SBJ/March 26-April 1, 2012/Facilities

JetBlue Park: Fenway takes flight in Florida



Larry Lucchino walks outside to his office balcony above first base at JetBlue Park for a closer view of mini-Fenway.

At their new spring training park in Fort Myers, Fla., the Red Sox have created an experience drawing heavily from their 100-year-old ballpark in Boston. Lucchino, the team’s president and CEO, mentions the Green Monster wall in left field as the dominant feature.

In the belly of the Monster: JetBlue Park’s version of the iconic wall has seating within.
All photos by: DON MURET / STAFF
At the bottom of the wall sits the same dented, manually operated scoreboard used at Fenway Park in the 1970s. The Red Sox plucked it out of storage a few years ago from a Daktronics warehouse in South Dakota.

“There is an old axiom in architecture, ‘God is in the details,’ and we have tried to live by that,” Lucchino said. “When you look at the Green Monster, it just screams Fenway Park, and that’s what we were looking for.”

Right field at JetBlue Park has its share of Fenway-related icons too: a duplicate “Pesky Pole,” the red “Ted Williams seat” commemorating the longest recorded home run hit at Fenway, and the same retired numbers that are on display in Boston.

JetBlue Park represents more than an opportunity to clone a beloved ballpark, though. For the Red Sox, the key driver for the $78 million project was to consolidate major league and minor league baseball operations into one location for spring training, following the same path taken by other MLB clubs. Previously, the Red Sox organization was split between two facilities elsewhere in Fort Myers.

The manually operated scoreboard once used at Fenway was pulled out of storage for JetBlue Park.
JetBlue Park at Fenway South, the official name of the 106-acre property, has six practice fields (one designed to Fenway Park’s dimensions), 10 batting cages and a 50,000-square-foot clubhouse facility, plus the 9,900-seat stadium. “We won [two] world championships a while ago [training at City of Palms Park] so it obviously wasn’t so bad, but this is a more agreeable and efficient operation,” Lucchino said. “Having both a main park here and a practice facility mirror the peculiarities of Fenway is I think a really useful device for our players and coaches.”

The $5 lawn seats are as much in demand as the Green Monster seats.
JetBlue Park also carries distinct Florida themes, starting with the funky roof canopy, its signature design element. The undulating roof pattern mimics the Florida cypress tree preserve across the street, said Populous’ Mike Sabatini, lead project designer.

The concrete block with seashells forming the stadium’s exterior brings the beach to the park, and the palm trees dotting the landscape tie back to the summer vacation homes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Many years ago, Edison planted 100,000 palm trees in Fort Myers.
The JetBlue tailfin serves as a sundial outside the ballpark.

The roof line serves a practical purpose, protecting most fans sitting in the main grandstand from the hot Florida sun. For the seniors and snowbirds attending Red Sox spring training games, it is an amenity not to be taken lightly.

“One of the most redeeming qualities of City of Palms Park was the amount of shade that the roof provided, so that was fundamental to the design of this park,” said Jonathan Gilula, the Red Sox’s executive vice president of business affairs and
Party suites contain artwork from the Ted Williams Museum.
the team official most responsible for developing JetBlue Park and Fenway Park’s renovations over the past 10 years. “If you look at the canopy, it is quite striking, but of equal importance to us is the functionality.”

The same functionality holds true for JetBlue Park’s Green Monster. In Fort Myers, as in Boston, fans can sit atop the wall, but the Red Sox decided to cut out the middle portion of Florida’s Green Monster and build 258 covered seats, providing more shaded opportunities to watch the game. Those $35 reserved seats, protected by a wire fence attached to the wall, are among the park’s most prized tickets.

“As much as there is a novelty to sit on top, there is a lot of interest to sit within the wall,” Gilula said. “The seats are lower so the view is flatter up here, so you lose more of the outfield [view], but what a cool place to watch the game.”

One level above is the Green Monster Deck, with 120 swivel chairs, the same style as Fenway’s, and plenty of standing room in back with portable concessions and umbrella-covered tables.

The deck carries a bonus in Fort Myers — an overhead view of the six practice fields behind the park. “I think fans up here can gain a true appreciation of the complex overall,” Gilula said.

As much as the Red Sox took into consideration their older audience in Florida, they did make room for sun worshippers in right field with a lawn that can accommodate 350 people, give or take a few beach blankets.

Two sections of metal bench seats tucked under JetBlue Park’s video screen seat about 400. At a game against the Baltimore Orioles in early March, the lawn filled up quickly with younger fans, many of whom spent spring break in the Fort Myers area.

The $5 lawn seats, among the least expensive tickets at any MLB spring training facility, are as much in demand as the Green Monster seats, Red Sox officials say. Sometimes, minor league players grab a bench seat during games to watch their big league brothers, Gilula said.

JetBlue Park’s three party suites down the left-field line contain artwork from the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. One suite has been sold for the 18-game spring season at $3,000 a game, said Katie Haas, the team’s director of Florida business operations. Food and drink is a separate fee.

Five suites behind home plate are reserved for the Red Sox; Lee County, JetBlue Park’s owner/operator; and naming rights holder JetBlue. JetBlue’s tailfin outside the park operates as a sundial.

The Red Sox extend their brand on the concourse through displays of great moments in team history, the evolution of the team’s primary logo through the past century, and marks tied to the team’s seven world championships. It is a strong tradition the Red Sox would like to see extend to an eighth title, with JetBlue Park playing a key role in that pursuit.

“We are not looking just to create beautiful ballparks,” Lucchino said. “We are looking to create beautiful ballparks that help the team practice and prepare better for the warfare that is the American League East.”

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