BOSTON (AP) — Tucked under the center field seats at Fenway Park, down some stairs from Lansdowne Street in an area previously used as the visiting team’s batting cage, is a sports bar that is preparing to reopen from the coronavirus shutdown.
Largely windowless and decorated with sepia photographs hung on dark wooden walls, the main source of light is the sunshine streaming in through a thick metal screen that reveals the true treasure of the location: a view of the Boston Red Sox field, from Green Monster to Pesky Pole, that could make the Bleacher Bar one of the few spots to watch a major league game in person this season.
“It’s one of a kind. It really is,” said Joe Hicks, who runs the restaurant and three others in the area. “Kids and families, they get excited when they walk in here and they see how cool this is. People, they walk in and they’re just naturally happy.
“Being able to see inside the park, it doesn’t get much better than that.”
Major League Baseball suspended spring training on March 12, and the season that was scheduled to open on March 26 never did. Last week, players and owners reached an agreement to play an abbreviated, 60-game season that would start July 23 or 24 in teams’ home ballparks.
But they’re not yet ready to crowd the seats with tens of thousands of fans.
Instead, those hoping to see a game in person may have to settle for places like the Bleacher Bar, pressing their face up to the windows or squinting through fences like the Knothole Gangs of yore.
Most teams contacted by The Associated Press last week said they were following guidance from local officials on whether fans would be allowed to watch games from these areas. In many states, a key distinction is whether they are designed for ticketed fans or outside the turnstiles; in Massachusetts, for example, the Bleacher Bar can reopen as a restaurant even while Fenway and other large arenas remain closed.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has ruled out fans in the Fenway seats through at least August.
“I just anticipate it being extremely odd when we get going playing Major League Baseball games in front of no fans, it being a strange environment,” Red Sox president Sam Kennedy said this week.
“I think it’s incredibly important that we start — when it’s safe — to try to get back to some sense of normalcy,” he said. “For me, that has always been going to baseball games. I think our fans want that and, ultimately, our players want that.”
In Massachusetts, restaurants like the Bleacher Bar can open with limited capacity starting June 30. Last week, the tables had already been rearranged to accommodate the social distancing requirements; the three tables with the best view of the field were now two.
Hicks, the Bleacher Bar director of operations, was talking to a reporter when a mother and her two sons popped their heads in to check the place out. Their brief glimpse through the screen will be their only chance to see the field before returning home to Naples, Florida.
“We’re actually big Yankees fans but we always wanted to see Fenway Park because it’s the oldest park, it’s like the most legendary park in the world,” 17-year-old Sebastian Bustamante said.
“The Yankees were supposed to do good things this year, so I was really looking forward to that,” he said. “Aside from that, I just love watching baseball. It’s going to not be the same not watching it in person, but hopefully we’ll be able to catch some games on TV.”