BOSTON — 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. “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. In June, players and owners reached an agreement to play an abbreviated, 60-game season starting July 23 with games 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, the Rogers Centre hotel or the Wrigley rooftops, pressing their face up to the windows or squinting through fences like the Knothole Gangs of yore.
The Roberto Clemente Bridge provides a look into PNC Park and a hotel in Baltimore might offer rooms with a view of the field at Camden Yards.
“There is some irony in the fact that the kind of social areas that we’ve created in baseball parks may end up being the key to the social distancing that may be required when we do see the sport again,” baseball architect Janet Marie Smith said. “I think there’s some, yeah, some sort of cruel irony in that.”
Smith, who helped build the paradigm-shifting Camden Yards and worked on renovations for Dodger Stadium and Fenway, said ballpark designers have tried to find new ways to connect with their urban surroundings after moving back from the suburbs in the 1990s.
The result: a picnic area in San Diego, a waterfront promenade in San Francisco, a street plaza in Baltimore, a nightclub in Miami.
And now those new knotholes could be a foot in the door for fans if teams and government officials deem them safe to open before the actual seating bowls.
“We’re seeing that the mixture of uses bode well for a lot of situations,” Smith said. “We weren’t looking for this one, for sure. But it does allow one to tiptoe back in and have a lighter touch than the traditional way of thinking of a stadium or ballpark with all fixed seating.”
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.
The Toronto Marriott City Centre is awaiting word from the Blue Jays on whether it can rent out the 70 rooms with perfect views of the field.
Rooftops along Waveland and Sheffield avenues in Chicago will be open at 25% capacity for Cubs games this season.
San Francisco’s Portwalk, a promenade next to McCovey Cove that has views into Oracle Park, will remain closed, a Giants spokeswoman said.
In the District, meanwhile, there are no restaurants that offer a glimpse inside Nationals Park. The Hampton Inn & Suites adjacent to the park offers a view of the field from its rooftop bar, but the roof remains closed to guests due to coronavirus protocols, a hotel employee told The Washington Times.
Nationals fans might be in luck if they know someone who lives in the Camden South Capitol apartment building across S. Capitol St. SW from the ballpark — or want to fork over the $2,000 to $3,500 per month to rent there — and can access that rooftop.
Orioles fans have watched for years from balconies at the Inner Harbor Hilton, which offers a mostly unobstructed but distant view of the field. But it, too, is closed and is not taking reservations until July 14.
In Massachusetts, restaurants like the Bleacher Bar opened with limited capacity starting June 30. The tables had been rearranged to accommodate social distancing requirements; the three tables with the best view of the field were now two.
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