Improvements should make Fenway friendlier


BOSTON (AP) – The Boston Red Sox will be able to squeeze several hundred more fans into Fenway Park for each game this season.

The team was able to increase the ballpark’s legal capacity after another winter of improvements.

Although some of the changes won’t be visible to Fenway patrons, the improved access and code compliance would allow the team to increase its legal capacity from just over 36,000 and sell “a couple hundred more” tickets, Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said Wednesday. The team isn’t adding seats, although there will be new designated spots along railings for standing room.

The Red Sox have sold out 307 consecutive games and had an average attendance of 36,180 in 2006. Eventually, they hope to be able to sell as many as 39,928 tickets per game.

The oldest and smallest ballpark in the major leagues, Fenway has been upgraded each offseason since the team was sold to a group led by John Henry in 2002. The most visible changes have been new seats above the Green Monster, behind home plate and in the right field upper deck.

This offseason, changes involve a new concourse behind the third base grandstand and renovations to 26 luxury suites.

“We are well over $100 million in terms of investments we have made at Fenway Park,” Lucchino said. “And we’re still not finished.”

It’s not just the fans who will see an improvement: Visiting players now have their own batting cage off their clubhouse that will allow them to take some swings during the game without walking across the field to the old one under the center field bleachers.

The Red Sox got a batting cage off their own dugout in 2005. The visitors’ cage will be separated by a window from one of the restaurants embedded in the ballpark, and the restaurant will have access to the cage when there’s no game; when there is, diners will be able to watch players hit from their tables.

That also raises the possibility that Red Sox fans might not be so welcoming to opponents.

“It’s not the fans we’re worried about,” said Janet Marie Smith, the lead Red Sox official on ballpark renovations. “It’s the players we’re worried about.”

Other improvements new for 2007 include:

-a new “Bleacher Bar” under the center field seats, in the area formerly occupied by the batting cages, that would open during the season.

-a new women’s restroom on the third-base side and renovations to the men’s room there that was built with the ballpark in 1912.

-vending machines that will allow fans to buy public transportation tickets, called “CharlieCards,” inside the ballpark.

-a new stairway to ease congestion behind home plate, resurrecting a plan from 1934 that allowed fans to go directly from Yawkey Way to the grandstand seats,

-cup holders for the field box seats,

-new escalators to the luxury club.

Some of the space for the new areas came from moving NESN, the team’s television network, to Watertown. But some Red Sox employees will see things improve: Day-of-game staff like ticket-takers and ushers will have a new dressing room to replace the cramped, hidden-away one that Lucchino called “Dickensian.”

“Our ushers, ticket takers, and security people have long needed an improved dressing area,” Lucchino said. “Such back-of-the-house improvements are not visible, but their effect can be. We ask our event personnel to exude a sense of warmth, welcome, and hospitality, and we know they deserve improved surroundings for their experience as well.”

Also Wednesday, the Red Sox announced that their traditional Patriots Day game on April 16 would start at 10:05 a.m., an hour earlier than usual, and the previous day’s start will move up an hour, to 1:05 p.m. The Boston Marathon has also moved up its start time, from noon to 10 a.m.

The Red Sox also signed free agent catcher Kevin Cash to a minor-league contract.

AP-ES-01-24-07 1802EST