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Make Fenway a national park

A San Diego civic leader pleads for preservation

By George Mitrovich, 08/23/97

When I was a kid growing up in San Diego, two of my heroes were Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr. Williams, of course, was a San Diego boy who played his first professional baseball with the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League. Doerr was also a Padre, a teammate of Ted's. In time both would become stars with the Red Sox. Williams became one of the game's greatest players. Doerr was no slouch; he, too, is in baseball's Hall of Fame.

Doerr, Dominick DiMaggio, Mel Parnell, Junior Stephens, Walt Dropo, Johnny Pesky, Birdie Tebbetts, Dave ``Boo'' Ferriss, Joe Cronin, Marse Joe McCarthy, and Teddy Ballgame all were a part of my boyhood days in San Diego -- a town far from Boston, far from Fenway Park.

The years passed, things changed. The Dodgers left Brooklyn for LA, the Giants departed New York for San Francisco, the A's moved to Kansas City, the Braves to Milwaukee. But the Red Sox in Boston, at Fenway Park -- that was immutable, unchangeable, a constant of the great game of baseball.

I never made it to New England while Ted was playing, but I wanted, in the worse way, to see Boston -- and most of all, to see Fenway Park.

Finally, 10 years ago, a dreamed was realized. On a steamy Saturday in August, I found myself in Boston, at Fenway Park. The temperature soared to 102 that day, but it didn't matter -- I was at Fenway to see the Sox play. Recently I paid my second visit to Fenway. The excitement was no less than before, for Fenway Park, more than Yankee Stadium, more than Wrigley Field, more than Tiger Stadium, defines what a baseball park should be -- intimate, close to the field and players, with odd angles and a great high wall in left, and real grass. Fenway Park, I said to some friends from California, is a ``national treasure.''

But overjoyed as I was to be back, I couldn't help but notice little things. The great ballpark was looking slightly shabby. The concrete on the walkways was breaking away, the paint fading, the exterior, old and worn, in need of a facelift.

As a baseball fan, as a frequent reader of the Globe, I know the Sox want a new ballpark. They need one, the Sox say, to stay competitive with the Indians, the Orioles, and the hated Yankees. Fenway, they say, is too old, too small; it lacks modern amenities. It appears that many in Boston have accepted the inevitable -- Fenway's days are numbered.

Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, the Indians' former home, is gone, replace by Jacobs Field. The Orioles now play in Baltimore's beautiful Camden Yards. The White Sox tore down the ancient Comiskey Park and built a new one. The Yankees talk about leaving the Bronx for New Jersey. The baseball gods and marketplace realities require it: Fenway must go. As a former member and chairman of the San Diego Stadium Authority, as an advocate of a baseball-only ballpark for our National League team, I cannot engage in hypocrisy where the Red Sox and Fenway Park are concerned. Neither, however, can I bear the idea that this national treasure should go the way of Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, the Polo Grounds in New York, Shibe Park in Philadelphia, and old Comiskey Park in Chicago.

The way to save Fenway Park, no matter what the Red Sox ultimately do -- and ultimately they will have a new ballpark -- is this: transfer Fenway to the National Park Service.

Douglas Bukowski, while a PhD candidate in Chicago, first proposed this idea. His concern was saving old Comiskey Park. He and his colleagues in that laudatory effort failed, but his argument then are relevant for the saving of Fenway Park now.

In part, Bukowski wrote, ``a National Park presence means the ballpark would be open year around. Cooperstown shows that people will visit a legitimate baseball museum any time. The museum would be designed to invoke memories of the late and lamented Ebbets Field, Polo grounds, and Shibe Park. history.'' I have always loved Bukowski's idea, but I would take it beyond its fundamental concept to include, in the case of Fenway Park, a place where games are still played -- at the high school, college, and semi-pro levels. In addition, there would be no reason why the Red Sox couldn't return to play, say, a dozen games a year.

Fenway Park could also be home to music concerts, outdoor plays, and other large public gatherings, all of which could help underwrite its cost and keep the National Park Service solvent.

Historians will demur, but Fenway Park is better known than the Tea Party, Paul Revere's ride, or Faneuil Hall. When a place has been visited by more than 100 million people, inspired a million stories, drawn baseball worshippers from around the world, such a place belongs not to the wrecking ball, but to the ages.

George V. Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader.

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