Minor league baseball is unlikely to be played this year in front of fans, if at all. That suggests that the Pawtucket Red Sox may not take the field again in McCoy Stadium prior to their anticipated move next year to Worcester.
But in the absence of both games and game-related income, the PawSox are exploring ways to allow fans to connect with their longtime team while also generating some revenue in a lost season.
“It’s a 78-year-old ballpark. It’s in what we hope to be its final year [as the home of the PawSox], and I think people might want to get one more glimpse of it,” said PawSox chairman Larry Lucchino.
Among the possibilities: an outdoor dining experience that allows fans to enjoy the ballpark setting even in the absence of games.
Rhode Island announced a plan to allow restaurants to start serving customers again at outdoor dining facilities starting Monday. The plan initially limits dining parties to five, requires at least 8 feet between tables, and caps capacity at 20 tables.
The PawSox believe that McCoy Stadium could offer a perfect setting to operate within those guidelines, perhaps with picnic tables spread across the field.
“That’s a batting-practice fastball for our outfield grass or our infield dirt,” said PawSox president Charles Steinberg. “It’s a unique experience, one that you can’t get anywhere else, and it really holds great potential.
“We’ve had baseball — product No. 1 — taken away from us. But we still have a 78-year-old stadium that strikes a nostalgic chord for Rhode Island. And you still have a beautiful ballfield that leads the league in sunsets.
"It’s a question of how do you use your ballpark and a fan experience to make use of the assets you still have?”
The ballpark dining experience is one of several ideas being contemplated by the PawSox at a time when their business model has been upended by the COVID-19 restrictions on nonessential businesses and mass gatherings. As Rhode Island advances in its phased reopening, the team is trying to find ways to use McCoy — the home of the PawSox for 50 years — in ways that follow public health guidelines.
Already, the team has used McCoy’s four-plus-acre parking lot to serve the community. On Thursday, the team partnered with the City of Pawtucket, the ELISHA project, and Ocean State Job Lot to host the distribution of food to more than 1,000 people.
That suggests the possibility of a socially distanced space in the summer months that could be used for fireworks, movies, or other entertainment.
The idea of creating a takeout dining service has also been discussed. Other minor league teams, including the Salem Red Sox (the organization’s High A Carolina League affiliate), have had some success selling ballpark food while also using their facilities for charitable purposes such as free meals for first responders and health care workers.
But the idea of on-field dining has generated the most traction with the PawSox to date.
The PawSox had planned a robust schedule of promotions and activities this season to celebrate the team’s history in Pawtucket and Rhode Island. But in the absence of games, they have been trying to identify ways to give fans a different way to connect with the ballpark.
“Many of the activities and businesses that we’re looking into are ways that people can reprise their memories of McCoy and at least enjoy a McCoy experience if not a McCoy baseball experience,” said Lucchino.