Baseball is coming back to Boston, but things will look and sound a lot different at Fenway. Starting next week, the Red Sox will play a shortened 60 game season with no fans in the stands. WGBH Morning Edition Host Joe Mathieu spoke with Red Sox President and CEO Sam Kennedy about the upcoming season. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.
Joe Mathieu: Sam, welcome back to WGBH Radio.
Sam Kennedy: Great to be back with you, Joe, and good to have baseball back in Boston — our version of Spring Training 2.0, which we're calling summer camp. There's a great vibe [and] great atmosphere. Guys are really, really excited to be back together, and hopefully we can get things up and running and provide a little bit of normalcy for people as we're all living through this crazy time period.
Mathieu: I know a lot of people have been dying to see things like baseball come back to kind of feel like it's summer and have something to watch and talk about, and trying to get their heads around baseball with no fans in the stadium, Sam. That starts with the players, of course. What are you hearing from the players on this idea?
Kennedy: The players have been terrific [and] incredibly cooperative. I think they've been appreciative of the safety protocols we've implemented here at Fenway in terms of the social distancing, hygiene and everything that we're requiring our players to live by this very unique season. But when you get a bunch of baseball players back together after being apart for several months — we had to quickly shut down spring training back in early March — there's a great feeling, a huge positive energy. And I'll tell you, the testing protocols that Major League Baseball has put in place have worked very well here, and I know it will be the key to a successful 60 game season and a postseason. So we need to make sure that everybody abides by those protocols, and hopefully things will go smoothly as we live through this period.
Mathieu: I know there were reports that you were experimenting with piping in crowd noise into the stadium just to get that energy. Is that something you plan to do?
Kennedy: We do. Yeah, it was very important. It's interesting, you don't realize how important crowd noise is until you don't have it. So we did some experimenting last week with Major League Baseball, and all of the clubs will have crowd noise in their venues. Believe it or not, there's some competitive reasons why you need crowd noise to make sure that players can't hear each other on the opposing teams in terms of yelling out information or passing along signs and things of that nature. But also in the television and radio broadcast, it provides a little bit of added energy as opposed to just an empty, quiet ballpark. And we ask our fans to be patient with us. It is a work in progress, but we think it'll improve the broadcast.
Mathieu: I'm fascinated by the concept, Sam Kennedy. I know at one point professional baseball teams in Japan were using cardboard cutouts to make it look like people were in the stands. You're not going that far, though.
Kennedy: Yeah, we're not going to go that far. We may have some unique signage and messaging from our fans or to our fans. We're still working through some of those ideas, but no cardboard cutouts. We're going to remain hopeful for the real thing over here at Fenway. At some point maybe later in the season, we'd love to be able to host a limited number of fans to start to experiment with some social distancing protocols that we put in place for fans returning to our venue. But obviously, we'll be guided by Gov. Baker and Mayor Walsh in terms of what their comfort level is. So we'll be ready to hopefully have real fans back in the building at some point later on.
Mathieu: You mentioned testing, Sam. I know that's a critical part of this, but how will you handle all the logistics — things like the locker room, the dugout and so forth?
Kennedy: We actually don't have our traditional Fenway clubhouse or locker room. We have our players actually up in the luxury suites upstairs. There are two players to a suite, so they have plenty of room for their locker, personal items and a place to rest or come in before getting down onto the field. So that's very unique. We've got outdoor trailer showers that are in trailers on the second level of the ballpark, so they're actually not even showering in the clubhouse. We'll have two dugouts and two bullpen areas so there can be proper social distancing.
Mathieu: Sounds like behind the scenes is going to be wild. You're going to have runners going up and down of the suites, get the players down here on time. This is gonna be like an awards show every day.
Kennedy: Well, it's a little bit like back to the basics. There'll be guys probably showing up some days even in their uniforms, like mom or dad dropping you off at the Little League field. So very different. But at the end of the day, I think it's really important that we send the message to the world that there's nothing more important than health and safety. And at the end of the day, it's important that the country heal and we come back, and I think baseball can play a small part in that healing and a return to some sense of normalcy in a time period that is anything but normal.
Mathieu: Boy, that's for sure. I know that the Red Sox, as a franchise, you yourself as an individual, have spoken to this time beyond COVID and also the Black Lives Matter movement, and some of the efforts that the team is making to take part in the progress that we're seeing around the city.
Kennedy: Yeah, it's hugely important. And we can all do so much more as a country and as a region here in Massachusetts and New England. The movement that is going on now is critical as we work to promote justice and equality across all of our institutions, our businesses and our schools. And so the Red Sox have obviously had a longstanding, shameful past as the last team to integrate in Major League Baseball. And ever since John Henry and Tom Werner got here in 2002, they've spoken out very bluntly about that and taken steps to address that within our organization. We feel that we've made some progress, but obviously we have a long way to go — as we all do — as evidenced by what's going on in society. We celebrate and amplify the voices of our players who step up with their strong feelings on the topic, and we also try to work hard in the community with respect to our own hiring practices and encouraging growth within our front office and also in our within our roster. So it's a very important topic. The Red Sox will continue to work at it and hopefully be part of the solution as we go forward together in this very trying time.
Mathieu: Well, I want to thank you for answering that. I think it's pretty amazing that you and I can talk about this openly as the president [and] CEO of the Red Sox at this point. That in itself is something to note. But you can't talk about this year without talking about all of these things that overlap, Sam. The one thing I haven't asked you: Is Wally going to wear a mask?
Kennedy: The social distancing and health and safety requirements apply to everybody, and that includes Wally because we really do want to get back to normal and that can only happen if we're all in this together. And that includes Wally.