FORT MYERS, Fla. — Since workouts began this week at the Red Sox player development complex, fans have been allowed to roam the grounds and mingle with their heroes. Some with a sentimental attachment to the place might be saying goodbye.
Work is well underway at the future home of the Red Sox spring training camp, a site about 11 miles away from the current complex in Fort Myers. It will house not only a state-of-the-art stadium complete with Green Monster and every other Fenway Park dimension, but also six practice fields and loads of potential commercial space.
Currently, the Red Sox player development complex is in a rather sparse and industrial part of town, and it is separated by about a mile from City of Palms Park, where the team plays its Grapefruit League games.
Combining every aspect of spring training is an organizational initiative designed to improve the quality of both the team and fan experience.
Katie Haas, Red Sox director of Florida operations, said that keeping the Fenway Park dimensions accomplishes both missions. Players, especially newer ones, can get accustomed to its quirky surroundings for when they head north, and fans will feel as if they just got off the Green Line, except it'll be revamped six-lane highway taking them to and from the complex.
"It will be a home away from home," Haas said.
Despite some initial concerns over the timeline and getting the complex ready before next spring training, officials are confident in hitting a January 2012 target. Work on Hammond Stadium, the nearby spring training home of the Minnesota Twins, went down to the final days in 1991, but there will not be a repeat of that situation.
"I am fully confident and comfortable that we're going to make it," said project manager Bob Taylor, who expects to see a solid outline of the stadium begin to take shape in the next month or so. Already, the walls of a much larger clubhouse than the current one have been erected and grading has prepared the surrounding fields.
"One of the great benefits for the team is it brings the player development center together with the stadium complex, so everything is right there for them to work with," Taylor added.
The new site will feature a 360-degree concourse around the yet-to-be-named stadium, as well as a pedestrian alley that will serve in the same capacity as Yawkey Way. Parking will be established on large grassy areas that can be utilized as soccer fields when baseball is nowhere to be found. Also, townhomes are going up nearby, trumpeting their proximity to the park and making for a perfect vacation rental for a Red Sox fan.
Haas said that such fans generate $25 million in revenue for the area on their own each spring training. With the future of the organization's Florida home in the midst of a major upgrade, that number is expected to increase, as will fan interest.
"We've already had people taking pictures of the site," Taylor said.
A formal groundbreaking ceremony is planned for March 4.