Roughly four hours before first pitch of a new baseball season at Fenway Park, Larry Lucchino is looking for trash.
The Red Sox CEO and president, flanked by executive vice president of business affairs Jonathan Gilula, is making a final trip through the concourses, the stands, the ramps, and the concession areas to make sure that everything – everything – is ready for the curtain to lift on 2015.
The standard is to make the Red Sox' home – in its 104th season – beautiful and functional. And Lucchino, the man described appreciatively by Red Sox principal owner John Henry (who also owns the Globe) as a micromanager, wants to make sure that nothing is neglected in the last hours before first pitch.
Lucchino's eyes dart in all directions, looking for evidence of anything that is out of place. Light sneaks through the inches separating a trash can and recycling bin from a support beam as Lucchino passes it. He and Gilula push them into position, an effort to squeeze every imaginable fractional unit of space from the park.
"We have a slogan – 'We fight for inches' – in the clubhouse," explains Lucchino. "We don't like these things to be too far away."
The trash can in proper position, Lucchino scoops up a crumpled piece of plastic he spies on the ground. He'll repeat the gesture on numerous occasions as he navigates the park he could probably traverse blindfolded.
"I'm afraid I've always been a trash picker-upper. I think Camden Yards was really where I took it to a high art form. Not so much in Memorial Stadium," Lucchino chuckles, recalling the Baltimore predecessor to the ballpark that changed modern baseball architecture. "Trivial things bother me, like trash. … It's become a point of pride to clean awfully well and awfully fast."
This is a time for Lucchino and Gilula to make sure players and fans alike see but do not notice the meticulous care exhibited in every corner. Lucchino and Gilula stop in a newly constructed weight room just outside the visitor's clubhouse and make sure the early-arriving members of the Nationals find it up to snuff. One day earlier, the corridor leading up to it had been filled with trash and boxes.
Lucchino and Gilula arrive at one of this year's new features. On a postcard-perfect day, sunlight illuminates Lucchino as he emerges from the shadowy passages to arrive at the new Gate K, part of the "Calling All Kids" theme the Red Sox have pronounced as their mantra for the 2015 season.
The Sox have used the phrase for some years, but after internal pace-of-game conversations inspired broader dialogue about the connection of future generations to baseball, the team decided to make the idea the centerpiece of its 2015 campaign. Major League Baseball is emphasizing a similar theme. Who came up with the idea for the coming season first?
"I've talked to [commissioner Rob Manfred] about using our slogan," said Lucchino. "We're flattered. Let's say that."
Lucchino examines the surroundings – the archway of balloons through which kids will pass, signs juxtaposing the Little League pictures and recent big league photos of Red Sox players, the placards with Wally the Green Monster pointing to different parts of the park – and permits himself a moment of satisfaction.
"God is in the details," Lucchino pronounces.
The phrase is not his, of course, but it is an idea he embraces.
If God is in the details, then Lucchino qualifies as a zealot. When he was in San Diego, he hung a banner with that mantra at the construction site. For massive projects, he cared about construction down to the level of the color of nuts and bolts.
Now, the scope of his undertaking is different. The soup-to-nuts construction projects of Camden Yards in Baltimore and Petco Park in San Diego are done. The major renovations to Fenway Park ended in 2012, in time for the ballpark's centennial.
Now, change at Fenway assumes different dimensions. There are projects, such as the relocation of the camera well in the center field bleachers to an elevated spot near the top of the park's back wall, construction of a new suite and seats in the left field corner, the visitor's weight room, the spaces for kids to play and do art projects in the middle of the game ("One thing we may want to add is tutoring kids on keeping score in there," Lucchino brainstorms to Gilula), new or redone areas for eating and drinking.
The park is not static. There is always room for tweaks. There is always something that needs to be addressed.
But the responsibility of managing Fenway in preparation for a home opener now feels different than it did a few years ago. There are some nerves, Lucchino acknowledges, but nothing to compare with prior home openers, particularly in 1992 when Camden Yards threw open its doors.
