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Once the Stones rolled out of town, the Red Sox were forced to roll in the tractors as they prepared to replace a section of Fenway Park's damaged outfield.
Once the Stones rolled out of town, the Red Sox were forced to roll in the tractors as they prepared to replace a section of Fenway Park's damaged outfield. (Globe Staff Photo / Matthew J. Lee)
DAN SHAUGHNESSY

They're carpet baggers

Rolling Stones gather no moss, but they sure beat the hell out of the grass at Fenway Park. That's why tonight's Red Sox game against the Detroit Tigers will start at 8, an hour later than originally scheduled. Sox fans can only hope Johnny Damon has solid footing the first time he tries to break back on a fly ball toward the triangle in center.

There's always a price to be paid for big fun, and yesterday, when the last of the monstrous Stones' staging was finally wheeled out of the ancient yard, the Sox assessed the damage.

Sox groundskeeper Dave Mellor needed several aspirin when he first saw the scorched earth that used to be a field of dreams. You might even say he was shattered.

''It's the most damage I've seen from a show in 20 years," said Mellor.

The solution? Forty thousand square feet of outfield sod is being replaced.

Draw a line from the visitors' bullpen gate to the big garage door in the corner in left. That's the area. The new sod was trucked in from New Jersey and Mellor's crew was scheduled to work overnight to put it down. The rolls are 4 feet wide, 30 feet long, and weigh 1 ton. Mellor thinks they are heavy enough to stay put when outfielders plant their spikes.

It's somewhat of an embarrassment for the Sox. Are the profits and the experience of two Stones shows worth an hour delay and a potentially sloppy field? What is the actual goal of this baseball team -- winning a championship, making money, or using the ballpark for other forms of entertainment?

''We will not forget that we are first and foremost a baseball team as we plan for the next one," said Sox CEO Larry Lucchino. ''We even joked that next year we're going to simplify it and have Yo-Yo Ma by himself, playing the cello on the pitcher's mound.

''I wouldn't say we're embarrassed," he added. ''I think we're a little disappointed in ourselves that we didn't give ourselves a larger window and more fully anticipate the demands of the Stones or the type of concert they wanted to run."

(So much disclosure required, so little space: The New York Times Company, which owns the Globe, owns 17 percent of the Red Sox -- part of the infamous ''cartel." Meanwhile, yours truly paid for his tickets and thoroughly enjoyed Tuesday's show even though they didn't play ''Ruby Tuesday" or ''Wild Horses.")

Mellor, the affable groundskeeper, was at the shows, but did not enjoy them.

''You see someone jumping up and down on your baby, it's not something you enjoy," he huffed.

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are lucky that Joe Mooney, the Sox' former lawn mower man, no longer calls the shots at Fenway. Mooney threatened dismemberment any time a non-ballplayer dared step on the Fenway sod and old Joe would have taken a chainsaw to the stage before allowing such desecration on his watch.

''We're doing everything we can to make it safe and playable," Mellor added. ''There's a lot of hard work going into this and I won't be sleeping until Saturday. This was the largest stage ever built and the last of it didn't come out until [yesterday] morning. What we saw then was certainly bad enough for us to try to replace it. I made some phone calls."

Ultimately, it was Lucchino who made the decision to give Mellor's men one extra hour -- a late scheduling change that will inconvenience many fans, and catch others by complete surprise.

''We're concerned about that," acknowledged Lucchino. ''But the groundskeeper made a plea for as much time as possible. Anything longer would have been unacceptable, but I don't think it's unreasonable for us to ask this of our fans."

What about the wisdom of having the shows in the first place? It all started with Bruce Springsteen in 2003, followed by Jimmy Buffett last year. What does any of this have to do with running a championship baseball team?

''A championship baseball team needs revenue to feed off and expand on," said Lucchino. ''A once-a-year concert has proven to be both popular and successful and have given us revenue that is not subject to revenue sharing and enables us to run the franchise with more revenue than the club has ever had before. We recognize that sometimes we push the envelope, but we do it so we can have the resources we need to run the kind of franchise we have."

Mellor said fans will be able to tell where the new sod meets the old stuff, which reminds me of the Stones' first greatest-hits record, ''High Tide and Green Grass."

''We expected there would be field damage," said Sox chief operating officer Mike Dee. ''There has been for the last two shows. But we have no regrets. We just have to adjust. I think the stage for the Stones was larger and had to be put down sooner."

Larger? The Stones' staging complex was approximately the size of the new Terminal A at Logan.

''This certainly was an important learning experience for us," said Lucchino. ''This was a bigger, grander, more demanding experience for us and the ballpark and we learned a lot. We learned to be careful and not to be surprised by the magnitude of the production. I think the idea of an annual Fenway concert is still a good idea and this doesn't persuade me otherwise, but it does convince us that we need to restrain the acts or select acts that have a somewhat low level of production demands. This was an artistic and commercial success, but from our point of view, it was a little bit more than we bargained for . . . I do have some regrets about our preparation. I think we got lulled into a false sense of comfort by the rather modest demands of Springsteen and Buffett."

Ultimately, it's probably not a big deal as long as the field is ready tonight and none of the outfielders sustains an injury on the potentially loose sod. Damon is most at risk -- he'll be the one spending all his time on the new real estate. And something tells me Johnny will be pretty happy simply knowing that Mick Jagger used his locker while he was gone.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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