To some, progress means bulldozing the past. “America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers,” rued actor James Earl Jones, “erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again.” Steamrolled: battlefields, historic shrines, even homes by eminent domain.
“Only baseball has marked the time,” said Jones, forgetting, say, Ebbets Field, Forbes Field, and the Polo Grounds — each pummeled by the wrecking ball: falling to, nor marking, time. A decade ago Boston’s Fenway Park, born in 1912, seemed sure to join them: too few suites and concession stands; too little parking – above all, too small.
If you’ll forgive an unpaid ad, my new book, Mercy! A Celebration of Fenway Park’s Centennial told Through Red Sox Radio and TV,tells how baseball’s oldest park was improbably preserved. In the process, Boston won its first World Series in 86 years and set an ongoing major-league record 750-plus home game sellout streak. Such stories are hard to find.If you’ll forgive an unpaid ad, my new book, ,tells how baseball’s oldest park was improbably preserved. In the process, Boston won its first World Series in 86 years and set an ongoing major-league record 750-plus home game sellout streak. Such stories are hard to find.Fenway was ironically saved by ex-Orioles owner Larry Lucchino, who built seminal Camden Yards, which began the “new old” ballpark craze – 21 in all — occurring since its 1992 debut. In 2001, Lucchino helped buy the Sox, former Democratic Presidential nominee Michael Dukakis telling him, “Anyone who wants to tear down Fenway Park should be criminally indicted.”
As 1975-79 and 1983-1991 Massachusets Governor, Dukakis had asked aides: “Is this true? Is Fenway beyond saving?”
“‘Baloney,’ they said. ‘Of course it can be rebuilt’” – ultimately, for 35 percent of a new Fenway’s estimated $850 million cost.
To Lucchino, Dukakis said, “I hope you’ll take a very serious look at saving Fenway.” To his surprise, the new Sox president did.
For one thing, Boston’s loony cost of land encouraged Lucchino to stay put. Ownership also heard Red Sox Nation: The Sox sans Fenwaywould not be the Sox. It forged more restrooms, high-tech boards, and sponsors. Diciest was scrapping the fabled Screen for Green Monster seats atop the 37-foot left-field Wall. Capacity swelled, helping Fenway become baseball’s ATM. “Renovation became a 10-year cycle,” Lucchino said. “Each year we had a new Christmas present to be unwrapped on Opening Day.”
Renovation will let the Sox stay an estimated 30 to 40 years. “That doesn’t mean the franchise’s next stewards will want to stay here,” said Lucchino, “but this will be an alternative.” Three years ago the rival Yankees chose another alternative, deserting the original Big Ballpark in the Bronx. You can’t buy tradition. The Yankees tried vainly to transfer it, not grasping what they had. A visit shows how Fenway is now baseball’s Lourdes, rebuilt pew by pew.
Taxis jam one-way streets. Charter buses deposit pilgrims from outposts of the Nation. Tykes with baseball gloves and Red Sox pants and caps take dad’s hand, enter through archways in a brick façade, and walk into a tunnel toward the field. Says USA Today: “That Fenway is standing at all, let alone bustling at its seams nightly with patrons … is an amazing story of history and business savvy” – tradition, above all.
The Monster, nearby Prudential Building, and Citgo sign remain real as any relative. Here Pedro Martinez hurled and Tony C. broke hearts and Ted Williams ruled. The message board still ties average, photo, and ads to pay the bills. The sound system blares Madonna, not Lawrence Welk, but the Wave still seems wayward. After a game the crowd scatters around and from the Hub. Ushers caress stragglers. Few want to leave.
Alexander Chase said, “Memory is the thing we forget with.” In the Fens, we recall. Shakespeare coined “a little touch of Harry in the night.” Brooking an army of steamrollers, America could use a touch of Fenway Park.
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