Beantown's Quest to Save Baseball's Green Monster

Some fans balk at plans to build an updated Fenway Park at another location.

Talk about creating a monster: The Boston Red Sox are thinking seriously about replacing the fabled Fenway Park.

But the folks here in Beantown are raising a ruckus on a scale befitting the Fenway's hulking left-field wall - a.k.a. "The Green Monster."

Not only does the plan run afoul of Boston's love of the creaky, old ballpark, it smacks into New England sensibilities as old as Plymouth Rock: frugality and tradition.

Fans first flocked to Fenway the same week that the Titanic sank. The field pre-dates the NFL, the NBA, and probably apple pie. So, to replace it without losing legions of fans, the Red Sox face perhaps a bigger challenge than winning the World Series (a feat last accomplished in 1918).

But for Sox management, a new park is inevitable. It's all about economics.

Fenway Park holds only 33,871 people (compared with 48,876 at Camden Yards in Baltimore, for instance).

Like many other owners in Major League Baseball, they say this era of ever-rising player salaries forces them to expand revenue in order to snag top players - and have winning teams. (Pitcher Pedro Martinez, for instance, cost $75 million over 6 years.)

To their credit, the Sox have apparently dropped plans to build a park near an old incinerator or in a suburb next to a dog-racing track.

The announcement of a new plan could come any day. Until then, the Sox are mum. But they're reportedly planning to erect a new Fenway Park right next to the old one. They would turn part of the old park into a museum.

The new park would have its own Monster and be designed by the same firm that created the charming Camden Yards and Jacobs Field in Cleveland. There's no word on costs yet, but the price tag for Camden Yards was $110 million, and Jacobs Field cost about $178 million.

The prospect of spending such a wad irks many Bostonians. You see, here in New England, it's much more important how old your house is than how much you paid for it. Same for stadiums.

"Why try to re-create Fenway when you've already got it?" asks Steven Rubin, who's part of a grass-roots group called Save Fenway Park! He argues for expansion of the current model.

That would be fine with Rick Fredericks, a fortysomething little-league coach who's been attending Red Sox games for 40 years. Usually, he simply buys a $10, standing-room-only ticket and heads out beyond the left field seats to lean on an old friend, The Green Monster.

Even standing near the top row, he's only about 325 feet from home plate. "It's the best view in the house," he says beaming on a recent afternoon.

From here, he can survey the park's quirkily shaped green outfield, its green pillars, green seats, green walls, and notoriously rambunctious fans.

He says the wall usually draws several tourists a game. "Today, two guys from California came up and wanted me to take their picture next to it," he says.

In fact, Fenway is a tourist magnet.

It is Boston's top attraction, drawing 840,000 out-of-state visitors a year, according to the Sox. And a Boston Globe survey last year found 50 percent of ticket-buyers came primarily to see the park. Only 30 percent came to see the Sox.

Despite this and other reasons to keep the old park, even some loyal fans want a new one.

Take Doug Caraganis. This is a man whose fan credentials can't be questioned: His great-grandfather began the family Fenway tradition, and he regularly watches out-of-town games with cap and glove on, pacing in front of the TV.

"I feel like a traitor to my team, my town, and my class," he confesses, "But I want a new park."

"When I go to games there, my knees always get skinned" - because the rows of seats are so close together.

Indeed, even the tightest tightwads admit Fenway needs renovations. The wood-slat seats are just big enough for a seven-year-old to sit in comfortably. Red paint is peeling off the arm rests. The sound system is so bad it can't be heard from a few rows behind home plate.

"A lot of the people who love it [and want to save the park] never go there," says Mr. Caraganis, pointing up the gap between the mythology and the reality of the park.

Yankee sensibilities or no, if there are enough fans like Mr. Caraganis, the Sox may succeed in slaying the dragon - or monster - of public opposition to a new Fenway.

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