BOSTON (AP) – Hall of Famer Jim Rice stood in the new TV studio behind Fenway Park’s right field bleachers and looked out on a field that barely resembles the one where he played for 16 years.
“It’s good,” he said after the Red Sox gave a tour of the newly cashless and carbon-friendlier ballpark in advance of Friday’s home opener.
“You’ve got to change with the times,” Rice said on Wednesday. “The rules change. The players change. The fundamentals change. The game of baseball keeps changing. Nothing’s going to stand still.”
This year, the most visible of those changes is a new bar and deck area behind the right field stands, not far from the historic red seat where Ted Williams’ longest home run landed. The concession stand allows fans to order from their seat or at a touchscreen; drinks can be grabbed from a cooler and paid for at a “visual recognition and AI” self-checkout pod.
The TV studio sits on the same deck, with a window overlooking the field and another that allows fans in the bar area to watch the broadcast live. Previously, the pre- and post-game shows had aired from an elevated platform outside the ballpark, across the street from the main pedestrian arcade.
One level up is the “521 Overlook,” an event space with a 130-foot wall of windows overlooking the field that will be open for functions 365 days year. (It’s named after the number of homers Williams hit, though the Red Sox note that it is also approximately 521 feet from home plate.)
First opened in 1912 the week the Titanic sank, Fenway picked up a few changes over the next eight decades or so – an upper deck here, a scoreboard there, a Green Monster over there.
But since the current ownership took over in 2001, the changes have come faster and flashier. From the Monster Seats above the left field wall to a new field drainage system, more than $400 million has been spent to update the ballpark.
Among the other improvements this year:
–A new video board that is 62 feet by 16 feet – twice as wide as the one it replaces – sits above the right field concourse. Other LED screens to display game information have been added alongside facades.
–The ballpark is fully cashless. Vendors who roam the seats will have cashless devices to collect payment; fans who come with cash will be able to load it onto a debit card to use at the ballpark or elsewhere.
–New concessions will include Platanos Maduros, Fluffer Nutter Fries and a Jalapeno Cheetos Hot Dog, as well as MingsBings, a vegan snack created by James Beard Award-winner Ming Tsai.
–The Red Sox will for the first time have a sponsor’s name on the grass near the fungo circles during the season. The deal with Aspiration Planet Protection Fund includes an offset for the carbon footprint used by the fans attending the games.
Mayor Michelle Wu, who took office in November and is presiding over her first opening day in office, said she remembers when the previous Red Sox owners were making plans to tear down Fenway Park and replace it.
“It took a lot of energy and courage to keep this very special space here,” she said.