We’re hours away from the Boston Red Sox’ home opener, and at Fenway Park on Tuesday, the team premiered some new additions to the old ballpark that will be awaiting fans this season.
The most significant change is to the safety netting that protects fans from foul balls and flying bats. Last season, the netting extended to the dugouts, but now it continues nearly to the foul lines.
The netting, which is 12 feet high and is now painted “field green” to minimize the effect on sightlines, is part of an initiative that saw all 30 Major League clubs extend their safety netting.
The safety change is considered long overdue, but it will come with some negatives, including obstructed views, as well as an end to the tradition of kids hollering over the back of the dugout, hoping for balls and autographs. The net blocks that area now.
During a preview event for media, Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy said that while views will be affected, only five ticket holders took the team up on its offer to relocate or refund affected seats.
The other big change is that there is a new contender for “best seat in the house” — the Jim Beam Dugout.
Located next to the photographers’ pit that borders the Red Sox dugout, the new area is below grade, mimicking the view of players on the bench. The area accommodates 25 people, with stools pulled up to a counter that is right on top of the new protective screen. At eye level, a ground ball dribbler will appear as though it’s coming straight for your beer.
The Jim Beam Dugout also features cutesy dugout items like bats and helmets and a Gatorade cooler, and the premium tickets come with a pregame meal at the National Car Rental Royal Rooters Club and a tour of the stadium.
Some other changes are built around a new partnership with Samuel Adams, which include the rebranding of the right field roof deck into the “Sam Deck” — including a new 74-foot neon sign — as well as a newish venue called “Sammy’s on 3rd,” a craft beer concession that replaces and expands upon the 3rd Base Saloon from seasons past.
Boston Police Commissioner William Evans was on hand for the tour and praised the extended safety netting. “There’s been a lot of incidents where fans have been hit by bats and balls, as well as some incidents with fans harassing the players,” Evans said. “I think this is great for the players and the fans.”
Ron Abell, the executive chef for Aramark, the park’s concessionaire, unveiled some of the new food offerings for this season, which includes lots and lots of lobster — lobster rolls, lobster poutine, lobster nachos, lobster mac and cheese — as well as pulled chicken tacos, tater tots, and cookie dough ice cream (during the colder weeks of April, the ice cream stands will sell soup and hot beverages).
Jonathan Gilula, the team’s executive vice president and COO, said that each year the club tries to strike a balance, maintaining the old-school charm that makes Fenway so beloved while keeping each season feeling fresh and new.
“We have signs all around the office that say ‘Do No Harm,’ ” Gilula said.
With all the changes, though, the important things feel the same. The grass is still greener than green. The wall is still tall. And come Thursday, it will be time to play ball.
Billy Baker can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.