It's been decades since the cries of beer hawkers echoed in the hallowed confines of Fenway Park, where anyone in the stands who wants a cold one now has to journey into the bowels of the stadium and wait in line. But the beer man may be about to make a comeback, though not for everybody.
Only those willing to shell out at least $200 a game for one of 379 premium season-ticket-holder seats along the field would get the new service. In the latest version, the hawker would be more like a waiter, taking your order and returning with beer, possibly wine, and food, should you decide to order from the menu card at your seat.
The Red Sox proposal to be heard today by the Boston Licensing Board includes in-seat beer and wine service for seating installed last year from "foul pole to foul pole," officials said yesterday.
If the board approves the application, as expected, fans in those seats also would have privileges at a new climate-controlled lounge, with leather seats, a private bar, food concessions, and flat-panel televisions. The lounge, on the left field concourse, is now under construction.
"Obviously, I think we're always looking for ways to find the best amenities for our fans and make the most of the space we have," said Red Sox Senior Vice President Larry Cancro.
The luxuries are the latest in a long list of schemes designed to extract more money from the nation's smallest major league baseball park, team officials said. In recent years, the Sox have added rows in front of the box seats around the infield, created the "green monster" seats, and constructed cafe-style seating above right field.
Licensing Board chairman Daniel Pokaski would not say what the chances of passage were yesterday, but said the Red Sox have not had any major problems with underage drinking or serving fans who are drunk in recent years, which the board takes into consideration when approving new applications.
"I think the Red Sox have put forth a proposal that the board is going to look at very carefully," he said.
Nearly every major league baseball park has beer hawkers, but the practice was halted at Fenway in the mid-1970s after complaints about drunken fans throwing beer, fighting, and hurling profanities at sporting events. The problems prompted a one-beer-at-a-time limit and a seventh-inning halt to beer sales at Fenway Park, officials said. The one-beer-at-a-time limit was later changed to allow two at a time.
Team officials said that controlling alcohol consumption is at least part of the reason that only 379 ticketholders, or about 1 percent of of the park's more than 36,000 capacity, are slated to receive in-seat beer service if the Sox proposal passes today. Red Sox officials said that checking IDs and making sure fans don't drink too much will be easier in the two rows of premium seats than in the deep sections of the general population of ticketholders.
While many fans are overjoyed with recent improvements at Fenway, some fans say ones like the exclusive beer and wine service "smack of creeping elitism."
"It should be a communitarian experience," said Ernie Paicopolos, a season ticket holder for more than 10 years. "It's such a unique, intimate kind of setting, it doesn't lend itself to class divisions."
Paicopolos, who launched a website, www.fenwaynation.com, four years ago, says he's one of the fans who think the Red Sox really need a new stadium.
"I really think that's the 600-pound gorilla nobody's facing," said Paicopolos, who holds season tickets to a pair of grandstand seats in Section 25 and to a pair of box seats in Section 30. "It's a wonderful, romantic park. Hey, I'll miss it, but I want cupholders, I want legroom, I'm tired of being cramped. I want amenities like Gillette Stadium in Foxborough."
While Paicopolos may be upset by the sight of servers carrying ice-cold beverages to premium front-row seatholders, Red Sox officials say they haven't left the general population out of recent improvements. They have doubled the width of the left field concourse, improved restrooms, and installed a new food concession, said Janet Marie Smith, vice president of planning and development.
"We wouldn't take care of 200 ticketholders and not improve the park for the rest," Smith said.
And though premium seat holders might not have to miss a pitch to fetch a beer at the concession, they will be subject to the same alcohol controls as everyone else at the park: They'll still be cut off after the seventh inning.
Donovan Slack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.