Sam Kennedy grew up rooting for the Red Sox and scoring tickets to Fenway Park by any means necessary. The Brookline native officially succeeded Larry Lucchino as Red Sox president in October, and with the first regular season of his tenure now underway, he shared insights into the state of the Sox.
The responsibilities have certainly changed, leading an organization without the direct supervision of a mentor who I worked for for almost 20 years in Larry Lucchino. That’s the biggest difference. There are a lot of similarities to my old role. I’ve been with the organization for 15 years, so it’s a very comfortable environment for me. Before, I worked directly for Larry. But now it’s directly for John Henry and Tom Werner. Leading the organization, day to day, on behalf of Tom and John is the biggest difference. It’s been great to do it in a city where I’m from and in an organization where I’m very comfortable and surrounded by incredible teammates.
Is there a lesson from Larry that sticks out the most? Great organizations are defined by the people in the organizations. I’ve spent the lion’s share of the past six months making sure that we’re structured properly. … Whether it’s someone in the legal department or finance department or baseball operations or our community relations department, making sure we have the best and brightest in each role.
The most important thing is to keep the focus where it belongs, and that’s on the field of play. We have to be committed to fielding a team that is competitive and wins games and hopefully wins games deep in October, and a team that is worthy of fan support. That has to be our primary goal. My goal is to keep the focus on the field, on the players and baseball management. I grew up a mile away from Fenway Park, loving the players that were on the team, and I love the ballpark itself. That should be the focus: Playing baseball deep into October.
Number two is preserving and protecting this incredible jewel of a ballpark in Fenway Park. We continue to invest heavily. We’ve spent about $300 million on the facility. We’re continuing to invest in Fenway. We have a goal of establishing Fenway as the pre-eminent sports and entertainment destination in Boston and all of New England. Baseball is always the focus, of course, but outside of baseball season, and when the Red Sox are on the road, we’re very focused on bringing new and different events in partnership with Marty Walsh and the city of Boston to Fenway. Whether that’s college football, or high school football or international soccer or outdoor ice hockey or snowboarding and ski jumping or concerts. Fenway is such an incredible community-gathering place, and we really enjoy working with the city to bring in these new and different events each and every year.
First and foremost is winning, the second is treasuring Fenway Park and enhancing it. The third leg of the stool, I would say would be continuing to be very active participants in the community. The Red Sox Foundation, which we created in 2002 has now given away $85 million in cash, and making sure that we’re actively involved with the community and charitable efforts, whether it’s the Jimmy Fund partnership with Dana Farber, or the Home Base Program that Tom Werner created to give money to folks dealing with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder in folks coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, or our Red Sox Scholars program, which is all about lining up middle school students with the commitment of higher education if they stay in school and get accepted to a four-year college, we establish scholarships for them. I think those are the three things that if we focus on day in and day out, we’ll hopefully be successful on all three of those fronts.
I think the most important legacy of John Henry and Tom Werner is that this is the ownership group that finally won a World Series—and now multiple World Series. But right up there with it will be the preservation and protection of Fenway Park because we’re in such an ideal location, right in the heart of the city sandwiched between the Back Bay neighborhood, Brookline and the medical district. From our perspective, we want to preserve and enhance Fenway as long as possible.
Is there a greater sense of urgency to this year? Absolutely. Growing up here, back in the 70s and 80s, when I was a middle schooler and a high schooler, me and my friends used to talk about, “What would it be like if the Red Sox ever won the World Series?” I remember being extremely close to that moment in 1986, when I was 13 years old and we were getting ready to run around our neighborhood and scream and yell and celebrate the 1986 World Series championship. Obviously, we know what happened at Shea Stadium, and we didn’t get it done. But after winning the World Series in 2004, an interesting thing happened. The Patriots brand and success is at an all-time high, and it continues to be given the incredible job the Krafts have done. The Celtics were improving and ultimately got an NBA championship, and then the Bruins won a Stanley Cup championship. So the brand of Boston, and the image of the city, and the success of the sports teams has so dramatically changed the landscape of Boston. I don’t want to put too much weight on it because there are a lot more important things in life than professional sports, but I can say this with some certainty because I’m from here. When I grew up, I really felt like it would be unlikely that we would ever win a World Series. And now all the teams are expected to win, and we have a very positive energy. There’s a confidence about the Boston sports teams, and it’s been a magical period in our history with all four sports teams. So coming off two losing, last-place seasons is just unacceptable to us. There’s always a heightened sense of urgency around here because John Henry and Tom Werner are extremely competitive people, but there’s an elevated sense of urgency this year. It’s hard to believe we’re only two years removed from winning a World Series because having two last-place finishes has been very disappointing, and it’s made us hungry for more success on the field.
So far so good. Both are obviously experienced professionals. Dave has been with us for a long time on radio, and has had an illustrious career at ESPN. I think the energy and insight that he and Jerry Remy have been bringing to the telecast has been very positive. Tim has been extremely talented in his own right. He’s got the good fortune of working alongside a Hall of Famer in Joe Castiglione, and I think there’s a lot of renewed energy anytime you go into a new role, and it provides you with a lot of focus and determination.
Is there a part of the fan experience you’re looking to improve? One of the biggest things we’re trying to do is connect the Red Sox with kids. The way you do that is to provide access. You have to be able to attend games to fall in love with the Red Sox. So we’ve established two ways we’re doing that. One is a free-ticket program through our Kid Nation program for our younger fans, and then a $9 ticket for students, so any student in New England can come to any game and show your student ID for $9. The idea is to encourage experiences we had as high-school kids. I’d come down with my friends and buy standing-room tickets, or figure out a way to go up to a cop and get a free ticket that had been confiscated from a scalper. So access is very important, and what happens inside the park is very important. The focus is primarily on baseball, but we do have other offerings. We’re going to have virtual-reality stations inside our Wally’s Clubhouse area. We’ve set up a gate, Gate K, for kids. It’s a children’s entrance so there’s all sorts of things to do out there. We’ve got baseball cards of our guys from when they were younger Little League players and we’ve got interactive video games. We have to adapt to this changing world and make sure that when kids come to Fenway that they have fun experiences so they want to come back and fall in love with baseball. I see that as a critical part of the job in making sure that the next generation of fans loves the game as much as we do.
Your top Red Sox memory? Father’s Day in 2005. After winning the 2004 World Series, John, Tom and Larry were nice enough to give all of the front office rings. And Theo Epstein and I, who went to Brookline High together, we had a home game on Father’s Day in 2005, and we gave our dads our World Series rings. That was a pretty cool moment.
Do you still keep in touch with Theo? I do. He’s done a great job out in Chicago. They’re probably a year ahead of schedule. They won 97 games last year in a tough division. And it’s good for baseball, but we’re hoping to kick his butt in the World Series.