PORTLAND — Why are the Red Sox going after old ballplayers with eroded skills and tired legs? A Red Sox fan in the audience wanted to know. The recent bid to claim Johnny Damon off waivers was on his mind.

Standing behind a lectern at the Portland Public Library, Joe Januszewski blinked. He’s senior vice president of corporate sales and Fenway enterprises. He’s got an office on Yawkey Way. He probably does chat with Theo Epstein, the Red Sox general manager, but Januszewski didn’t hint that he was an Epstein confidant.

Tuesday morning, he had drawn the assignment to come north to represent the team on its six-state Listening Tour. Go ahead, all questions welcomed. Januszewski had the bases covered. He didn’t believe the Red Sox were changing their philosophy.

Never, he said, has he heard Red Sox management say they want the team to be competitive. The mission is to win. “(Adrian) Beltre is not old. John Lackey is not old.”

The third baseman and pitcher, both plucked from the free-agent market last winter, are 31. Beltre has been a beacon in what looks like a lost season. Of course, Jacoby Ellsbury’s collision with Beltre back in the spring did break Ellsbury’s ribs leading to his lost season, but that wasn’t the original point.

“Theo has a hundred different scenarios to improve the team,” said Januszewski. “But at what price?”

There were no rebuttals from the audience of two dozen or so. The so-called listening tour wasn’t meant to be a debate. The hour was sponsored by the Greater Portland Area Chamber of Commerce for its members and guests. Cranky Willie from Westbrook or Sullen Sue from Saco weren’t heard.

“This is not a vetted audience,” Januszewski said before he was introduced, disagreeing with any notion that he would face a tame crowd. “We have no say in who is invited.”

He didn’t need to duck away from a curve or a knuckleball. He did see a fastball or two such as a question regarding the future of Fenway Park. The many renovations were acknowledged and appreciated but, someone said, the ballpark is “tired.” Why not recreate it somewhere else or bring it more fully into the 21st century?

Practicality will not trump nostaglia. Not anytime soon. The grandstand seats can’t get wider without blowing up the seating bowl. The Red Sox probably would have to play elsewhere for a season. An upper deck won’t work.

The Fenway Park centennial begins in April 2012. Build a new park? Januszewski didn’t say the words, but perish the thought.

He was asked about the lack of ticket availability, but not ticket prices.

Someone else asked if at least some Red Sox games could return to network television in southern Maine. Didn’t the Red Sox want to grow their fan base from immigrant groups who couldn’t yet afford the more inclusive cable TV packages?

But hey, veggie burgers are now available at Fenway, thanks to a comment from another stop on the Listening Tour. A Wally’s World play area for kids now exists in the concourse because someone spoke up. Hot dog and soda hawkers crouch more often when they’re serving fans because someone spoke up. Januszewski pitched additional revenue streams and plugged a Fenway bridal festival that’s a money-maker.

That the Red Sox have not developed their own young power hitters or bought one or two on the free-agent market wasn’t explored further. Not that Januszewski was turning a deaf ear. “The fundamental mission is still to field a winner. There are no off years in the AL East. We want to hear from the constituency.”

Thank heavens this wasn’t 1999 or 2003 or any other year between 1918 and 2004. “I’ve not heard the ‘C’ word. There is no more curse.”

To his left were the 2004 and 2007 World Series trophies. He had a goody bag at his feet filled with baseballs autographed by Beltre and Tim Wakefield, a Jonathan Papelbon T-shirt, Red Sox caps and a few other prizes. Ask a good question and Januszewski played Santa Claus.

Godfrey Wood, the chamber’s CEO and Tuesday’s host, called for a last question.

“Can we get pictures with the trophies?”

“Absolutely,” said Januszewski. “Come on down.”

 

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: [email protected]