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Raise a toast - but it's past closing time

By Bob Ryan, Globe Columnist, 7/26/2000

s this it? Really? Positively? Absolutely? The deal has been struck? There is going to be a new ballpark in Boston? Cross your heart and hope to die?

If that is indeed the case, let the weeping begin.

The tears that fell during the last days of Boston Garden will seem like they came out of a solitary garden hose by the time the Red Sox play their last game in Fenway in, oh, let's say, 2003. The Fenway tears will be the Niagara, Angel, and Victoria Falls put together.

And I know me. I'll be bawling, too, right along with the most fervent ''Save Fenway Park'' zealot.

I know all the negatives. We will never have sight lines like this again. But it doesn't have to be horrible. Go to Atlanta. That's a new park, and if you're sitting down low, you'd better pay attention, believe me.

The cost will go up. It always does. But we're already paying $14 and $16 just to sit in the bleachers, and I do mean ''we,'' since I'm paying $28 per to sit in reserved seats, which isn't cheap. This is a direct result of the Red Sox having to play in the smallest park in the major leagues, a park in which very close to 20 percent of the seating is in the aforementioned bleachers. They have to scale the house as best they can. Given what we're paying now, how bad can it be?

And then there's the atmosphere, the special aura of a Fenway game. It's very special, and once they move into a new park we'll never be able to experience that again, OK? Is that what you want me to say? Well, all right, it's true. As long as any of us are alive, we will watch baseballs being struck in the new place and think about where the ball would have gone in Fenway.

We will tell our kids and grandkids and visitors from out of town about The Wall, the ladder, the door, the red seat, the wicked curve around the right-field corner, the way the stands jut out along the left-field line, the triangle, and the unique electricity of a big game at the park that has served the professional baseball needs of this community since the week the Titanic sank.

But it is most definitely time. Would that I could summon an original phraseology, but it cannot be better said than this: nothing is forever. Updike's ''lyric little bandbox of a ballpark'' has served its purpose.

It is old and cramped. Only someone who has just been sprung from Cedar Junction after a 20-year stay would find Fenway anything other than a distinctly uncomfortable place in which to sit through a three-hour ballgame. It is also tremendously overrated as a place in which to see a game for a great many of the people who come there. The area from first to third is OK, and left field, with its nice embankment, is OK, and the bleachers are OK, as bleachers go, but once you get past first base you are talking about thousands upon thousands of flat-out crappy seats, and that's without even mentioning the poles.

Fenway Park is a relic from another place and time. It was constructed in 1912 for tiny people built in the 19th century, and nothing can change that.

You knew the deal would get done. You knew that Mayor Menino, Senate President Birmingham, Gov. Cellucci, and, most of all, Speaker of the House Finneran would all need to rattle sabres, and that it would be some kind of 11th-hour deal, because that's the only way those people know how to do business. But it was always an idea that, in its broadest concept, made sense. Rational and reasonable people from the political, business, and athletic communities all realized that a new park made sense on every level.

Baseball fans will help pay via surcharges, and why shouldn't they? There was no reason why the strong-arm tactics employed in other locales should have been used. Politicians in other places have conducted end runs around angry voters. There was no way that was going to happen around here.

Yogi's Law still applies. It won't be over until the City Council has its say and until the Red Sox themselves figure out more of their own financial MOs. But yesterday's announcement represented the necessary go-ahead rally. Messrs. Harrington, Menino, Cellucci, Birmingham, and Finneran are standing together on the mound, signaling for the closer.

The Save Fenway types are firing off the e-mails even as we speak, but it's too late now. The countdown will soon begin. The Red Sox will build a new park that will pay homage to baseball tradition while acknowledging a little concept known as progress.

It's one thing to honor history, but it's another thing to wallow in it. Fenway must go, and in a few years we're going to enter the 21st century. Can this really be Boston?

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached by e-mail at ryan@globe.com.

This story ran on page E1 of the Boston Globe on 7/26/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

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