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Subtle changes spruce up Fenway Park

Expanded menus, refurbished seats mark new season

By Andrew Ryan
Globe Staff / March 30, 2010

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Among Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s many ceremonial duties, yesterday’s annual spring rite at Fenway Park may be the hardest to swallow: part of a lobster roll, a bite of funnel cake, and half a double cheeseburger.

It was only midmorning, but the mayor ordered longtime aide Michael Galvin to down a fully loaded Fenway Frank.

And Red Sox executive Larry Lucchino pressured everyone to keep eating: There were meatball subs, brick-oven pizza, a chicken Parmesan sandwich, a spicy veggie burger, and a veggie hot dog nestled in a grilled New England-style bun.

“Veggie dogs?’’ Menino asked, arching his eyebrows like a slugger caught looking at a curve ball.

Expanded menus at concession stands are part of the subtle array of offseason changes fans may notice on Sunday night when the 99th baseball season opens at Fenway Park.

Other enhancements include new seats with cup holders in the left field dugout area, field boxes, and loge boxes.

And the roughly 12,000 blue wooden seats — the last remaining wooden seats in Major League Baseball — have been refurbished with springs so they pop up when fans rise, ending that painful tradition of whacking one’s knees on seats left in the down position.

The changes this offseason are “less sexy than in the past but very appealing to some of our fans,’’ said Lucchino, president and chief executive officer of the Red Sox.

“We’ve got better circulation in the ballpark, new stairways, and other things that make moving around the ballpark easier.’’

Workers have also repaired and waterproofed the 76-year-old concrete in the lower left field seating bowl, an infrastructure improvement Lucchino said was needed “so we can have Fenway Park for another 30 to 40 years.’’

The most noticeable physical change took place below the seats directly behind home plate, where a narrow walkway once clogged with standing-room-only spectators has been opened into an airy, L-shaped concession area.

Work crews moved bathrooms to another level to create the space, which includes a brick oven for the $6.50 meatball sub, $6.75 chicken Parmesan sandwich, and $4.75 slices of pizza.

New, larger restrooms more than doubled toilet facilities behind home plate from 25 to 54, including two family units that are handicapped accessible. In the men’s room, environmentally friendly waterless urinals sit below windows that offer patrons a bird’s-eye view of Yawkey Way.

The offseason work also added a new row of grandstand seats behind sections 29, 30, and 31.

And crews recently resodded the entire playing field, a consequence of hosting the NHL’s Winter Classic, which put an ice rink on top of the grass. (Red Sox officials say they had anticipated having to replace the turf.)

Another change this season by the food services company Aramark will send vendors into the stands hawking sausages, reducing the need for hungry carnivores to leave their seats.

At concession stands, the veggie hot dogs and spicy veggie hamburgers give non-meat-eaters something at the ballpark that will stand up to ketchup or mustard. Aramark offered similar veggie products in the late 1990s, but sales were slow.

This winter, the company held several blind taste tests at Fenway Park and settled on a $5 meatless hot dog and a $6.50 veggie burger with just enough spice to give it a little kick, said Kevin Haggerty, district manager for Aramark.

For the record, the mayor has nothing against vegetable products, including garden dogs.

In fact, his administration has pushed local restaurants to offer low-fat alternatives approved by nutritionists.

“I order veggie burgers all the time,’’ Menino said yesterday. “It’s good for people to have these new, healthier options.’’

But the mayor himself, in his official tasting duties, stuck to a New England classic.

“The lobster roll is pretty good,’’ he said. “It had real lobster in it.’’

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