"That morning, they were putting in the screen behind home plate. We didn't have an agreement on the type and location and size of the screen behind home plate. That morning was particularly nerve-wrecking," recalls Lucchino. "I remember right after the game, [Camden Yards architect Janet Marie Smith] and I ran up to each other, hugged, and she said, 'It plays! It plays!' That game was played in 2 hours and 6 minutes."
Alterations are now subtle, improvements meant to remain true to the essence of a baseball institution. There are two new rectangular scoreboards down the left and right field lines, but those act in some ways as a quiet rebuke of the "ribbon" scoreboards that encircle other parks and transform a baseball-centric experience into a light show.
None of this year's changes will elevate to the level of controversy the Sox encountered when, prior to 2003, they introduced the Monster Seats.
"That was the first big one," Gilula remembers. "People were saying, 'You can't do something on top of the Monster.'"
"We had the Mayor tell us, 'You're going to come back to me in a couple of years and you're going to want to take those down,'" Lucchino notes.
"To this day," adds Gilula, "they continue to be the most popular seat at Fenway Park and arguably in all of baseball."
The observations come on the right field roof deck, a part of the park that defines the ambition that guided the Red Sox through their 10-year, $275 million renovation project that transformed Fenway in so many respects.
"I remember vividly there was one camera, one security guy, and one sign leading up here. That was what it was," said Lucchino. "One sign, one camera, one security guard."
Yet even as the building projects become less grandiose, Lucchino and Gilula exhibit passion for them. There is pleasure as they step into the new suite that runs so close to the foul pole made famous by Carlton Fisk as to invite its visitors' touch. The new seats on top of that suite afford a chance for Gilula and Lucchino to debate the merits of replacing the current foul netting – with an apron running over the box seats behind the plate – with a higher screen but without the overhead netting.
There is more walking, more staircases whose existence is unknown to most. Lucchino and Gilula employ these passageways as familiar shortcuts between levels. These are routes around the park they have taken hundreds, more likely thousands, of times.
Everything requires examination, including the restrooms, where Lucchino discovers with some chagrin that a hook is missing from the back of one stall. Gilula jots down a note. It will be addressed.
"Jonathan and I are very much alike. We see the big picture, but when it comes to something like architecture or ballpark operation, to do the job, you've got to be focused on details," Lucchino notes. "When it comes to Fenway Park, we do see ourselves as people whose job it is to look at the little things, as well as the big picture. Do no harm to Fenway is the biggest mantra we live with, but trying to improve in myriad little ways is our goal every year."
This year's fine-tuning is an outgrowth of the massive projects of the recent past.
"When we walk around and point out the right field roof seats or the Monster Seats, people say, 'That's new? It looks like it's always been there,'" says Gilula. "That's been our objective."
"We want them to notice certain elements that are new, but overall, we want them to seem seamless," adds Lucchino. "That was one of our highest objectives, to make it seem to fit in. I think that's one of the highest compliments we've gotten."
The park is ready, worthy of the start of season 104. In a sense, the opener more accurately marks the birthday of Fenway Park each year, insofar as it represents the day on which the new changes, in Gilula's words, become "alive and breathing" – a state that may result in further on-the-fly changes as the season progresses.
Lucchino smiles at the scoreboard's all-caps message: "AMERICA'S MOST BELOVED BALLPARK."
"I read that in a book by Curt Smith," he says. "There's a passage in it where he says, 'In many ways Yankee Stadium is the most historic of ballparks. In some ways, Wrigley Field is the prettiest of ballparks. But unquestionably, Fenway Park is the most beloved.' We didn't make it up. We took it from an eminent authority."
Lucchino's affinity for his workplace, his connection to that sentiment, is evident. Standing in seats that did not exist a year earlier, he looks at the glimmering emerald in the heart of Fenway.
"Tell me how good that looks – that green grass," he exhales. "It's amazing."
Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.