They raise the blade half an inch higher now when they mow the grass at LeLacheur Park. Fewer clippings mean fewer payments to the company that hauls the grass away.
To save postage costs, the general manager pastes blank labels on top of addresses on pre-metered envelopes. The cable and Wi-Fi in the press box have been canceled.
The 200 seasonal employees who worked the 39 Lowell Spinners home games last year never collected a check this summer, and the permanent payroll has been slashed from a dozen full-timers to just two — three, if you count the seasonal grass-cutter.
The Lowell Spinners are a wisp of what they once were.
The cancellation of the entire 2020 minor league season turned the Red Sox’ short-season New York-Penn League team’s silver-anniversary celebration into a calamity. The team, already facing the specter of dissolution next season, is on financial life-support, and the sorry state of affairs has left the community monitoring the Spinners’ fading vital signs with an aching heart.
“When you pack a stadium with three, four, five thousand people every night, and now all of a sudden those people are gone — the restaurants in downtown Lowell, they don’t have as many people now. The Merrimack Valley Repertory Theater, all the stuff that’s happening in the city, we have a lot of venues where people go before or after the game, and it’s gone, it’s all gone,” said John Chemaly, co-owner of Trinity EMS, an original sponsor of the Spinners and also a vendor at the ballpark.
Trinity EMTs and an ambulance are there every game to tend to patrons who may scrape a knee, need an ice pack, or something more serious. This summer, the revenues for Chemaly’s company have evaporated, just as they have for the hot dog, popcorn, ice cream, and beer suppliers.
In a season when baseball is played, the Spinners say, they bring in $40,000–$60,000 a night in revenue. On the charity front — taking into account donations, financial, and in-kind services — the team generates close to $500,000 a year.
Lowell Mayor John Leahy describes the economic loss to the community as “substantial.”
“There’s definitely a hit,” he said. “We’re going to lose the visitors and the business.”
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It’s like losing a family
The cancellation of the season has brought the Spinners’ modest but meaningful economic engine to nearly a complete halt, a cessation in activities that can be measured in lost taxes and jobs.
But when the calculations turn to the intangibles, of how the dissolution of a community bulwark drags down a region’s spirit along with it, that’s when the feeling borders on the funereal.
“Oh man, it’s definitely emotional,” said Shawn Smith, the Spinners’ general manager. “I get choked up just thinking about it.
“The Red Sox are part of my family, and when I say part of my family, my daughters have worked with me for the past four years, I work with people in the front office staff that I love, I serve a community that I love, and for three months of the year I have the greatest job in the world being around those fans. It is our collective escape from the real world and, man, do we need an escape right now.
“It makes me really sad, makes me really sad. When you come to our games, it’s the hugs and the kisses when people see each other, when total strangers become friends, where you have people with their baseball family. The only time they see each other is when they’re at baseball games, and they never cross paths again through the other times of their life.
“It’s so special, it’s so special. It is extremely emotional.”
Leahy sees it in the same light.
“You don’t realize until it’s gone how much you’re going to really miss it,” said Leahy. “It’s just the nostalgia of the game, the competition part of it, that’s what’s different.
“You can go out to the ballpark with your family and kids, you can reminisce about teams of old, you think about your high school years, what your kids are doing now in high school — that’s the part of the game we’re going to miss. That’s what makes it different.
“It’s just a night’s experience that can bring back so many memories for so many people, whether you played the game or just watched the games. Just the smell of the grass, eating a hot dog, and sitting there is a whole experience in itself.”
An even bleaker future?
Smith and Spinners vice president Brian Lindsay are the last two full-time employees who go to the ballpark every day. Lindsay has been spending his days going from concession stand to concession stand to clean each piece of equipment, idle since last September, and then start it up to make sure it still runs.
Smith and Lindsay are handling any and all matters that come up, from facilities to accounting to filling online merchandise orders.
State protocols don’t allow the Spinners to follow the example of the Pawtucket Red Sox in Rhode Island and offer up their outfield as an outdoor dining option to create at least one new revenue source.
Lowell High School held its delayed 2020 graduation ceremony at LeLacheur Park in four sessions over two days in July, with 170 graduates per session. Each graduate was allowed to invite two guests, with the graduates on the field and the 340 guests socially distanced in assigned seats throughout the 4,900-seat stadium.
The Spinners also have contracted with a Lowell youth baseball league to host games on weekends for players between ages 13 and 18.
Smith said the team is exploring other opportunities, but for now, that is the extent of how the Lowell facility is being used this summer.
Smith said the “vast majority” of 2020 ticket-holders and sponsors have opted to roll their financial support to 2021 in the form of credit, versus the Spinners having to issue refunds.
The fate of next season is a different matter altogether, one that is arguably even more bleak. The Spinners have been frequently mentioned as being on the 40-team “hit list” Major League Baseball is composing in its effort to streamline, cut costs, and assert more control over Minor League Baseball.
MLB says the composition of the list remains fluid, and the contentious MLB-MiLB talks have been put aside for now because of the pandemic. They will likely resume later this summer.
Until then, the Spinners’ tale is one of woe, of a summer that’s gone missing.
A dance on hold
Bob Moore answers to “The Dancing Usher,” a nod to the 18 seasons he has spent hopping on top of the Spinners dugout to dance, unabashedly, and rouse any sleepy LeLacheur Park visitors from their languor.
It’s a job he loves.
Without it, he said, he is “really upset” and just “very, very sad.”
“I miss going to the ballpark so much,” he said.
He’s not alone.
LeLacheur Park sits at the intersection of Aiken and Pawtucket streets — underused, mostly quiet, a couple of employees left to putter, scrape, scrimp, and try to keep a minor league baseball team alive for another year.
The grass is still being cut, a bit higher than usual. After the youth games stop, who knows how high they’ll let it grow?