PROVIDENCE — Growing up in Smithfield, Andy Tuetken would often go to McCoy Stadium with his father to watch Pawtucket Red Sox games, always using the entrance behind home plate so they could walk past the murals lining the concourse ramp.
As they made their way past the larger-than-life images of aces and sluggers, his father would tell the stories of Fred Lynn and Jim Rice, Rich Gedman and Chico Walker.
And when he became a father himself, Tuetken relished the opportunity to recreate that tradition with his daughters, telling them the tales of Nomar Garciaparra and Mo Vaughn, John Valentin and Mike Greenwell.
So Tuetken was heartbroken when the Triple-A franchise of the Boston Red Sox moved from Pawtucket to Worcester after the 2020 season.
“I was really emotional,” he said. “I love the state of Rhode Island and I love baseball, and being history-minded, it hurt in that sense. More than anything, it was sad because I know how much it means to my family and to so many families just like mine.”
But Tuetken, a 37-year-old history teacher at Cumberland High School, found solace in writing a newly released book, “Murals of McCoy,” which depicts and celebrates the 95 player murals and photos displayed at the stadium over the years.
“This book ended up like a coping mechanism for me and my kids,” he said. “We still got to talk about the murals, and we still got to tell the stories.”
And now, he said, that collection carries extra value because it appears that McCoy is headed for the wrecking ball, barring an extra-innings reprieve. Plans call for razing the 81-year-old stadium and building a new 2,500-student high school that would consolidate two of the city’s existing high schools, Shea and Tolman.
While he’d be sad to see McCoy torn down, Tuetken said that as a public school teacher, he’d also be happy to see a new public school erected in its place. “What that high school could provide for the kids of Pawtucket could be really special and generational, long-lasting,” he said.
Billionaire Stefan Soloviev, a University of Rhode Island graduate who owns a grain business, has said he was ready to buy McCoy and bring pro baseball back to Pawtucket. But the city has already approved $330 million in bonds to replace McCoy with the new high school.
And the Pawtucket City Council recently approved handing over control of the stadium site to the Pawtucket School Committee.
“The school department has completed both phases of applications for funding from the Rhode Island Department of Education, which means, once and if approved, the construction/demolition/bidding process could begin,” said Grace Voll, a spokesperson for Pawtucket Mayor Donald R. Grebien. “While the door still remains open for the potential redevelopment of the stadium, those conversations will now have to take place between the Pawtucket School Committee/Department and the Soloviev Group.”
The city had been planning to auction off the vacant stadium’s seats, signs, scoreboards, and some of its murals in September, but that auction has now been postponed until the spring.
“On our end, the door is still slightly open,” Voll said, citing the possibility of using the stadium as part of the new high school project. “But it’s mainly in the school department’s hands. Our main thing is to make sure the school is the priority, that education is the priority. We would love to still save the stadium, but if it’s going to affect the plans for the high school, we can’t have that interfere.”
Tuetken said he has been saddened to see vandalism at the stadium. For example, Voll said vandals sprayed-painted graffiti on a scoreboard commemorating the longest game in baseball history (33 innings, in 1981).
“I was shocked by the damage that had been done,” Tuetken said. “It’s hard because like many Rhode Islanders, that all meant so much to us, and to see it in that condition, it was certainly sad. And to see how aspects of the stadium were losing their form, that is when it sunk in: It might be time now.”
Tuetken said the idea for the murals originated with Ben Mondor, who owned the PawSox from 1977 until his death in 2010. Mondor commissioned massive murals painted directly on the walls of McCoy, hiring Carol “Tayo” Heuser, a former Rhode Island School of Design student.
In 1990, the original murals were replaced with 4-foot-by-8-foot murals, also painted by Heuser, but they were removed during stadium renovations in 1999, Tuetken said. In 2002, the original 45 murals were replaced with digital replicas, and the team add 41 digital photos, many taken by longtime team photographer Louriann Mardo-Zayat. The total eventually reached 95 images of PawSox stars.
Tuetken said that 43 of the 4-foot-by-8-foot murals ended up being auctioned off to PawSox fan and collector Phil Zexter, who later sold his collection to business partner Gary Sullivan. Tuetken said those murals are now stored at a warehouse in Seekonk, Mass., and Sullivan is putting them up for auction.
Tuetken said his favorite mural is of Mike Greenwell, who played in Pawtucket before serving as a Boston Red Sox outfielder from 1985 to 1996. “I loved how they incorporated a scene of the old mills in Pawtucket in his mural,” he said, noting Greenwell is depicted in front of Slater Mill. “And it was a non-baseball stance that incorporated Rhode Island.”
While others will have their own favorite murals, Tuetken said the book’s target audience is all those who appreciated the PawSox era in Rhode Island.
“It’s the individuals who loved what McCoy Stadium and the PawSox meant to the state,” he said. “It’s what Ben Mondor set out to do in 1977 — creating a family-friendly, affordable place to create memories that go beyond the wins and losses.”
The 216-page book sells for $38.47 in hard cover and $32.60 in paperback. Tuetken, a former high school baseball coach, said he will donate all profits from the sale of “Murals of McCoy” to Pawtucket youth baseball.