Red Sox Hopeful for a Return to Play This Season: Elected Officials Address Fenwickians

Nearly 90 people tuned into the Red Sox neighborhood conference call on May 6, which  provided an update to the community about goings-on at Fenway Park and what lies ahead for baseball and other events, as well as provided local elected officials an opportunity to give some updates.

Sam Kennedy, President and CEO of the Red Sox, led off the call with information about this summer at Fenway Park.

“We’ve been blessed to be in touch directly with Governor Baker and Mayor Walsh,” he said. “We’re trying to do everything we can to support through our television network at through our following.”

He said that “unfortunately,” he did not have detailed information regarding the future of baseball. “You may have heard various reports about the concept of a return to play for MLB,” he said. “We are very optimistic and hopeful and we have a lot of ideas about trying to return to play but we have no firm plans because right now,” the MLB Commissioner’s office is in contact with the federal government. “We just have to wait until it is safe,” Kennedy said. “Baseball is important but is largely irrelevant compared to what the country is dealing with.”

Kennedy said to “count on seeing a phased in, staged approach” to the return of baseball. He said it is possible that baseball could return in another part of the country “to get going,” so all  all of the players could be isolated in one place instead of traveling around the country.

“We will of course follow the guidelines that are set out for us by our elected officials and we are very, very grateful to have a voice at that table to discuss what a return to play at Fenway Park might look like,” he said. “I am extremely optimistic of the resiliency of the people in our country and especially Bostonians.”

On Monday, the Associated Press and others reported that Major League Baseball owners gave the go-ahread to a plan for starting a shortened baseball season this July with a possible spring training start in June, though many of the details have not yet been worked out.

Dave Friedman, Senior Vice President of Legal & Government Affairs for the Red Sox, said that the “good news” is that the MLB Players Association has reached an agreement with the Commissioner’s office that will allow players to be paid a base amount even if there are no games this season.

“We don’t have anything set,” Friedman said as far as baseball goes. “It’s likely to start with empty ballparks and no fans.”  He said the Red Sox are taking a look at other countries like Taiwan and South Korea, both of which have resumed baseball with modifications. Friedman said that although those countries are different from the United States, “those leagues have given us a roadmap.”

Friedman said that aside from teams all playing in the same area, other solutions include testing players frequently and having teams play in home parks.

Friedman also spoke about the ticket refund policy for games that have been cancelled due to the virus. He said that currently,, people have the choice to either get a fill cash refund or take a credit for a future game for all tickets from April 2 to the end of May.

As for summer concerts, Friedman reported that the Grateful Dead shows, which were scheduled for August, have been cancelled. The James Taylor with Brandi Carlile and Shawn Colvin concert scheduled for June 21 has been postponed with no new date set yet, Friedman added.

“There is no other news or official changes to the schedule,” he said. Over the weekend, Mayor Walsh announced that all festivals and parades scheduled for this summer will not happen, but there has been no official word on the remainder of the Fenway Park concerts.

Friedman also said that activities for the fall and winter, such as the Spartan Race, and the Fenway Bowl college football game scheduled for late December, are still on the calendar as of now.

He added that the Red Sox have been “brainstorming small group activities” to activate Fenway Park in a safe way as the city continues to battle COVID-19, such as having a way for people to drive up and get Fenway Franks and popcorn, but nothing is “definitive,” Friedman said. “It’s subject to health and safety first and foremost,” he added, but “it’s not sustainable for our business to have no revenue.”

Update from D-4 Captain Steven Sweeney

Captain Sweeney said on the call that year-to-date crime was down 27 percent in the district, and even through more people are home, residential burglaries are down, as is larceny from motor vehicles.

He said that the Boston Police Department is “trying to address speed issues,” and “if there is a blatant motor vehicle violation, cars are to be stopped.”

He urged residents to call the police if they see anything suspicious, and that the district has received “a lot of 311 and 911 calls” related to people not social distancing or wearing face coverings.

Sweeney said that “we try to educate,” and “let people know” the importance of social distancing and wearing face coverings in public.

Additionally, he said that the homeless areas have been “relatively quiet,” but they have received a couple of calls about activity in the Fenway Victory Gardens, but “we’re on top of it and monitoring that,” he said.

Compared to other districts, Sweeney said “we’re doing pretty well” as far as the health of the officers. He said that only two D-4 officers were out due to the coronavirus.

Update from Elected Officials

“I’m extremely proud and grateful of the people of Massachusetts,” said State Senator Will Brownsberger. He said he is “resolute in the support and recognition of the reality of the need for social distancing,” and “the resolution and reality that it’s going to be a long haul.”

Also on the call was Rep. Jon Santiago, who, when he’s not working at the State House, is also an emergency room doctor at Boston Medical Center.

