Advocating for a new Fenway Park, as pet lovers can relate, is like thumbing the classifieds for a new pup while the wheezing, arthritic family dog snores heavily in the corner, oblivious to whispers about that next trip to the vet.
It’s time. Or, to be specific, it’s timing.
Fenway is old, a beat building. That’s not news. It’s an outdated, cracking, 101-year-old grand dame, one that has been artfully masked over the last 10-12 years during its pearls-on-a-pig era in which every available inch has been scraped, painted, patched, and perfumed.
No matter what the makeover, it still has thousands upon thousands of dreadful seat locations (we give you, oh, Sections 2 through 8) and thousands more of the good seats (we give you the remainder of the grandstand) that were designed before Americans fully understood that sugars and carbohydrates make up the very pinnacle of the food pyramid. Most adult New Englanders will plunk down in a bigger, more comfortable seat at a Chuck E. Cheese birthday party than in the Fenway grandstand.
But the best reason to put a new Fenway front and center today is the ball club — what it has been the last couple of years and what it portends to be this season and likely a few more.
The Sox have gone from bad (2011) to brutal (2012) to who knows what (2013 and beyond). They’re by no means rudderless. General manager Ben Cherington seems to have a plan, one that may work, eventually, with more than a little luck, spit, and pine tar. They may not be even half-bad this year, but I suspect they will be half-bad and half-OK, which translates to 85 or so wins and a summer of sports talk radio, blogs, and tweets centered on the anatomical particulars of David Ortiz’s feet.
Oh yeah, Big Papi and podiatry, a slice of hardball heaven.
The new Fenway should have been built in the early 1960s. The fiftysomething Fenway was in dire need of replacing just as Ted Williams departed and before Carl Yastrzemski gave birth to Red Sox Nation in 1967.
In those Dead Sox days of the early and mid ’60s, fan interest all but fell through the crumbling floor beneath Fenway’s box seats. Had anyone been sitting there, that actually might have happened.
We know attendance will take a hit this year, but we won’t see gates plummet to 5,000-8,000 as we did at times in the ’60s, when promotions such as “Nuns Day’’ were contrived to get Sister Mary Agnes Frances Dunnehy in the park for a weekday afternoon game. The joint was often so empty that a new ball yard could have been constructed bit-by-bit on the same grounds, with work carrying on even during the baseball season, workmen only needing to lay down their hammers and silence compressors for, say, 4-5 hours on game days.
In the ’60s, no one in our town could tell Ike Delock from Bob the Builder.
These 2013 Sox are really a throwback to those early-’60s Sox. Few names, fewer expectations.
However, fan perception of the park itself and the entire game-day (i.e. spending) experience is vastly different. Which is why we had Face of the Nation Larry Lucchino reminding season ticket-holders last year that half the fun is just coming to Fenway. Truth was, half the fun in 2012 was the full meal, with a side salad of batting practice.
What we’re watching now, right before our Rosie-Sox-colored eyes, is a painful cultural shift from the big-name championship Red Sox of 2004/2007 to this new-age collection of Gary Geigers, Pete Runnelses, and Pumpsie Greens. Worse, instead of a young Yaz hoisting high his bat with promise, we have an old Papi as a lingering reminder of what once was good about baseball in our faded Fenway field of dreams.
All the while, we cling desperately, romantically, somewhat pathetically to our lyric little bandbox of a ballpark, which today oozes in saturated fats of advertising, streetside barkers, and vendors, and is chockablock with sightlines and seats engineered for 1912 America and 1912 Americans.
Let it go. Now. We all know Fenway will not be here forever. We all know, especially when we are in search of bathrooms and legroom, it has outlived by decades its practical, humane usefulness.
The early ’60s aside, the timing has never been better. Unlike the team that has sagged badly beneath his feet, club owner John Henry can get out in front on this one, start talking the New Fenway that will open in, say, 5-7 years.
It not only will take the focus away from some bad ball and hurt feelings, it also will pack Henry’s park over these next slim seasons. Americans will stream to the Hub from far and wide to get their last look at forever Fenway. Hard to imagine the ransom StubHub would put on the last game.
Ray, if you level it, they will come.
And when it’s gone, it’s guaranteed that we’ll have a new Fenway that looks a lot like the old Fenway. All that once was good will be good again.
For 101 reasons and more, there will never be a better time for the Hub to bid the old girl adieu.