FORT MYERS, Fla. - The New Wall at Fenway South isn’t identical to the Old Wall. It’s higher, has seats inside, and there is no way to manually change the numbers from inside the scoreboard.
The scoreboard on the left-field wall at JetBlue Park is the same one that graced Fenway Park for nearly three decades, dating to the days when Carl Yastrzemski mastered the Green Monster. It was taken out of storage in South Dakota to be attached to the wall at the Red Sox’ new spring training ballpark.
But the scoreboard sticks out only 6 inches from the existing wall, so manually dropping in the numbers from behind it is impossible.
The door that was part of the original scoreboard leads nowhere. The Sox had to put in another door, 50 feet closer to the left-field foul line. That leads on one side to the tiny 8-foot-by-8-foot scoreboard operator’s room. There you’ll find Kevin Walsh, 23, a perky Red Sox intern chosen from more than 650 applicants for this plum assignment.
But Walsh has some unique issues. Changing the scoreboard at JetBlue Park means dashing onto the field carrying numbered panels that weigh 2 pounds and measure 12 by 16 inches, and lugging a 6-foot ladder. And the view from the tiny window makes it impossible to see the entire field.
“It looks like a prison window,’’ said Walsh.
The University of Richmond marketing and management graduate had a premonition on opening day of the new $78 million complex that there could be problems.
“When I was told I was going to do the scoreboard, my first thought was, ‘What’s going to happen when they score 25 runs?’ ’’ said Walsh. “And right off, that’s exactly what happens.’’
The Red Sox beat Northeastern, 25-0, in what was just the first game of a doubleheader.
“We probably went out there close to a hundred times in the two games,’’ said Walsh. “It was exhilarating. You get a bit of an adrenaline rush. There’s 11,000 people out there.’’
While fans soaked in the atmosphere, Walsh sweated it out. Literally. Game-time temperature was 84 degrees, but it was even hotter inside the tiny room, where the air conditioning didn’t work.
“I went through seven bottles of water in two games,’’ said Walsh.
Back in Boston, legendary Fenway scorekeeper Christian Elias, who is about to begin his 22d year inside the Wall, had little sympathy for the rookie.
“Eighty-four degrees?’’ he said. “And he gets to go outside during the game? That sounds like a breeze compared to a hot and muggy July day in Boston when that wall heats up in the sun. He should consider himself lucky.’’
After Walsh worked the top of the first inning by himself, help was on the way. Katie Haas, the Red Sox director of Florida business operations, went from directing traffic to helping with the numbers, despite a bandaged thumb.
“I could just barely reach the ‘Boston’ line if I went on my tippy-toes,’’ she said with a laugh. “I’m going to be the laughingstock of the other directors in the Grapefruit League.
“It’s embarrassing. One of my counterparts delivered a baby at their open house last week. Now, that’s noble - this is not. It was stressful and intense.’’
When runs were scored in the Northeastern game, yellow numbers were posted during the inning; they had to be changed to white numbers during the break. In the third inning, Adrian Gonzalez looked up from his position at first base and saw the duo on the field, their backs to the plate, changing numbers. Uh-oh, he thought.
“Justin [Germano, a nonroster invitee] is a pitcher that works pretty fast, and he was just about to come set and they were still out there,’’ said Gonzalez. “So I called time.’’
Walsh knew they were trying to do too much.
“We were trying to change it between every play,’’ he said. “We have about 20 seconds to get out there and run the 50 feet out there.
Speed is not his best quality.
“I’m incredibly slow,’’ said Walsh. “I played hockey, which doesn’t require running. All of us were a mess.’’
Walsh, who once was the mascot - “George the Eagle’’ - for the Richmond Revolution of the Indoor Football League, was exhausted by the end of the doubleheader.
“All I wanted to do was go home and go to sleep,’’ he said. “I was pretty dead.’’
But he took it all in stride.
“It was pretty humorous,’’ he said. “It’s been a lot of fun. I’m a big baseball guy. It’s a very unique view of baseball. I enjoy being able to contribute to the fan experience and I’m really humbled to have the opportunity.’’
He also had some very special visitors: Sox legends Luis Tiant, Dwight Evans, Jim Rice, and Yaz.
“I showed them my room,’’ said Walsh. “Jim Rice was laughing. He said it was pretty tiny. They were shocked that it’s not like Fenway and we have to run out on the field.’’
Up in the stands, fans were all for the manual scoreboard.
Judy Piolunek, originally from Hyde Park and now a Floridian, loved it.
“I’d rather they put up the numbers by hand,’’ she said as the door flew open and Walsh & Co. hustled out there. “It’s fan-friendly. I think it’s just great seeing him run out there putting the numbers up. It’s just fun.’’
She paused for a second, then added, “Oh, and he’s cute.’’