BOSTON – Red Sox Nation has empathy, if not pity, for Cubs fans.
They’ve had their own “curse” to bear and know what it’s like to suffer through decades of losing as their own historic stadium – a big league baseball shrine – slowly fell apart.
So when word reached Boston that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel planned to save Wrigley Field by following the Red Sox playbook for preserving and updating 100-year-old Fenway Park, they were proud.
“For Chicago’s mayor to say that, it means we did something right here,” said Joel Kelleher, 27, a bartender at Baseball Tavern near Fenway.”
Emanuel calls it his “Fenway Plan” – a mix of public and private cash to shore up 98-year-old Wrigley Field – similar to the Red Sox’ 10-year, $285 million Fenway makeover.
Emanuel’s proposal could relax historic landmark rules to allow more in-stadium advertising and even add a Jumbotron in right field. Inside a refurbished Fenway, there are now more than 50 corporate ads, including three lighted signs, three big screens in the outfield and electronic signs lining the grandstand.
At Wrigley, the Cubs hope to add a swank stadium club and premium-priced seats. The Red Sox added more pricey seats and an improved club level, too.
But possibly the most controversial part of Emanuel’s Wrigley-renovation plan is a spinoff of Boston’s move in 2002 to lease the Red Sox a block-long stretch of Yawkey Way adjacent to the stadium on game days for a street-fair style pre-game party for fans with tickets.
“It allows us to expand the stadium footprint, there are more points of sale and better access to the Red Sox official team store,” said Jonathan Gilula, Red Sox vice president of business affairs. “It’s absolutely helped [funding renovations] and it has been one of the more popular improvements at Fenway.”
Emanuel’s plan could allow the Cubs to expand the “Friendly Confines” experience into the streets – Waveland and Sheffield – with cash-generating street fairs that would be open to the public on game days.
At first, some Fenway neighbors and some bar owners weren’t happy about the Red Sox opening an “outdoor beer garden.” And recently, the Massachusetts inspector general recommended Boston renegotiate the lease of public space because the Red Sox aren’t paying enough, according to published reports. The Red Sox made about $45 million from the use of public streets, including Yawkey Way, as part of a lease agreement that cost the team around $186,000 a year, according to the Boston Globe.
Still, you didn’t hear fans on Yawkey Way – and local bar owners around the park for that matter – complaining before Wednesday’s game against the Texas Rangers.
Fans who arrived two hours early to party on Yawkey were greeted by a rocking brass band and stilt-walker “Big League” Brian Dwyer, who played catch with fans and posed for photos. Kids lined up to get their faces painted and watch Royal Sorell twist balloons into funny hats.
“It’s fantastic being out here,” Dave Leblanc said after watching his 9-year-old son, Andrew, test out his arm on the speed gun. “It’s a great family atmosphere, and this is something that he’s never going to forget.”
Fans lined up for pre-game meals of a lobster roll and imported beer, a combo that will set you back $21.75. A more traditional hot dog and a pop cost about 10 bucks.
It’s those “Red Sox prices” that keep local barkeeps satisfied.
“We charge $4.50 for a Bud Light and that’s about standard around Fenway,” said Kelleher, who mans the taps at Baseball Tavern. “We’ve got loyal clientele. People come here before the game and for an hour or two afterward.”
Plus, there are plenty of profits to be spread around.
“You don’t even notice [Yawkey Way] is open on game day because we’re always at capacity,” said Matt Cleveland, manager of Bleacher Bar, a bar accessible from the street, which offers a cool view of the stadium from ground level in right field. “Instead of waiting in line for an hour and a half, maybe the line to get in is 30 minutes. The bars aren’t hurting.”
So if Chicago wants to follow a “Fenway Plan” to save Wrigley Field, know that Red Sox fans give their blessing.
“We’ve got very loyal fans here. Lots of passion,” lifelong Red Sox fan Steve Meterparel said. “Like Cubs fans, I suppose. I wish them the best.”
But the 81-year-old Fenway tour guide warned that there are a couple things missing from Mayor Emanuel’s Red Sox-inspired vision.
Meterparel explained with visual aids.
“Now, these things right here make everything better,” he said while flashing two World Series rings, one on each hand, the rubies and diamonds sparkling in the late afternoon sun.
Winning is the stuff, the best stuff, that can save a crumbling stadium.