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Is there life without Fenway Park?

By Randy Horick

SEPTEMBER 27, 1999:  One of my favorite movies, Local Hero, centers around an odd juxtaposition of sentiments. A hard-driven, bean-counting executive from a Houston oil company is dispatched to the north coast of Scotland, to negotiate the purchase of a breathtakingly beautiful fishing village that offers the ideal site for a giant refinery. Instead, he becomes utterly enchanted by the place and would give anything to stay.

But the townsfolk, far from being ardent defenders of their quaint, charming locale, are only too anxious to sell. They dream of trading their isolation and the hard life of fishing for the relative comforts of a townhouse in Glasgow. "It's their place," explains a fellow outsider to the disappointed oilman. "They have a right to make of it what they can."

In Boston these days, life seems to be imitating art. At least the movie seems an apt way to explain the sentiments of Bostonians toward their city's most alluring sports locale, Fenway Park.

Only two places in baseball could fairly be described as sacred ground, and Fenway is one. After this month, it and Wrigley Field will be the last of the unreconstructed old neighborhood ballyards.

To visit Fenway for the first time, as my dad and I did recently, is to become enraptured.

Like the oilman in the Highlands, you fall in love with the place's charms: the fabled, high green left field wall; the closeness; the peanut vendors and the hurlyburly outside; the erratically updated manual scoreboard; most of all, the park's ambiance of antiquity allows you to feel as if you're sharing a bit of space, if not a moment in time, with all the ghosts of Red Sox past, all the way back to Ruth.

(It's no coincidence that Kevin Costner chose Fenway as the ballpark his character was bidden to visit in Field of Dreams.)

But the stadium, at least most of it, is coming down. It may happen in a couple of years. The old park might live to see 2004.

The owners have resolved to follow the American way with Fenway: raze the old place, then raise up a new one.

The issue, primarily, is money. In 1912, Fenway's builders never imagined that millions could one day be made had they possessed the acumen to build cushy luxury suites and charge the big daddies of Beacon Hill small fortunes to occupy them.

With 10,000 more seats, as the owners propose to add, Fenway could accommodate one million more fans and tens of millions more dollars each year.

But if outsiders regard the demolition of one of baseball's holiest places as an abomination, the principal victims don't seem particularly perturbed.

Ask around, and you'll find that the majority of Bostonians favor a new Fenway. They say they're ready to be rid of the old park's cramped, narrow seats, the pole-obstructed views and the poor seats down the rightfield line, and the inadequate restroom and concession facilities.

Even the Sox's most famous living player, Ted Williams, and one of their best-known fans, Doris Kearns Goodwin, endorse the new park.

It helps that the owners had the eminent sense to understand that Fenway II would be salable only if the new field offers the same quirky dimensions as the old. Next door, the original infield and leftfield wall will survive as a public park. There'll be a new Green Monster like the old, a new manual scoreboard, plus all the old intimacy. It'll be the same, only bigger and better.

Except that it can't be the same. It won't be the same left field wall that Carl Yazstremski defended, or over which Carlton Fisk coaxed his famous World Series home run. It won't be the same mound from which El Tiante and the great Ruth once pitched. It can be better, but it won't be the same.

Of course, it's easy to sit in Nashville and pontificate that Bostonians mustn't touch their shambling old park. I don't regularly have to deal with the tick-tight seats or the dank restrooms.

The new park will be breathtakingly beautiful. Everyone will love it.

And it's not like they're replacing Fenway with a festered Walgreen's.

But when the old park succumbs, I'll feel wistful for a place that can be visited only in the imagination. I'll feel a little like the oil executive, who's sent back to Houston at the end of the movie but can't get Scotland out of his head. From his high-rise condo, he dials the village's public phone, but no one ever answers. It just rings and rings.

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