Take Me Back to the Ballpark

When it comes to preserving a part of its heritage, major league baseball is down to its final two strikes.

Last year, Detroit made it official: Tiger Stadium will be evacuated once a new facility is completed in 2000. That leaves Chicago's Wrigley Field (built in 1914) and Boston's Fenway Park (1912) as the only old-time major league ballparks. And Fenway is in jeopardy.

Red Sox management wants a bigger, preferably new stadium to generate additional revenues. The club expects to unveil plans for a new Fenway on a site right next to its hallowed, urban 34,000-seat park. It would include a new "Green Monster" (nickname of Fenway's towering left-field wall). But the old one would remain as part of a baseball museum and hall of fame of some kind built next door.

These plans would pay homage to what has become a local, regional, and even national landmark. (Fenway is the city's chief tourist attraction.)

Fine. But a wonderful opportunity might be missed - one that would serve not only Boston but baseball and its national constituency.

Build a new stadium, but keep the old one too, and let the Red Sox play half a dozen games a year there. That would allow local and visiting parents to transport future generations of fans back to yesteryear. And where better than in historic Boston, where millions come to visit the living past. The advent of interleague play means fans nationwide might one day watch their team play in this nostalgic scene.

An alliance of Major League Baseball, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Red Sox, the city of Boston, and the Baseball Hall of Fame is not only logical, but stands to benefit each party. Declare the old stadium a city park that would be used by high school, college, park-league, minor-league, and even youth-league teams. Let children run the bases, allow company and convention picnics on the field, and establish a series of youth baseball clinics before Red Sox games next door.

Convert part of the grandstand into a satellite exhibit hall for the Baseball Hall of Fame, hard to reach in Cooperstown, N.Y. Perhaps make room for the New England Sports Museum, which has bounced around for years.

Such multiple use of Fenway could make it even more a national magnet for sports lovers than it already is.

And what about parking? Well, there are always the air rights over the neighboring Massachusetts Turnpike.

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