukee and old Cleveland, but how can you not play at Fenway? As far as the parking problems and the smells, that's part of it. You deal with that. Walking out that tunnel, smelling that funk, that's where I want to play for the rest of my life."
Trot Nixon first came to work out at Fenway Park in 1993, a hotshot out of high school. No doubt he figured he'd be playing in a different ballpark if he stayed with the Red Sox deep into the next century. Now it's clear Nixon will stand on the Fenway lawn as long as he wears a Boston uniform.
"When they were selling the team, it always kind of popped up that there might be a new stadium," said Nixon. "But I think a lot of the ballplayers didn't want to see a new stadium. They just wanted to see some improvements in the clubhouse, and they've done that."
Writing about the Red Sox in 1986, the estimable Marty Nolan of the Globe concluded, "The ballpark is the star." (Nolan was on Nixon's enemies list -- Richard's, not Trot's). When the Sox right fielder was asked if Fenway might be as popular as the Red Sox, he answered, "It might be more popular."
Young hurler Bronson Arroyo added, "I personally would rather play there and be a little more uncomfortable sizewise than have a brand new stadium. I don't enjoy going to the new parks. I like going to Wrigley and Shea Stadium with its tiny clubhouse."
"There's been a continuation of trying to make Fenway more modern," said Sox captain Jason Varitek. "That's important. Making it as comfortable as they can for the fans. The closeness of the field is great because it has the people right there on you. But there's going to be dirt wherever I'm at, so I'm pretty happy."
Like Mo Vaughn, David Wells once called for the implosion of Fenway Park. Wells laughed and made a face yesterday when informed about the new commitment to the old park. Then he said, "I'm all for old parks and all that, but that park just never fit my description. Just the way it is set up. The dimensions are a lot different. Maybe it's just a personal thing on my part.
"I've got to like it for the next two years and hopefully it will be as friendly to me as it was to Bruce Hurst. I've just never had the best of luck in that stadium. Maybe we can turn over a new leaf, but if it doesn't, I still want to blow the damn thing up."
Put away the TNT and the wrecking ball. Fenway is saved.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.