The Red Sox AAA affiliate is going to Worcester. So get used to the “WooSox,” as they appear destined to be known, and become familiar with the so-called Canal District in the state’s second largest city.
It’ll be a new destination for fans who like baseball a little less expensive and more low-key than what you find at Fenway, and that’s what Worcester is counting on. Neighborhood boosters for years have been pushing a stadium in this up-and-coming neighborhood south of downtown. Larry Lucchino even stopped by for a look earlier this month.
So, a few things to know:
There is no canal in the Canal District
Where do you think this is, Lowell? The Blackstone Canal — financed by Worcester worthies in the 1820s to link the city’s industry to the Blackstone River and the Atlantic Ocean — had 20 great years of busy commerce before it was rendered obsolete by railroads and fell into disrepair. It was converted to a sewer line and bricked over more than a century ago. Plans to clean up and reopen the waterway as the centerpiece of a revived canal district have been kicking around for about 15 years. So far, no luck.
“The downtown Worcester doesn’t yet have”
Canal or no, the revival of the Canal District, by most estimates, has so far gone pretty well, an organic urban development success in a city that hasn’t had a ton of those. The neighborhood has attracted a mix of retailers and popular bars to a funky corner of town where old red brick buildings pop among the remnants of light industry and surface parking lots. A 2016 story in Worcester Magazine called it “in some ways the downtown Worcester doesn’t yet have.” Now the 10,000-seat Polar Park, with a new housing development planned alongside, could help bring critical mass to a neighborhood that can still feel a bit formless.
“Lots of alcohol”
While the Canal District hosts concerts and farmers markets, and has a burgeoning small business scene, most locals agree that, to date, its resurgence has been fueled by one major ingredient: booze. Strings of popular bars line Green and Water Streets, and the district has become a go-do destination for weekend revelry, bringing energy and money, to the neighborhood. Indeed, in that same Worcester Magazine piece on the neighborhood’s resurgence, the head of the Canal District Association attributes the upswing to “lots of alcohol.” He was joking, they said.
The Babe slept here
Worcester briefly had at team in the very early days of the National League (the endearingly named Worcester Worcesters). But frankly, it hasn’t had much else beyond a few independent minor league clubs over the years. It was, though, a favored haunt of one of baseball’s greatest. Babe Ruth lived in the Hotel Vernon, on Kelley Square, for a winter early in his time with the Red Sox, and reportedly liked to return for a drink during Prohibition, when the place became a speakeasy. Polar Park will be just a few blocks away. So once again maybe a Red Sox team will be haunted by the ghost of the Babe?
Worcester is ready
There is no hesitation when it comes to welcoming the WooSox to Worcester, where civic leaders have been wooing the team for some time, and agreed to finance and own the $100 million stadium. The Canal District’s website has a baseball stadium already laid out and ready for permitting, and the site was being cleaned up in anticipation of an announcement, cutting weeds and dismantling a homeless camp. As a sign of enthusiasm, 10,000 people sent postcards to team owners — in a drive organized by the Canal District Alliance — urging them to ditch Pawtucket for Worcester. On Friday, they got their wish.