“I’ve had two roles in this epidemic,” he said. “I’m quite active in both of them.” He said that before COVID-19, he was working every other weekend, but because of the need for first responders right now, he has been working overnights Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for the past eight weeks.

“It’s been an inspiring and challenging experience,” he said. “I’m very proud of our healthcare system and our government and our leaders in academia to provide the testing and PPE that we need,” but he added that more testing and more PPE are still needed.

Santiago said that May.6 was also the first time in nearly 200 years that the legislature voted remotely, calling it a “pretty momentous occasion given the history of our Commonwealth.”

District 8 City Councilor Kenzie Bok was also on hand to provide an update on what her office has been doing over the past several weeks.

“We’re handling this at a multi-level way right now,” Bok said. Right now, she is focused on “meeting people’s basic needs right in this moment,” such as ensuring food and shelter for all, and “looking on to the questions about economic recovery,” and “eventually transforming our society due to inequity.”

She said that her office is currently focused on supporting food access, as “way too many people in our society are living right on the edge, and this has pushed them over.”

In March, Bok’s office, in partnership with Fenway Cares, piloted a program to deliver 320 fresh produce boxes to families in the Fenway. That pilot evolved into a partnership with the Boston Resiliency Fund, and thousands of boxes have since been delivered to families across the city.

“I think that right now, there are a lot of people talking about food access,” she said. “Until you see it, it’s hard to believe that people in a developed country really are as on edge as they are in terms of food insecurity. It’s really startling and alarming.”

She said that it is more critical than ever to support organizations like the Greater Boston Food Bank, Project Bread, and the Boston Resiliency Fund.

Bok said her office is also concerned about solutions for young people this summer, with the possibility of cancellations of summer camps and other summer programs that provide learning experiences, activities, and jobs for youth. Additionally, Bok said her office has been calling seniors in the district with help from volunteers in the community.

Other Fenway Park Updates

Dave Friedman said that Red Sox offices have been closed since March 13, and employees have been working from home. He said that Fenway Park has been deep cleaned, and one player on the roster had tested positive, which led to the shutting down of JetBlue Park in Florida.

“For a few weeks we were able to continue construction on the MGM Music Hall,” he said, but once the mayor shut down non-essential construction in the city, work on the building has been suspended.

“We do feel a responsibility to try and give back to the neighborhood,” Friedman added.

The Red Sox Foundation has donated nearly one million dollars to coronavirus measures, including $250,000 to the Boston Resiliency Fund to buy Chromebooks for students’ remote learning. The Red Sox Foundation has also contributed to the Massachusetts COVID-19 Relief Fund.

It has also created its own emergency hardship fund to serve New England and Florida near the Red Sox spring training home to address food insecurity, to which $640,000 has been allocated. A website has been created for people to explain their hardship, and Friedman said that within 24 hours, 4,000 requests for help getting food were received.

Sonya Bhabhalia, Government & Neighborhood Affairs Assistant for the Red Sox, reported that the Red Sox has about nine million followers on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, which has been used to share information like a message from David Ortiz, “scoreboard animations reminding people to stay safe and stay home,” and to promote home fun for kids like coloring pages and worksheets. In her weekly community updates, Bhabhalia has also provided a list of Fenway restaurants that are open for takeout and delivery, and which ones are closed but are accepting gift card purchases for use at a later date.

Finally, Claire Durant, Director of Business & Government Affairs at Boston Red Sox, answered some questions that had been previously sent in as the conference call did not allow for pubkic questions to be asked live.

She said a million dollar fund has been established to help Fenway Park employees such as ushers and ticket takers, who have missed out on work this season because there have not been any games. Durant said that this money will “by no means make them whole and is not a full income replacement, but hopefully is enough to help them make do.”

As Friedman reported, construction on MGM Music Hall has been suspended, and Durant added that it is “very likely” that the suspension will delay the fall 2021 scheduled opening of the venue.

Durant said that there is currently a skeleton crew of facilities and maintenance workers performing “critical maintenance tasks” at Fenway Park.

When asked about mitigating traffic and noise for any concerts that might happen this summer,  Durant said that the Red Sox are in touch with D-4 Captain Steven Sweeney and “will resume planning efforts once businesses start opening again,” and they are “open to any ideas and suggestions” from the community.

Fenway Farms was planted over a month ago, but there has been no harvest yet, Durant said. She said that the plan is to work with Aramark and Green City Growers to donate the produce throughout the growing season, and use it at Fenway Park if it is able to open to the public at some point this summer.

She reiterated that the Red Sox are “exploring ideas of what a socially distanced ballpark would look like,” and making plans to keep everyone safe should the park be allowed to reopen.

“Hopefully we can open up again in the near future,” Durant said.

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