EMMET MEARA

New Red Sox training ground gets Meara’s blessing

Posted March 09, 2012, at 2:18 p.m.
Emmet Meara
Emmet Meara

My sandal-clad toes inched onto the most famous grass in my world, the grass in left field of the Boston Red Sox.

The left-field grass was patrolled by that baseball god, Ted Williams, in my youth. Then there was Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Mike Greenwell and, of course, Manny Ramirez. There was always something special about those Red Sox left fielders.

Like any sandlot veteran worth his salt, I stood there on the grass and imagined the Fenway Park announcer booming, “Now playing left field for the Boston Red Sox … Emmet Meara!” Don’t laugh.

You would do it, too.

“Please get off the grass. Stay on the gravel,” said tour guide Warren Dexter, interrupting my perfect daydream. Dexter was conducting still another tour at the gleaming, new $70-million-plus JetBlue park, the new spring training home of the Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers, Fla. Although the Sox had a perfectly good Florida home at City of Palms Park, they threatened to leave Fort Myers in order to get Lee County to come up with $70-plus million for a new spot away from the crowded downtown. The county built the place and the team leases the facility from the county.

They did it right, creating my personal Disney World. Naturally, Dexter started the ballpark tour at the statue of Ted Williams, the most famous Red Sox player. (I am convinced that I was at Fenway Park for his last at-bat when, naturally, he hit a home run … and refused to tip his hat to the tumultuous applause, but that is a story for another day.)

Williams, in case you forgot, was a Marine aviator who fought in both World War II and Korea, with a wing man called John Glenn. You might have heard of him. Williams blasted 521 home runs even giving up 4½ years to the armed services. “Imagine if he played those 4½ years,” Dexter said. Williams liked to think of himself as the greatest hitter who ever lived. Few argued with him.

The new park is dominated, like Fenway Park, by the mammoth left-field wall, or “the green monster.” The park is designed to have as many contours as Fenway. All of the outfield walls are similar, even to the “Pesky Pole” in right field. But the 37-foot-high “monster” is what everyone talks about. The designers made the wall the star of the show with 378 seats in the wall (protected by a screen) and seats atop the wall, with no protection at all. These seats have already become the most requested, Dexter said.

Dexter said the scoreboard at Jet Blue was originally in Fenway Park and was so battered by a few generations of baseballs that it was removed, rebuilt and replaced. The team decided to save the wall, stored it in a warehouse in South Dakota, of all places. When the design for the new park was being planned, the old scoreboard came to mind. What a perfect spot for the “old” wall.

For those who forgot, the Morse code symbols on the left-field wall memorialize former team owner Tom Yawkey and his wife.

But somehow in the construction, no room was left to operate the scoreboard from the rear, like at Fenway Park. At Jet Blue, in a charming throwback, the workers have to run out between innings with a ladder and change the numbers by hand. This curious arrangement got a workout in the premier game when the Red Sox pounded Northeastern University 25-0. Several of the scoreboard team were too short to reach the numbers. Numbers were dropped and the scoreboard became a sidelight to the baseball game. After every run, attention was diverted to the scoreboard to see if they could keep up. They could not.

Have no fear. There is an ultramodern digital scoreboard in deep center field.

The Red Sox love their ceremonies. For the opening game, the left-field door opened and out walked left fielders Yaz and Rice, along with famed pitcher Luis Tiant and one of my all-time favorites, Dwight Evans. The park roared with delight. That alone made the trip worthwhile.

There are 9,900 seats in the new park, about 2,000 more than City of Palms Park. They still are not wide enough for me to sit down without catching my pockets on the arms of the chairs … an obvious design flaw in one of us. Dexter said the 60,000-square-foot cantilevered roof was designed to provide vital shade for 70 percent of the seats. The roof was designed to withstand hurricane winds, he said, but it looked to me like it might end up in Sarasota in a very strong blow. For reasons I do not understand, seashells were mixed in with the concrete during construction. I do not understand, but I like it.

All in all, the new $70-million-plus park gets my blessing. There is a refreshment stand, plus a bathroom a very short distance from my seat in section 210. It makes me wonder why they don’t tear down Fenway Park, built in 1912, and start all over again.

With wider seats.

Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at emmetmeara@msn.com.

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