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These seats are Monstrously good

Posted: Thursday, April 03, 2003

Kenmore Square -- and its landmark Citgo sign -- is at my back, the nightclubs of Landsdowne Street are below, the Boston skyline is off in the distance. On the right, I would almost be able to touch the left-field foul pole that welcomed Carlton Fisk's famous homer into history.

I am sitting in one of Fenway Park's newest seats.

Even though the section is still under construction, and Fisk's foul pole has been shipped off for a fresh coat of paint, and the only action on the field is the grounds crew packing down the infield dirt, it is obvious these are the best seats in the house.

I was up there Tuesday, above Fenway's Green Monster, along with Janet Marie Smith, who is helping the ballclub decide whether to renovate or rebuild its home. An April snow was falling on Boston, the Red Sox had lost the opener in spectacular fashion (as the Red Sox tend to do) and their weary fans were already conceding the 2003 season (as Red Sox fans tend to do).

So here is some good news for the Boston faithful: Fenway Park is becoming a more comfortable, more enjoyable place to watch a baseball game. And no change will be more popular than the new Monster seats.

Unlike hotel rooms that offer distant views of the SkyDome field or the frolicky diversion of the Bank One Ballpark swimming pool, the Monster seats are immersed in atmosphere. The view of the plate is perfect (though a play at The Wall is obscured); I am a mere 310 feet away (and 40 feet up); and unlike the luxury boxes that seal fans off from the crowd, these are thick in the middle of it.

Had there been a game, I might have caught a home run. Or, as long-suffering Red Sox fans know too well, a popup.

The team's owners, in place less than a year when construction began, are understandably squeamish about tinkering with Fenway's allure. In the end, though, the team felt the best way to show off the 91-year-old park's signature feature was to allow fans to get close to it instead of treating it as a museum piece.

''We wanted to try and celebrate the authentic things and the moments than exist naturally, rather than treating them as objects under glass or cliches,'' Smith said. ''With Fenway, it is the real thing. It's one of the last of the real things. We certainly expect to treat it with some reverence.''

Even in stodgy, red-brick Boston, fans welcomed the change. Every Monster seat -- 270 per game at $50 apiece, plus 100 standing room tickets at $20 a pop -- has been sold for every game starting April 29, when the section is set to open.

By then, fans will be able to cross a spacious concourse from the suite level or the centerfield bleachers to the new section.

For now, the only access is by rickety scaffolding, which Smith and I, wearing hardhats, reach by climbing over the grandstand wall. At the top, a catwalk balanced 37 feet, 6 inches above the warning track takes us across the top of The Wall to the new seats.

Cantilevered over Landsdowne Street, the landing place of so many home runs that cleared the Green Monster and its netting, the section has three rows of metal barstools and one row in the back for standing. Just a few of the seats have been bolted down so far, each one painted Fenway Green and perforated in a pattern resembling the seams of a baseball.

Each stool is behind a counter with a drink rail, but a fan in the front row can peer down on Red Sox left-fielder Manny Ramirez as he plays the carom. Had the seats been here for the '78 AL playoff game against the hated Yankees, someone may have gone home with Bucky Dent's pennant-clinching popup.

Fenway has its bad seats: Under the scoreboard in centerfield, seats are 600 feet from the plate; others are behind posts. Even the good ones are too narrow, too close to the row in front, and pointed at an odd angle.

All of this will be addressed when the team decides whether to replace Fenway. For now, the team is going after the low-hanging fruit, as president Larry Lucchino has called it. The fixer-upper projects that fall between a new coat of paint and a total teardown.

Although the Monster seats have gotten the most attention, there are other changes afoot at baseball's oldest and smallest (and, for the sixth year in a row, most expensive) ballpark.

Among the most visible: growth of the manual scoreboard to twice its width -- it now covers almost the entire length of The Wall -- to include updates of NL games and advertisements.

''You have to come back when the bathrooms are done,'' Smith said at the end of the tour. ''They're every bit as exciting as the Green Monster seats.''

The foul pole that Fisk memorably dinged with his game-winning homer in the 1975 World Series was taken down for a touch-up. The section of netting that his shot most likely hit has been preserved for the Red Sox Hall.

The ladder that the grounds crew used to clear balls out of the net above the Green Monster was also taken down. It will be put back as well -- restoring the threat of ricochets for over-confident left-fielders -- even though there's no need for it any more.

Why?

''Because,'' Smith said, ''this is Fenway Park.''

Jimmy Golen covers the Boston Red Sox for The Associated Press.



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