Now, the Red Sox hope their Triple A team will have a chance to move into the 21st century.
While the PawSox spent more than three years examining where they should build a new home, there was no question on the part of the franchise — or its parent club, the Red Sox, who also (through Fenway Sports Group) own a 10 percent stake in the PawSox — that the team did indeed need a new facility. That view was based not just on business opportunity but also on on-field matters that have a chance to impact the player development experience for minor leaguers one stop from the big leagues.
For the most part, Red Sox players have had few complaints about the facilities in Pawtucket.
“They have two indoor batting cages and two indoor mounds. We have one [in Fenway Park]. We’re in the big leagues, but they have more space and amenities than we do,” chuckled David Price, who spent time in Pawtucket on a pair of rehab assignments last year. “You have what you need . . . If you don’t like where you’re at, play better and hopefully you’ll get your chance to get called up.”
That attitude is a common one among big leaguers who have spent time in Pawtucket. Nonetheless, there are aspects of the baseball experience at McCoy that have felt out of step with the team’s needs in recent years. And part of the eagerness of the Red Sox to see progress on a new park — whether in Rhode Island or Worcester — was to modernize the experience of top minor leaguers to improve their development opportunities.
“Our facilities at McCoy were obviously outdated,” said Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy. “It’s a huge deal. We’ve seen the direct impact of better facilities, whether renovated facilities here at Fenway or, more analogous, brand-new facilities down at JetBlue Park [the team’s spring training facility in Fort Myers, Fla.] — the incredible luxury of having more space and modern equipment.
“We’ve tried to upgrade here as much as possible, but there’s definitely a correlation for taking care of players, our medical staff, [physical therapy] guys — having new facilities with more space and the best equipment is great. We have the players going back and forth. Whether they’re going to Pawtucket or to Worcester, having new facilities is a huge competitive advantage and one that, that’s why we’ve been supportive of the new ballpark efforts.”
Among the improvements that members of the Red Sox organization believe are possible once in a new park:
■ The facilities at McCoy, according to several members of the Red Sox organization who have spent time there, betray the age of a 77-year-old facility. At a very basic level, hot water in the showers at McCoy has been an issue at times for players. There are also frequent leaks in the batting cages, requiring buckets or trash cans to collect water. Lighting for the indoor batting areas and mounds also is an issue.
■ The team’s training and weight-training areas are small. In particular, the trainer’s room is described as a sub-standard space for rehabbing big leaguers, with the presence of two tables (rather than three or more) creating a crowd. There is hope that increasingly standard rehab equipment such as underwater treadmills could be added to a new park. Additionally, the team believes that a new park could feature better facilities for players to use in the offseason — whether for the Rookie Development Program (typically run out of Boston College or Harvard) or big leaguers who want to be close to Boston to work with team staffers.
■ For the Red Sox, the drastically different dimensions of McCoy — which features enormous amounts of space down the foul lines, deep fences, and lacks a replica Green Monster — creates both a player evaluation and player development issue. Performances by pitchers and hitters can look different than they would at the big-league level, for instance, due to the frequency of foul outs. More significantly, players getting accustomed to the outfield — particularly in left field — lack the critical teaching tool of a Green Monster-like edifice. As an example, Sam Travis added left field to his first base responsibilities in winter ball last year. Yet when he gets to the big leagues, he’ll need something of a crash course while playing in the shadow of Fenway’s most famous feature for, essentially, the first time.
■ At a time when major league teams are investing a growing volume of resources in increasingly sophisticated pre-series and pregame plans of attack for both hitters and pitchers, and are spending more time preparing minor leaguers to employ them, the PawSox have a small video area tucked into their weight room, one that isn’t conducive to meetings to break down opponents while reviewing video. Players sometimes will crowd around an iPad at a card table instead of having anything resembling the sorts of conversations they’ll be asked to have in the big leagues.
“I think in this day and age, because of the access and what we have available, a nice video room with that type of technology — TVs, computers and everything — would be a benefit to the players, because we have it here,” said Red Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers. “[With similar Triple A facilities and equipment], we don’t need guys to be fed with a firehose, so to speak.”
By most accounts, the PawSox have done an admirable job of making do with what they have at McCoy and trying to allow the venue to keep pace with the changing needs of a Triple A team. But while the PawSox’ current home field remains comparable to some other minor league facilities, the Red Sox are eager to advance into something closer to the state of the art, which could ultimately impact the big-league readiness of their players in Triple A as well as the quality of evaluations about who belongs at the game’s highest level.