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A new field of dreams

Page 2 of 3 -- It’s not your father’s Fenway anymore. Or your grandfather’s. For the first time since the major league’s oldest park was built back in 1912, the playing surface has been dug up, down to as much as two feet, and completely reconstructed. And even though the dimensions of the park will be exactly the same, the field will definitely look different. Especially the infield.

It’ll be flat. There will be no blade of grass in the Fenway infield any higher or lower than the one next to it. The old Fenway infield was crowned, to encourage water to drain off. They were playing baseball on a hill. The grass around the base of the mound was as much as eight inches higher than the foul lines. So a ground ball to first or second might bounce or roll a little to the right, and one to short or third might head a little left. Or it might not. Not great for your team fielding percentage.

Shortstop David Eckstein, formerly of the Angels, said “The players around the league all know, it’s one of the toughest infields in the American league.” A Boston infielder said ”It’s one of the toughest in the majors. Not only is it crowned, but there are hard spots and soft spots. The bounces aren’t even. You can’t take as many risks.”

The outfield had a pretty bad reputation, too. There were soft spots and hard spots and uneven bounces. Depressions around the sprinkler heads and drainage holes would change the direction the ball would roll.

No more. The infield of Joe Cronin and Bobby Doerr and Nomar, and the outfield once patrolled by Tris Speaker and Ted Williams and Yaz, is gone, dug up and replaced down to its roots. Head groundskeeper Dave Mellor, who planned and supervised the work, said “I thought about all the people who played out there, the impressions that field made on so many peoples lives. It was a great privilege, but also a lot of responsibility. Nothing this major had ever been done. It’s probably the most antiquated field in baseball.”

The digging proved it, and helped explain some of those uneven bounces.

“We found a few old bottles, a lot of stone, fill, footings for old bleachers,” Mellor said.

And subsurface soil packed down more in some spots than others after 92 years of use. That old mess has been replaced with a 3-inch layer of gravel specially manufactured so all the grains are uniform in size, on which is laid a grid of perforated 6-inch drainage pipes, and a modern automated irrigation system. (Ever see how they used to irrigate the outfield? The grounds crew guys would schlep hoses to two spigots, one by each dugout, then run them out to eight mechanical sprinkler heads they’d have to set up by hand. Ah, the good old days!)   Continued...

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The new Fenway field is protected from the winter elements.
The new Fenway field is protected from the winter elements. (Boston.com Photo / David Roepik)
More from David Ropeik
Fenway insider homepage
Boston.com correspondent David Roepik lifts the curtain and sheds light on the inner-workings of one of baseball’s oldest ballparks.
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