A look inside Fenway Park's football transformation

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Fenway Park wasn’t made for football.

And yet, look at it now.

In its 104th year of operation, Boston’s baseball cathedral has been disguised as something else. There’s no rubber, no mound, no baselines framing the infield. On the edges of the right field alley, a goal post is entrenched in the sod.

Out in left, hovering over the warning track, the Green Monster remains. It’s a symbol of the city, a century-old and proud.

Its scoreboard, however, welcomes peculiar guests.

On top, BC.

Below it, Notre Dame.

The poster, of course, is less subtle in its welcome. It swallows a section of the monster, housing Brian Kelly’s steely gaze. It oversees a field set to host the Shamrock Series on Saturday, featuring a home team — Boston College — and the “home team,” Notre Dame.

But while appearances change, the feeling always lingers.

“Fenway has such an aura to it already,” said David Mellor, Fenway Park’s director of grounds. “There’s a magic of Fenway Park, and there’s a magic of Notre Dame and Boston College. To have those teams playing here is exciting.

“We’re pleased to have them here and it’s an honor to be a part of the group that’s participating in making that possible.”

The Transformation

It started with the sod.

The 45-foot-long, four-foot-wide, one-and-a-quarter-inch-thick strips were trucked in from a sod farm in Atlantic City, and laid over a layer of fabric once the pitcher’s mound had been removed. Then came the sand — 30 tons of it — and plenty of manual labor.

“That (sand) cushions the ground and adds stability,” Mellor said. “We got on our hands and knees and filled every sod seam to make sure everything’s perfectly smooth.”

Once the sod and sand were distributed on Nov. 2 and 3, Mellor and Co. added a soil conditioner, similar to kitty litter, designed to hold and soak up water in case of a storm.

On Nov. 9, the goal posts and net poles were erected. A day later, the end zones were sodded as well. On Nov. 13 and 14, the field was painted — “Notre Dame” and “Fighting Irish” adorning opposite end zones in the Red Sox’s familiar font. A second coat was added on Tuesday.

On Thursday, a tarp was draped over the length of the field, preventing weather from negating weeks-worth of work.

“I think everything has gone very well. Mother Nature has cooperated,” Mellor said. “When we painted, we had 35 to 40 mph winds, which was a challenge, and a wind chill. But the weather has worked out well.

“The rain should stop on Friday. We’ll take the tarps off. The weather’s going to be nice. We’re looking forward to playing and confident things are going to play well.”

They should play well, in part, because of the dimensions. In Fenway Park, unlike other baseball stadiums struggling to fit a field, the end zones aren’t crowded by menacing walls and barriers.

It’s not Notre Dame Stadium, sure, but it should be just as safe.

“I think everything is in very good shape,” Mellor insisted. “Notre Dame’s pleased and Boston College is pleased. We’re pleased. I worked Packer games at Milwaukee County Stadium for eight seasons, and three of our four corners (of the end zone) were between six and 18 inches before they hit the wall. We have nothing like that here. We have great conditions.

“They felt very comfortable with what they have put together,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly added. “We’ve seen pictures. The sidelines and end zones seem to be adequate where we don’t have a concern about our players and safety issues. We feel very comfortable.”

Photos from Fenway:

Before the paint, the end zones, and football... there had to be field goal posts! ⚾️➡️

— Fenway Park (@fenwaypark) November 16, 2015

Watch the #RedSox grounds crew take #FenwayPark to another level in preparation for #NDvsBC. ⚾️➡️

— Fenway Park (@fenwaypark) November 13, 2015

The Side Effects

Of course, a football game at a baseball field yields some inevitable quirks.

For one thing, both teams will share a sideline — and not for the reason that you think.

“A lot of it is sight lines,” Mellor said. “With a baseball team, it’s so much lower than a football view. So you lose a huge amount (of available seats) with teams on both sides.”

Added Boston College head coach Steve Addazio: “Substitutions are going to be very, very difficult, because you’ve got a 10-yard gap between the teams, 45 to 45. It’s different. It’s just awkward.”

The same word could be used to describe the visitor’s locker room. Because the space can hardly hold a baseball team, Boston College will dress on campus, then take buses to the field.

It’s abnormal, Addazio said, but that’s hardly reason to complain.

“It’s tight. There will be a few guys dressing in a batting cage and a few of those other things, which is fine,” he said. “It’s all part of it. What’s the big deal?

“I was a high school coach for seven years, man. We’d dress, load that bus, get on them yellow buses, buckle up and go play that game, then come home. It’s just down the street here. It’s not a big deal.”

Despite the sidelines, and the locker rooms, and the fact that the Eagles’ fans will be stashed furthest from the field, Addazio — a former Notre Dame assistant — is happy to be staying home.

“I just love it. It’s so nostalgic,” Addazio said. “It’s got the old ballpark feel that I just think is way cool. I don’t know how anybody couldn’t feel that way coming in to watch this game, players and fans included.

“The people over there are awesome, and they bend over backwards to make it all right for you. But we’re the visiting team. I get that. It’s not our home game. It’s still a better trade-off to be able to play at Fenway, a cool atmosphere, than have to load a plane and fly out to South Bend, Ind.”

Therein lies the essential issue for Notre Dame. Is it worth it to sacrifice a home game to enter enemy turf?

“I thought the Temple atmosphere and Clemson really prepared you for being in kind of that real hometown,” Kelly said. “When you drive into the stadium and it’s all one (team’s fans), you kind of are hit with that.

“Obviously when we get into the stadium, we think it’s going to be a partial Notre Dame crowd. So I think our kids are well acclimated to that.”

What they can’t be acclimated to — what even Mellor has yet to absorb — is the reality of Fenway Park’s massive makeover. Saturday’s experience, Kelly said, is what makes the Shamrock Series unique.

“Whether it’s Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park, I just think we do a great job of finding those iconic venues,” said Kelly, whose face is draped next to the left field scoreboard at the stadium he frequented as a kid.

“I’ll be excited if we could get Lambeau Field. I would be excited in terms of those classic venues. Fenway Park is one of those. This one is certainly a great one, and we’ll look forward to more just like this.”

Grounds crew paints the field in preparation for the upcoming Shamrock Series game between Notre Dame and Boston College at Fenway Park on November 18, 2015 in Boston. (Photo courtesy Boston Red Sox)