Monday marked a milestone for the future home of the Worcester Red Sox, as the first steel beams were raised on the site of the future Polar Park. The ceremony offered a glimpse of what PawSox executive vice president Dan Rea called “the beginnings of the ballpark,” with the hints of the dugouts, the outfield contours, and the seating bowl coming into view at a time when vertical construction is moving forward.
Yet while the Red Sox’ Triple A affiliate, which is preparing for its final season at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, celebrated the step forward in the construction of its new home it did so against the backdrop of inherently challenging construction schedules that have been rendered even more uncertain by government and industry responses to the coronavirus.
Shortly after the media event that highlighted the step forward in the city-led construction project in Worcester, the City of Boston announced the suspension of all construction projects. If that is expanded to include other parts of the state such as Worcester, a construction halt could jeopardize the hope to have Polar Park ready for the start of the 2021 minor league season.
“It is too soon to know what the general conditions will have on the construction of Polar Park,” PawSox chairman Larry Lucchino texted. “I suggest that it is a public policy issue that the team is unable to answer at this point.”
In recent months, the team believed that an ambitious construction schedule would permit Polar Park to be ready for the start of Triple A games next April. Rea said that the team built in at least a few days – and officials hope it’s a few weeks – to move offices to the park, test all stadium systems, and work out any kinks prior to the start of the 2021 season.
“There are stories of teams that have been putting paint on the entryway as the gates are opening. We’d like to avoid that sort of eventuality,” Rea said. “Hopefully we can still move in with a little bit of time to spare.”
But if there are delays due to a rapidly shifting regulatory environment, that might prove difficult, perhaps even impossible. That’s one of a broad array of unknowns that has been introduced in the wake of an unprecedented public health response to a pandemic.
For now, the team is taking a wait-and-see approach.
“I don’t think we’d want to jump to conclusions or say we’d want to look too far into the crystal ball because things do seem to change on such a rapid basis,” Rea said.
In internal conversations, Rea said, the team has yet to discuss contingency plans should the ballpark not be ready to open at the start of the 2021 season. The dual responsibilities of planning for the anticipated final season at McCoy Stadium – which the club is planning to use as a celebration of 50 years of baseball in the Pawtucket ballpark – and construction in Worcester remain what Rea called the “two dominant focuses for us.” The conversation about alternative locations for the start of the 2021 campaign hasn’t been part of the team’s discussions.
“If we have to go that route I’m sure we could and would find discussion points and pathways, but it really hasn’t come up,” said Rea.
The shutdown of the sporting world has delayed indefinitely the start of the PawSox season this year. Given that unexpected reality, the team recognizes that there are limits to what it can anticipate or control regarding its move.
“There’s certainly a much bigger problem out there that society is trying to address,” Rea said. “We certainly want to go along with whatever our officials tell us.”