|BOSTON -- One of the best ways to understand the growth of Major League Baseball over the past century is to do so physically, from the cockpit of an airplane, or even better, by laying the architectural plans of today's ballparks one on top of the other. The aerial footprint of Fenway Park, which went up in the same year the Titanic went down, is about half the size of many of the facilities built in the past decade.
Boston's "lyric little bandbox," as writer John Updike once called Fenway, is contained on just 7.9 acres. It's all about baseball, as defined in 1912.
By contrast, modern facilities such as Denver's Coors Field and Seattle's Safeco Field are more like entertainment zones. Packed within their walls are niche restaurants, children's play areas and vast merchandise stores. The designs allow teams to capture as much of a fan's game-day expenses as possible.
The limited amount of horizontal space provides the primary challenge to any effort to save Fenway, where many of those game-day dollars go to sausage vendors, mom-and-pop merchandisers and parking-lot owners beyond the Red Sox property. The club's owners, who want a new stadium down the street, say they need those dollars to build a competitive ballclub in the future.
"This project involves financial decisions that will affect the team for the next 30 years," said John Harrington, chief executive of the Red Sox.
Rolando Llanes, a ballpark architect, is hard-pressed to disagree. But he arrives at a different conclusion as to whether Fenway must go. A consultant to the Florida Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals in their efforts to acquire new stadiums, Llanes led a team of architects, engineers and other experts that produced a plan to reconstruct Fenway Park in a way that includes most of the features from the club's proposed, $665 million stadium to be built elsewhere in the neighborhood.
The design's key elements:
Creation of an annex behind the existing right-field bleachers. Much as the Baltimore Orioles converted a warehouse behind Camden Yards into space for team offices, banquet rooms and merchandise shops, Llanes proposes to push some of the modern-day amenities into a building that would replace what is now a small parking garage owned by the Red Sox.
No more cramped seats. Llanes calls for the demolition of the current ring of seats behind home plate and along the first- and third-base lines, to be replaced with wider seats that also offer more leg room.
A new, upper deck that will be closer to the field than any in baseball. The plan also calls for the addition of 400 "Monster seats" above the Green Monster in left field.
The design, produced for the nonprofit group Save Fenway Park, makes a concession. The Red Sox don't get everything they would get in a new facility. The team's proposed stadium on a 15-acre plot down the street calls for 44,000 seats, 5,000-5,500 club seats, and 100 luxury suites. The Llanes plan delivers 40,000 seats, 4,500 club seats at most, and 67 suites.
The number of suites can be doubled by adding a second tier between the upper and lower decks, said Philip Bess, a Chicago architect and ballpark design expert who worked on the Save Fenway Park team. But the architects opted against that because the driving consideration of the group was preservation of the Fenway experience, which may be threatened by pushing up the upper deck another 12 feet or so.
"The quirkiness and intimacy that have always been a part of Fenway Park would be preserved," Bess said. "That doesn't happen in the new Red Sox proposal."
It's a philosophical question that hovers over both proposals: At what point is Fenway no longer Fenway?
The Red Sox say they can approximate the Fenway experience within a new ballpark by recreating key features of the playing field: the Green Monster, Pesky's Pole, the manual scoreboard, the right-field bullpens and the unique field dimensions. At the current Fenway, a red seat in the right-field bleachers commemorates the place where Ted Williams' 502-foot homer landed; the new ballpark would mark the place where that homer would have landed.
In the Llanes plan, those same features -- the authentic features -- would be retained, along with the outfield bleachers and the exquisite brick facade of the ballpark. The field would be the same field that Tris Speaker once roamed.
The Red Sox and their fans would be inconvenienced while the ballpark is being modernized. Since the so-called reconstruction plan calls for the demolition of the core seating bowl, it would require that the team play elsewhere for two years -- or stay at Fenway but reconfigure the field so that home plate is temporarily moved to the current right-field corner, which Llanes concedes would be awkward.
Any effort to upgrade Fenway will require generous amounts of creativity to pull off. But history has shown that the best urban architecture is done when designers are given constraints, not freedom, Llanes said. He argues that Fenway is enough of a gem to make the effort, especially because the cost of modernizing the ballpark would likely cost less money than a new ballpark because no new land must be taken.
So far, the only plan the Red Sox have embraced is the proposed new ballpark designed by HOK Sport, the same Kansas City firm behind Camden Yards (Baltimore Orioles), Jacobs Field (Cleveland Indians) and Coors Field (Colorado Rockies). Last year, at the club's request, HOK issued a critique of an earlier proposal for a renovated Fenway by a local architect, Charles Hagenah, who had never worked on a ballpark.
That critique was used by Llanes to put together his more complete proposal. Llanes notes that HOK also has handled the renovation at Edison International Field (Anaheim Angels) and improvements to Wrigley Field, where the Chicago Cubs have made no effort to move from their bandbox-sized jewel.
"If the Red Sox (stadium) deal fell through tomorrow and they wanted their architects to work on this site, I'm sure they'd say 'OK, we can do this,' " Llanes said. "It might not be exactly what we came up with, but I've worked with HOK and they're smart. They would come up with something good."
Something in which the Ted Williams seat is in fact the Ted Williams seat.
Tom Farrey is a Senior Writer with ESPN.com.
The architectural team led by Rolando Llanes that created a plan to renovate Fenway Park has released several drawings and photos of their vision. You can see them by clicking here.
To see images of what the Red Sox want in their proposed $665 million ballpark down the street, here.
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