At Fenway, Yawkey Way vs. corporate way?
It's a classic struggle between mom-and-pop vendors and the owners of baseball's holiest shrine.
IN AN hour, Red Sox pitcher Frank Castillo will throw the first pitch in a three game homestand against the World Champion Arizona Diamondbacks.
Just outside, on Yawkey Way a public thoroughfare lined with souvenir shops and takeout joints a festive scene unfolds as it has countless times before.
The street is closed to automobiles. The aroma of sausage and peppers sizzling on open grills lingers in the late spring air. Baseball pilgrims from out of town, giddy before the gates of baseball's holiest shrine, snap family photos.
George Tsardounis, who has been hawking roasted nuts on Yawkey Way for 29 years, sings out in a strong, Greek-accented tenor, "Pick 'em up! Pea-nuts! Ca-shews!" Nick Jacobs, 38, sports an earring shaped like a peanut. He's a third-generation vendor on Yawkey Way: His grandfather started here in 1912, when Fenway Park opened.
The mood is upbeat.
The Sox are off to one of their best starts in history. The despised New York Yankees are a couple of games behind. New ownership has brought peace to a chronically contentious clubhouse.
This could be the year!
But the mood among the dozens of street vendors on Yawkey Way, whose livelihoods depend on the Red Sox, is more apprehensive. They believe the new ownership wants to expand its control over the "Fenway Experience" by limiting access to Yawkey Way before and after games to ticket holders, and replacing independent sellers with their own concessions.
It's a classic struggle between mom-and-pop operations with little political clout, and the owners of one of Boston's most powerful and beloved institutions.
The Sox and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino's office say there is no formal plan on the table, but the mayor's press secretary, Carole Brennan, concedes that there have been "informal discussions about many things," including the future of Yawkey Way. But, she insists, the mayor will protect the interests of vendors, as he did in 1999 when the Red Sox briefly sought to move the street vendors out, and a public outcry restored them to Yawkey Way.
At stake are not only livelihoods, but a cherished tradition. Harry Pateras and his mother, Helen, have operated the Sausage Connection (informally known as "Ma's") from a pushcart here for more than a quarter-century. There are those who say that a trip to Fenway isn't complete without Ma's.
"For 15 years I've been coming to Ma's," says Brad Schulte of Peabody, Mass. "My kids always ask for Ma's. It's part of the experience for them. In the time I've been coming to Fenway, I've been through two wives, but only one sausage vendor."
Artie Kouyounbjian has been selling sausage on Yawkey Way for 25 years.
"I have to support my family," he says. "The Red Sox want to move us to other gates where they know there's no business. They're not worried about us and our families. They're only concerned about what goes in their pocket."
Mr. Kouyounbjian, who was at a recent meeting with Mayor Menino, believes, "the mayor is backing us 100 percent."
The fans are behind the vendors, too. Maryellen Briggs of Brockton, Mass., says she loves the vibe and always buys her peanuts from Mr. Tsardounis. She says it would be "terrible" for the Red Sox to move the vendors out. "I love it when George sings 'Pea-nuts!' "
"The new parks have copied the Yawkey Way idea," says Bill MacDougall, a Medford, Mass., Sox fan who vividly recalls the 1946 All-Star Game at Fenway. He's referring to stadiums such as Baltimore's Camden Yards, where a pedestrian mall with concessions was built into the park's design. But, says MacDougall, "I don't think they'd throw these guys out."
Red Sox spokesman Kevin Shea says the Sox are concerned about the vendors, but hints that they do indeed have their eye on Yawkey Way.
Within the confines of Fenway, says Mr. Shea, "there is no room for a concourse where fans can gather. Yawkey Way would be a great place for people to do that."
Of course they're already doing that have been doing that for nearly a century but not under Red Sox control.
The scene on Yawkey Way may be one of the last uncontrived experiences in Major League Baseball. What will it look like if the Red Sox extend their control of the "Fenway Experience" to the public street outside?
Hard to say, because no formal plan is on the table. But it's likely that Yawkey Way, the Red Sox way, would be a lot more expensive. The Red Sox have to meet one of the highest payrolls in baseball, and play in the smallest park. They do so with the highest ticket prices and some of the most expensive concessions, too. A bottle of water costs $4.50, twice what the independent vendors charge.
Yawkey Way under Red Sox control may well be pleasant enough, but many fans are asking: Isn't there room for at least one authentic baseball experience unshaped by a powerful corporate hand?