FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Boston Red Sox opened their 112th year of baseball by taking the field March 3 at JetBlue Park, a $78 million miniature replica of Boston’s Fenway Park.
Built to identical field configurations as Fenway’s hallowed grounds, what’s been dubbed “Fenway South” has its own left-field Green Monster. It is 43 feet high, 6 feet higher than the original, and has been configured so that fans can not only buy seats atop the beast, as they do in Boston, but also buy seats that are literally within the belly of the beast.
Fans in those seats watch the action through netting stretched taut in an effort to replicate the bewildering caroms that plague left fielders playing in Boston.
Also replicated at Fenway South is a manual, people-powered, field-level scoreboard that is not so much a replica as a restored version of the real deal. It’s a scoreboard that was used at Boston’s Fenway Park for almost 30 years, beginning in the 1970s. When plans were being drawn for the Lilliputian Fenway in Fort Myers, the scoreboard was rescued from storage in South Dakota, refurbished and installed within the left-field wall at Fenway South. Unlike the Fenway scoreboard, which is operated from inside the Green Monster, the Florida version is updated each half-inning from the warning track, by a park staffer with a stepladder.
Also installed at Fenway South were the same style of cast-iron anchored folding seats found in Boston, also painted iconic Fenway green. The new ballpark has seats for 9,900 fans and room for another 1,100 who stand or park themselves on a grassy berm beyond the center-field wall.
The Fort Myers spring training venue that the Sox called home since 1993 — City of Palms Park — seated 7,000. That facility now lies dormant, although there’s an effort under way to lure a third major league team to this Lee County community. This week the Lee County Board of Commissioners authorized sending a contingent to Washington, D.C., to gauge the interest of the Washington Nationals, which now calls the Florida east coast city of Viera its spring training home.
There is no shortage of Mainers at JetBlue park on any given game day, both fans and park staff.
“There are plenty of Maine-iacs down here,” says Kevin Clapp, JetBlue Park’s security supervisor. He should know; he’s from Greenville, where he works as a Department of Conservation park ranger at Lily Bay State Park between April and November. Before Fenway South opened this year, he worked spring training security for seven years at City of Palms Park.
Clapp said he has heard nothing but positive comments about the new spring training digs.
“To me, this place is Florida on the outside and Boston on the inside,” he said Monday. “People come in and sit down and think they’re at Fenway. All that’s missing is a big CITGO sign.”
Maine natives Sharon and Ed Newell are on staff, too. The couple from Buxton have worked as spring training ushers for the Red Sox for years, seven years for Sharon and 18 for Ed, who is now the head usher.
“I spend a lot of my time explaining to people who aren’t from New England what the ‘Green Monster’ is,” Sharon said. “The overall response has been very positive.”
Fenway South is the 21st spring training location for the Red Sox over the team’s storied history. The team’s first spring training was held in 1901 in Virginia at a diamond in Charlottesville.
All 14 home games of the Boston’s monthlong, 26-game 2012 Grapefruit League spring training schedule were sold out within hours of tickets going on sale, with prices ranging from $46 for home plate box seats to $5 for a spot on the center-field lawn.
After Thursday night’s tie against the Yankees, the Red Sox have a 9-7-2 spring training record heading into Friday’s game against Baltimore.
Fenway South will host five more sold-out home games before the spring training season ends on April 3. The Red Sox open the regular season on April 5 in Detroit. The team is celebrating the 100-year anniversary of Fenway Park this season.