Sushi, HD video for Fenway in 100th season
BOSTON – Fenway Park is all dressed up and ready for its 100th birthday party.
The Boston Red Sox wrapped up 10 years and $285 million in improvements for the ballpark this offseason, unveiling HD video boards and a home plate concourse Wednesday that have the oldest ballpark in the major leagues looking like new in time for its 100th opening day Friday.
By completing the renovations this winter, the Red Sox leave themselves next offseason to prepare for a 100th anniversary celebration next summer. Fenway opened April 20, 1912; no major league stadium has ever survived to be 100, leaving team president Larry Lucchino to look elsewhere for comparisons.
"Rome had one for the 100th year of the Colosseum," he said.
But the Colosseum didn't have three HD video boards in center field or concession stands selling sushi. Among the other new features unveiled Wednesday was a new concourse behind home plate with — for the first time in decades — a smooth, cement floor and plenty of space for the crowds filing in and out of the ballpark.
"When you consider the pictures we've seen of the ballpark in the 20th century, it really is more vibrant than it ever was," owner John Henry said. "Since the moment we arrived, the restoration of Fenway Park has been a real labor of love. It's been nine years that we've been at this. The end result is better than anything we could have imagined."
The decade-long renovation began shortly after Henry's group bought the team and decided not to replace the crumbling facility with one of the old-time replicas that were in fashion. Instead, they have spent the winters working on the ballpark in sections, adding talked-about features such as new seats above the Green Monster and less-visible ones like making the bathrooms accessible to the disabled.
This year's changes will be most obvious to fans who enter behind home plate into a brightly lit, spacious concourse absent the cracked tiling and crumbling brick that showed Fenway's age. Now, a new gate leads into an area with concessions offering seafood shack fare and New England favorites like a turkey sandwich with stuffing and cranberry sauce.
"We were careful not to do too much and overwhelm the intimacy of Fenway Park," Lucchino said. "We're proud that we were able to improve the ballpark and increase the capacity without changing the overall ambiance."
Capacity this year will be 37,493 for night games and 37,065 for day games — an increase of 91 over 2010's totals.
The Year 10 renovations also included repairing the concrete and waterproofing in the right field grandstand that was originally built in 1933-34. The entire lower bowl of seats has now been waterproofed, and every seat in Fenway has been either replaced or refurbished; field box seats are now padded, and box seats have cup holders.
The plumbing running beneath the home plate concourse has been brought up to code.
"That will make Fenway viable for 30 or 40 more years," Lucchino said.
The Red Sox return home from a season-opening road trip Friday to face the New York Yankees. Picked by the majority of baseball experts to win the World Series, Boston was swept by the Texas Rangers and fell to 0-4 on Tuesday night with a loss in the series opener against the Cleveland Indians.
"We still have a lot of games to go, and we'll be there, folks," Mayor Tom Menino said at Fenway on Wednesday morning. "I'm not panicking."
(This version CORRECTS Corrects style on Colosseum.)