Boston Red Sox officials said yesterday they are preparing to launch one of the most dramatic and sizable expansions Fenway Park has ever seen, adding as many as 2,000 seats to the beloved antique that is the smallest stadium in Major League Baseball.
Although team officials refused to give any specifics of where the seating would be added, they said the expansion could begin after the 2005 season and would be greater than the incremental improvements that have been undertaken by the latest Red Sox owners to date. They said once again that the Red Sox want to stay in Fenway Park, despite its current capacity of 36,298.
Built in 1912, Fenway is not only the smallest park in the major leagues, it's also the oldest. Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, was built in 1914 and has 38,000 seats. Yankee Stadium, the third oldest, was built in 1923 and has about 57,000 seats, placing it among the largest.
For the 2003 season, the Sox built 274 seats atop the Green Monster behind left field, capitalizing on a Boston icon without destroying it.
For last year's playoffs, the Sox stuck temporary bleachers on the right-field roof, then transformed those into 240 permanent seats with home-plate-shaped tables and 100 standing-room spots for the 2004 season. The team also sandwiched 42 seats into "Canvas Alley," halfway down the right field line.
The team's architect, Janet Marie Smith, said yesterday that there is no room left for small improvements, and that the next stage would be "1,000 to 2,000 max."
"We're not looking to do anything radical," she said.
The team said it is ready to introduce plans to the neighborhood and city over the next couple of months, coinciding with the good will that would be generated by post-season play. The
Team officials discussed the plans in interviews with the Globe yesterday as they celebrated a full sellout season and looked ahead to strong ticket demand for a potential playoff run.
The latest information was more specific than remarks principal owner John Henry made to the Globe in May, when he said that a ballpark expansion would bring park capacity to no more than 40,000 fans. Henry said the team was considering adding to the four rows of seats now on the roof on both the right-field and left-field sides of the park.
The team will have just 2,000 single-game tickets to sell in each of the home games of the first two divisional series, said Mike Dee, the team's chief operating officer. Dee estimated that there are 30 potential buyers for each of those tickets.
But the rollout of expansion plans was not timed to tap into positive feelings about the Sox, team officials said, adding that the neighborhood will be fully involved in discussions of the project.
"The most important overarching theme to any plan is making sure we do it in a way that is consistent with the Monster seat project and the right-field-roof project. The greatest thing about those seats is they look like they have always been there," said Dee. "The sensitivity we have to preserving what is unique about Fenway overrides the desire to just add as many seats as possible."
To better handle the flow of fans, the team also has built wider concourses in right field and behind third base, won city approval to close off Yawkey Way to traffic, and widened gates and added turnstiles.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino said the mayor looked forward to seeing the team's proposals.
"We haven't seen the exact plans for this next series of expansions, but all of the Red Sox plans thus far have been really smart and well-executed in incorporating all the comments of the neighborhood and the city," said spokeswoman Meredith Baumann.
The Red Sox rolled out some Fenway Park attendance numbers yesterday to bolster their case that fan interest in the Red Sox can swell far beyond the present stadium's legal capacity. On Sept. 22, 1935, against the New York Yankees, the park held 47,627, the record. On Aug. 19, 1934, versus the Detroit Tigers, 46,995 streamed through the gates. Current Red Sox management could not explain how that many people got into the park, but there are clues.
"If you look at the old photographs of almost any ballpark, they would literally let people stand in the outfield, in fair territory," said Smith, the team's architect. "We would never let them do that today."
Christopher Rowland can be reached at email@example.com.