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Red Sox goal: keep Fenway, long tradition

Larry Lucchino, Boston Red Sox president, weaves his way through a Yawkey Way crowd 20 minutes before the start of a game. As he talks excitedly about the "perpetual street fair" going on around him, fans turn away from their cold draft beers to shake his hand and schmooze.

He's the Pied Piper of Renovation.

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It has been 18 months since Boston welcomed a new Red Sox ownership group led by money manager John Henry. To the relief of baseball fans throughout New England, the new owners are trying to save Fenway Park, the team's home since 1912, rather than pursue a new stadium.

"When you have something as grand and exceptional as Fenway, you don't discard it for something just because that something might be bright and shiny and new," Lucchino said.

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Preserving tradition isn't in vogue in baseball. Next year the Philadelphia Phillies and San Diego Padres will become the 16th and 17th teams since 1991 to move into new parks.

In Boston, talk of a new stadium is emotional because of the fans' attachment to Fenway, the place where Babe Ruth broke in as a 19-year-old pitcher-outfielder in 1914.

"Some places are special," said baseball commissioner Bud Selig. "Yankee Stadium. Lambeau Field in football. In Chicago they call Wrigley Field the shrine. Fenway is magnificent, but it's also 85 years old. I'll be anxious to see what they can come up with."

Although Fenway is baseball's smallest park, with a seating capacity of almost 35,000, the Red Sox have been profitable over the years.

In 2001, the last year Major League Baseball released financial figures for its 30 teams, the Red Sox ranked fourth in local revenue behind the Yankees, Seattle Mariners and New York Mets with $152 million.

Fenway fell into disrepair in the late 1990s as the previous ownership group, led by Chief Executive John Harrington, pursued a new park. That effort eventually stalled through a combination of political and public opposition. Henry, former Florida Marlins owner, bought the Red Sox, Fenway Park and 80 percent of the New England Sports Network cable channel for $700 million in February 2002.

Lucchino, who previously worked in San Diego and Baltimore, knows his way around a stadium issue. He was a driving force behind Baltimore's Camden Yards, the model for the new wave of retro-style ballparks.

"Larry has a keen eye for what works," said Cubs president Andy MacPhail. "I think he's been one of the most effective executives in baseball over the last 10-15 years."

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In Baltimore, the Orioles made the B&O; Warehouse the signature element to Camden Yards. In Boston, the Henry group's boldest stroke was selling 280 seats atop the 37-foot-high left-field wall this season. The Green Monster seats, at $50 each, will produce more than $1 million for the Red Sox in 2003.

Demand for the seats is high. Lonnie Duke of Cheshire, Conn., recently paid a ticket broker $385 for two Green Monster seats. Duke and neighbor Art Lichenstein sat near the foul pole where Carlton Fisk's homer sailed fair to lift Boston past the Cincinnati Reds in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.

While Duke complained of brokers "profiteering," Lichenstein, who watched Ted Williams and Jimmy Piersall hit homers at Fenway in a game 50 years ago, enjoyed the view.

"I was originally offended by this, but I've changed my mind," Lichenstein said. "Heroes of mine have looked at the field from this perspective for 50 years. I never thought I'd have it."

The Red Sox are tinkering to upgrade the park in other ways. They've cleared out television trucks in the right-field concourse for a picnic area complete with what Lucchino calls baseball's most spacious restrooms.

"We lead the league in something," he said, laughing.

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An expanded Green Monster scoreboard now includes National League scores, and pitch guns let fans know how fast Pedro Martinez is throwing his fastball.

The changes have been well received by the Save Fenway Park organization, which has 1,400 dues-paying members who pay $25 a year. Former Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee and broadcaster Keith Olbermann are among the celebrities who have supported the cause.

Even some diehard Yankees fans are on board. Their team has won 26 World Series titles since the Red Sox's last title in 1918.

"Yankee fans do not want to see this place go," said Steve Wojnar, a Save Fenway Park board member. "I don't know if it's because they think the curse lives here, or what."


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