Fenway gets a few upgrades for a home-field advantage

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Tania deLuzuriaga
Globe Staff / April 4, 2008

The giant Coke bottles have been taken away, seats have been added, and a new stairway has been constructed, but fans entering the turnstiles Tuesday are not likely to be blown away by many of Fenway Park's most recent changes. And that is just how Red Sox management wants it.

"Our goal is for fans to come in here and breathe a sigh of relief that it doesn't look different," said Janet Marie Smith, the Red Sox senior vice president of planning and development, who has overseen the park's renovations.

"Fans are still in their grandfathers' ballpark," she said. "It just happens to be more comfortable and convenient."

Smith and Sox chief executive Larry Lucchino led Mayor Thomas M. Menino and news media representatives around the park yesterday to highlight the offseason additions to the 96-year-old ballpark, including 875 new seats and additional standing room.

Perhaps the biggest change is the completion of "Coca-Cola Corner," which replaced luxury suites built for the 1999 All-Star game and includes a new 100-person standing-room section and 412 pavilion-level seats above the corner where the left-field foul line meets the Green Monster. The red plastic seats, which provide a birds-eye view of the field, will sell for $75.

In February the team removed the 25-foot-tall Coke bottles from the left-field light towers to return the towers to their original appearance. Now, the section is crowned by a scrolling red Coca-Cola sign reminiscent of the one that stood over Storrow Drive for more than 40 years. The retro-style sign is ultramodern, with LED-lights that use just a tenth of the power of the old ones.

"While it looks old-fashioned, it's environmentally friendly," Smith said.

Built in 1912 for $650,000, Fenway Park was once one of the largest fields in the majors. Today it's the smallest and the oldest.

"I've always thought of us as the little engine that could," Lucchino said. The New York Times Co., the parent of the Boston Globe, owns 17 percent of the Red Sox.

Expanding the park has been a challenge for decades. Back in the 1940s, a Boston newspaper joked that not even Albert Einstein could find a way to squeeze more seats into Fenway. But management has been creative in the past seven years, adding seats to the Green Monster, bleachers, and upper decks, increasing capacity by 10 percent, to a total of 39,928.

"It's challenging and rewarding," Smith said. "We have to come up with ways to change the park, without really changing it."

Efforts have been made to bring the park into the 21st century without losing that early 20th-century flavor. A new staircase and elevator in left field will give fans entering at Gate A on Yawkey Way access to all levels of the park. Previously, crowds had to use the stairs at Gate D, behind home plate, to get to the upper levels.

"We wanted to add mobility opportunities, so people can move around more easily," Lucchino said.

Eight new private suites, complete with hardwood floors and flat-screen television sets, have replaced the six temporary suites on the State Street Pavilion.The pavilion has also been expanded into left and right field, with additional club and box seats, as well as standing room. The bleachers will feature new handicapped-accessible seats and self-rising seats that will help keep the rows clear.

Four new LED-light auxiliary scoreboards along left and right field will help fans with limited views of the center-field and left-field scoreboards.

But don't expect that to mean an explosion of graphics and cartoons during games. "This is a ballpark, not an arena," Smith said.

The most talked-about change, however, has yet to be seen. Construction is still underway on the Bleacher Bar, a year-round restaurant slated to open in May. Set behind the garage door in center field, the 150-seat restaurant will give diners a new perspective of the beloved park.

Sox players will also enjoy a renovated locker room this season, additional restrooms, and a new kitchen stocked with a professional range and two stainless steel refrigerators.

"Most of our players are used to clubhouses twice this size," Smith said.

Even with all the changes over the past seven years, Smith said, the organization has a laundry list of renovations to complete. Up for next year: renovation of the right field upper deck and replacement of the center field scoreboard.

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