If you’re seriously missing live baseball this summer, you might want to take a trip to Worcester and visit Polar Park, the new home of the AAA Red Sox affiliate that used to play in Pawtucket.
You remember the PawSox.
You’d go see them once or twice a season, never pay for a ticket, snag a cold beer and a boiled hot dog for yourself, some ice cream in a mini helmet for your kid, and then call it quits after the seventh inning because everyone knows that a baseball game shouldn’t last longer than an iPhone holds its charge. McCoy Stadium itself was unspectacular, but it was always easy to find parking.
The team is getting set to open the season next month in a brand new 6,000-seat (9,500 capacity) ballpark in downtown Worcester, and it really makes you wonder what could have been. Imagine what Rhode Island could have had if its leaders showed even a tiny sense of vision.
Really, the place is great.
For starters, the seats, most of which are expected to run from between $8 and $20, are right on top of the field, which has the same intimate feeling of Fenway but with nothing to obstruct your view. If you’re a pretend scout looking for an edge in fantasy baseball, you’ll be getting a good look at future Red Sox prospects no matter where you sit.
One strange thing: There’s no replica of the Green Monster in left field, and the tallest fence — a so-called mini-monster — is in right field. That’s not going to help guys learn how to play in the big leagues, but then again, nothing about McCoy Stadium screamed Boston either.
If baseball is said to be dying, Larry Lucchino and the team’s other owners are not yet ready to call in the palliative care. Rather, like the NBA and other minor league team owners, they have figured out that the key to drawing fans to games is to give them as many non-sports watching things to do as possible.
That’s why there’s a brewery set up down the right field line and kids zone beyond the fence in left center field. There’s a year-round restaurant going in and banquet space that’s probably going to put the local country club to shame.
Construction workers were still putting their final touches on the park when I visited last Thursday, but the team was playing an intrasquad game. Keep your eye on Jarren Duran, who crushed a home run over the left field fence as a train traveled by in the distance.
Lucchino was wearing a hardhat while he walked around the park looking as happy as a guy who just built the most expensive minor league stadium in history, at $157 million, according to the Worcester Business Journal. The city agreed to borrow $100 million and the state kicked in $60 million for the entire project (which includes a parking lot and the redesign of several surrounding streets), but officials maintain the park will pay for itself in the long run.
“Make sure you hand-deliver it to Mattiello,” he said when he was told I was writing a column about the new park.
That would be Nicholas Mattiello, the former speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, who is widely credited with killing plans to build a new home for the PawSox in Pawtucket.
You know how they say it takes a village to raise a child? It too often takes only one politician to spoil a really good idea.
But Mattiello’s not the only person to blame for this blunder.
The diehard supporters of building a new park in Rhode Island, like the late James Skeffington, a co-owner of the team who wanted to construct a stadium in downtown Providence, wanted us to believe that a minor league baseball team could be the linchpin of the state’s economy.
Critics wanted Rhode Islanders to believe that a taxpayer-funded ballpark would bankrupt the state or strip a generation of students of new math books. They called it “38 Stadium” just to remind everyone that the state made a bad deal with a video game company founded by Curt Schilling in 2010.
The reality was likely somewhere in the middle. What the extremists on both sides of the debate refused to acknowledge is that while a shiny new stadium wouldn’t have helped Rhode Island land Amazon’s HQ2, it wouldn’t have forced the state into pawning the Independent Man statue, either.
It would have been a very nice thing to have in Rhode Island, especially if it came out looking anything like Polar Park. It would have connected families and created a sense of community. Plus, it would have been somewhere beautiful to go on a warm summer night.
As a consolation prize, Pawtucket’s getting a United Soccer League team, which sounds about as exciting as a General Assembly committee hearing.
Enjoy those road trips to Worcester.