Column: UConn alum helps to save Fenway Park
Published: Friday, May 4, 2012
Updated: Thursday, May 3, 2012 17:05
Recently, the Red Sox and the city of Boston celebrated the 100 year anniversary of Fenway Park. If it were not for efforts from people like UConn alum Steve Wojnar, this celebration may not have happened.
Fenway Park has undergone many changes in 100 years, the park that opened April 20 of 1912 is not the same Fenway that we see today. In the early twentieth Century the ballpark survived countless fires, changes in management and demands for a new stadium while baseball clubs were erecting new stadiums across the country. In 1999 it looked like Fenway’s days were numbered.
John Harrington assumed control of the Fenway Park as the trustee of the Yawkey Estate Trust after beloved owners Tom and Jean Yawkey passed away. Faced with an aging ballpark, Harrington made the decision that it was time to build a new Fenway Park with home plate just about 200 yards from Fenway’s original batter’s box. This news was shocking to Sox fans, who grew up in the friendly confines of Fenway.
Wojnar, a UConn graduate, knew he had to something to save the ballpark. “I got involved with Save Fenway Park because to me, the team and the park are inextricably linked,” Wojnar said. The Red Sox without Fenway are just another team. Fenway without the Red Sox is a really cool museum piece. Together? They are an almost magical link among New England’s cultural past, present and future. I knew as a Red Sox season ticket holder that if the team left the park, I would leave the team and I endeavored to do whatever I could to prevent both from happening.”
Save Fenway Park was a group that started with the Boston Preservation Alliance and eventually was strong enough to operate on its own, according to Wojnar. Whenever work is done with a municipality, politics are always involved. In Boston, politicians were not in favor of saving the park initially.
“Boston’s politicians were never on board with the idea of saving Fenway,” Wojnar said. “The mayor of Boston and most of the City Council were in sync with the previous ownership group’s desire and intent to tear down the park and replace it with a replica in the same neighborhood.”
Sketches and 3-D images of a new park were eventually released to the public. These images included some familiar characteristics of Fenway, like the famous Green Monster, but it lacked the uniqueness of the old ballpark.
“Plans for the new park were complete,” Wojnar said. “Architectural renderings and models were done, building plans had been drawn up and arrangements were underway for the legal work necessary to seize by eminent domain 17 privately owned properties that stood in the proposed footprint of the new park.”
Sox fans across New England were now faced with new reality, Red Sox baseball could be played at home on a field other than Fenway for the first time since 1912. A new building would mean more seats and some modern amenities, but something would be missing. A father could no longer point out left field to his son and say that’s where Ted Williams and Yaz played. A new Fenway would bring about a fancier facility to watch a game, but it would lack the history of the original park which cannot be replicated.
“Fenway does what so few other ballparks do,” Wojnar said. “First and foremost, it is a ballpark, not a stadium, and it creates a sense of intimacy lacking in even the much-heralded retro-style parks erected in the 1990’s and 2000’s. That intimacy, and its unique shape and features, combine to create powerful memories for those who attend games there.”
In February of 2002 Tom Werner along with his friends and investors John Henry and Larry Lucchino, purchased the Red Sox for $660 million, as well as Fenway Park. Wojnar and the rest of the Save Fenway group met with the new owners to explain their case to scrap the new ballpark plans.
“From that first meeting through the past decade of work and progress on Fenway, the owners and their team have repeatedly engaged us and have been generous with their time and resources in meeting with us to explain their plans and ask for our input,” Wojnar said.
As it turned out, Werner’s group was the only group bidding on the Red Sox that wanted to preserve the park, according to Wojnar.
As new ballparks imitating Fenway Park were built, the new ownership group began making renovations to the original park that inspired it all. These renovations included putting seats atop the Green Monster as well as state of the art video scoreboards and a revitalized atmosphere in and around the park before every home game. All this was done while still maintaining the old time charms that Fenway has had since 1912.
If it wasn’t for the tireless efforts of Wojnar and countless others, we would not have Fenway Park today. Just imagine seeing the Red Sox take the field at home in a park that wasn’t Fenway. It’s more than just a ballpark, its memories of our fathers and grandfathers. It’s that magical place where a young boy learns how to properly keep a score card and the wonder of a properly toped Fenway Frank. It’s the same building where the legends such as, Ruth, Williams, Yaz and Ortiz played. It’s a more than just a home field advantage, it’s simply home.