Farewell to Fenway

Boston's historic ballpark hosts baseball's All-Star Game July 13. But

In a steamy evening while Fenway Park is marinating in history and nostalgia, Anne Quinn is reveling in her memories of the famed stadium.

Ms. Quinn estimates she's seen almost every home game here since 1964. With her gray hair tucked under a Red Sox hat that has shielded her from thousands of innings of sun, she rattles off stories of past Sox greats - from Dom DiMaggio to Ted Williams.

"I used to love to watch Dom DiMaggio," Quinn gushes. "He used to cover so much ground."

But while Fenway Park, her beloved shrine, has hosted scores of legends in the past - and will host baseball's current glitterati in this year's All-Star Game July 13 - it may be on a collision course with a wrecking ball.

The Red Sox have proposed a new 44,130-seat stadium that could cost $545 million or more, built on 15 acres next to the existing park. The Sox would preserve the deliciously close Green Monster, the 37-foot-high left-field wall just 310 feet from home plate, the manual scoreboard, and the dimensions of the playing field. A portion of the old Fenway Park would become a museum.

But Quinn, squinting out onto the field that's as fresh as a barbershop crewcut, doesn't think it will be the same. "No matter if it looks like [the current Fenway], it won't have that same feeling," she says.

And "that feeling" is what Fenway is all about. From its Fenway Franks to being Babe Ruth's first major-league home, the 87-year-old park is rich in history. Legendary pitcher Tom Seaver, who briefly played for the team, once mused that "Fenway is the essence of baseball."

That essence is exactly what a band of devoted fans want to preserve by renovating the existing stadium.

"Fenway Park is going to save itself," says Dan Wilson, a Boston attorney and co-founder of Save Fenway Park! "This is a 1912 stadium that really evokes more from the 19th century than the 20th-century stadiums."

The group, which has an 11- member board, 250 dues-paying members, and more than 25,000 signatures on a petition to renovate the stadium, is trying to do what other grass-roots groups have failed to do: save a historic baseball stadium.

"It's not the Old North Church or Old Ironsides, but baseball and sports in general are an important American institution," says Mr. Wilson, mentioning two famous Boston landmarks.

Baseball teams have been opening new stadiums across the country. Curt Smith, a senior lecturer in English at the University of Rochester in New York and author of "Our House: A Tribute to Fenway Park" (Masters Press, 1999), says five new stadiums are being built this year alone.

In a recent survey of 412 Massachusetts voters by the Boston Herald, 49 percent of respondents wanted to renovate Fenway, while 31 percent preferred building a new park.

But diehard fans actually seem less attached to the ballpark. Seventy-five percent of those who attend three or more games a year want a new ballpark, while only 22 percent think it's a bad idea.

While Save Fenway Park! has yet to say what the cost of renovation would be, Wilson says the group has "reason to believe" it would be cheaper than the Red Sox's proposed new stadium.

Team officials have said renovating the current park would cost $100 million more than building a new park.

Despite passionate efforts by grass-roots groups, attempts to save other old baseball stadiums have failed. In Chicago, a group called Save our Sox was formed in 1986 to save Comiskey Park. But with low membership and little media support, it failed.

In Detroit, a group was able to delay a decision to demolish Tiger Stadium from 1987 to 1995, but it too is in the process of being replaced. At its peak, the Detroit Tigers Fan Club had 11,000 supporters - some as far away as Australia and Britain.

But after a series of lawsuits and thousands of dollars spent in campaigning for the old Tiger Stadium, the Fan Club's proposal was turned down in favor of a new stadium.

The Save Fenway Park! plan preserves the field configuration, bleacher section, and grandstand while increasing concessions, bathrooms, and the number of seats. It adds 73 luxury suites - more than at Camden Yards, the Baltimore Orioles new stadium.

The renovation would also address what is the most prominent beef at Fenway: cramped seats. Just ask Fred Keyo, who is wedged in a vice-grip-of-a-seat in the left-field stands.

"There's not enough room," grumbles Mr. Keyo, whose legs are draped over into the row in front of him. "Look at it, it's awful."

Mr. Smith says Fenway has the intimacy of the former Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. "[Fenway] is not simply a New England cathedral outdoors," he says. "You can make the case it is the most beloved of all fields."

MORE ON FENWAY For audio clips of Bostonians talking about their beloved Fenway, an interactive diagram of the park, and more photos, go to www.csmonitor.com/fenway online.

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