PAWTUCKET, R.I. — Steven and Dawn Porter thought they might have gotten lucky when they opened Stillwater Books earlier this year.
The business sits directly across the street from historic Slater Mill, the focus of a plan to build a new $83 million home for the Pawtucket Red Sox. “We’re 150 yards from the proposed homeplate,” Steven said.
Now, it looks like that distance is going to be about 40 miles. On Friday, the Red Sox farm team announced it was leaving its longtime home in Pawtucket for Worcester in several years, a heavy blow for baseball fans and residents of this old mill town — and the entire state.
Both lifelong Rhode Island residents and PawSox fans since age 9, the Porters said the team is a crucial piece of Pawtucket’s identity. And fans had relished seeing future Fenway stars close-up at McCoy Stadium at family-friendly prices.
“It’s a big fish for Rhode Island to let go of,” Dawn said.
Softening the blow somewhat, the move has been the talk of Pawtucket for at least a year.
Just having an answer will bring some relief to the town, said Stacey Riendeau, who founded the Pawtucket Downtown Alliance and owns a local bakery. Reindeau said she has been involved in discussions about the team’s future for well over a year.
“We’ve been jerked around this whole time,” Reindeau said. “This doesn’t surprise us.”
She said city and state officials had asked how she thought a new park in downtown Pawtucket would affect her store, Bake My Day.
“I don’t think it would have changed things for the downtown businesses much,” she said. “People tend to go to the game, eat at the game, and leave.”
But a new stadium also would have meant the demolition of a downtown eyesore — the Apex building, which would have worked toward Riendeau’s mission of a cleaner, more attractive town center.
Losing the PawSox, she fears, will bring down an already discouraged town.
“People already say this town is dead,” she said.
Riendeau refuses to accept that as fact, however. A San Diego native who has lived in Pawtucket for almost 20 years, Riendeau said she’s committed to this town and seeing her vision through. Viewing the PawSox as the town’s only hope doesn’t help, either, she said.
“When that was presented as the only option, that was a red flag for me,” she said. “We need more options.”
If the PawSox go, that means finding another use for McCoy Stadium instead of allowing it to sit vacant like many other spots in town, she said. She suggested giving the site to the local public schools for their sports teams.
As for the PawSox’s remaining time in town, Riendeau doesn’t think they’ll see much local support.
“Would I buy a ticket now? Probably not.”
People here and across the border in Massachusetts fondly recalled family nights, Little League outings, and cheap dinners of hot dogs and soda at McCoy Stadium, completed in 1942. (General admission children’s seats currently go for $6.)
That was the case for Paula Dionisopoulos of Rehoboth, Mass., who was visiting Slater Mill on Friday afternoon. Though her two sons are grown, she remembers summertime outings to the ballpark and is sorry to see the team go.
“Most families can’t afford to go into Boston and go to a game together,” she said. “Here, we’ve been able to do it all. We’ve sat in the bleachers, with our sons’ baseball teams, in a box. It’s all great.”
Just hours after the announcement, fans sporting their Sox jerseys and Pawtucket baseball caps lined up outside McCoy Stadium, waiting for the doors to open for Friday night’s game.
Although the name of the relocated team is projected to be the “WooSox,” the fans’ mood was far from an affirmative whoop.
John Metaxas of Swansea and Ken Allard of Bristol, R.I., discussed the move as they waited in line. Both former ushers at McCoy, they wondered what would become of it when the team leaves.
The announcement didn’t come as a surprise to Allard, who grew up in Pawtucket: He said interest in the park had waned since he worked there about 15 years ago.
“I think some people took it for granted,” he said.
Metaxas said he was a little surprised that the rumored move would actually become a reality.
“I thought something would happen in the eleventh hour to keep it here,” he said.
Robert Molax of Somerset also grew up in Pawtucket and remembers coming to games at a very young age.
“It’s horrible for me,” Molax said of the move. “I’ve been wondering all day what would happen to this place. I’d hate for them to tear it down.”
Molax said he loved McCoy for its “intimate” feel that made everyone seem “like family.”
For Pawtucket resident Tina Trahan, Friday’s announcement was deeply disappointing.
“That’s why I’m drinking a beer,” she said, pointing to her cup.
McCoy definitely needed updates, Trahan said, but losing the team entirely was too much.
“I really hope they bring in another team,” said Trahan, who had worked at the stadium for nine years. “I don’t want to see this place go away.”
Trahan will keep coming to see the PawSox play in the next two years they’re in Pawtucket, she said. But after that?
”Absolutely not,” she said. “I won’t come see them in Worcester.”