UMass players excited for Fenway football opportunity

  • Notre Dame band marches across the field before the first half of the Shamrock Series NCAA college football game at Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, in Boston Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015. AP

  • Notre Dame running back C.J. Prosise (20) prior to the Shamrock Series NCAA college football game at Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, in Boston Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015. AP

  • The sun sets behind the third base line at Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, prior to the Shamrock Series NCAA college football game between Boston College and Notre Dame in Boston, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015. AP

  • Fenway Park’s iconic scoreboard set up for the Fenway Gridiron Series events that includes UMass’ game with Maine, Saturday at 4 p.m. Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox

  • Fenway Park set up for the Fenway Gridiron Series events that includes UMass’ game with Maine, Saturday at 4 p.m. Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox

@MattVautourDHG
Published: 11/8/2017 7:35:27 PM

AMHERST — Watching the lead-up and eventually the highlights from the Shamrock Series football game between Boston College and Notre Dame at Fenway Park in 2015, Derek Dumais admitted he was a little jealous.

Like many New England kids, the UMass redshirt sophomore center grew up rooting vehemently for the Red Sox, especially David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez. He can still imitate Nomar Garciaparra’s idiosyncratic hand-shuffling routine that he often mimicked as a little leaguer in Marblehead.

So he was naturally excited when the Fenway Gridiron Series was announced and UMass vs. Maine was included. The event, which includes three college and three high school games, begins Friday when Brown and Dartmouth meet in Ivy League action. UMass is the second game at 4 p.m. Saturday.

“Being from just 20 minutes outside of Boston, I’m blessed,” Dumais said. “It’s going to be an experience.”

Jesse Montiero, a safety from Brockton, is more of a casual Red Sox fan than a diehard, but expected a memorable experience.

“It’ll be special looking back at all the big stadiums we’ve played in. This is one of the most iconic ones in sports,” he said. “This one will definitely be up there, especially as a hometown kid.”

Saturday will be the first time Randall West is rooting for the home team at Fenway. The lifelong Yankees fan from New Jersey loves baseball too, but he idolized Derek Jeter and the Yankees.

“It’s something fun to be part of. First experience at Fenway was this summer, which was a great experience having watched so many Yankees-Sox games growing up. It was such a cool atmosphere,” he said. “I’m really excited for what it’s going to be like.”

According to Fred Olsen, Fenway Sports Management’s vice president for special events, the Red Sox created several time frames for turning the ballpark into a football stadium, based on how long the Red Sox postseason run lasted. The pitchers mound, the infield and warning tracks were all replaced with grass as the grounds crew put the finishing touches on the park Monday.

“We had contingency plans in place,” Olsen said. “Turning a baseball field into a football field requires a lot of attention to detail. David Mellor, the head of our grounds crew, and his team have worked tirelessly to make sure all of those details are taken into account.”

The football field itself stretches from one end zone near where home plate would normally be to the edges of the bullpens in right field.

Because of the field’s tight proximity to the stands along the first baseline, both teams will have their benches on the other sideline with their backs toward Fenway’s landmark left field wall.

Whipple said compressing two teams on one side will cause the Minutemen to dress fewer players than they would for a normal home game.

“It’ll be a little bit different logistically. When you’re backed up or going into the red zone (in front of the opposing bench), we’ll just signal things in,” he said.

Whipple took his team to a Red Sox game at Fenway this summer, both to promote the event and give the players a feel for the park itself so it wouldn’t be entirely foreign on game day.

“It was my first time there,” said Steve Casali, a Long Island native who also roots for the Yankees. “Fenway is so historic, it’s going to be an honor to play there. I’m looking forward to it. We have to focus on the game. You can look around and embrace it, but at the end of the day we’re playing a football game we have to win.”

Normally for a game outside of McGuirk Stadium, UMass would have a walk-through Friday evening to get a lay of the land, but the Ivy League game makes that impossible. So the team’s first time on the playing surface won’t be until Saturday. Jarell Addo, a junior linebacker from Leominster, said the players need to absorb the atmosphere quickly then get down to business.

“We’re all going to be fans at first because the place has history,” he said. “But after that we’ll turn it on because it’s game time.”

Dumais said the magic of playing at Fenway would be drastically diminished if it didn’t come with a happy ending.

“The goal is to win no matter where we’re playing,” he said. “It’ll definitely make the experience a whole lot better if we win.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage



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