On the Rhode in Pawtucket

To see all posts from my September 1, 2015 visit to the Pawtucket Red Sox (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

The fourth stop on my fifth road trip of the season marked the first time that my Minor League travels had taken me to Rhode Island. There is only one Minor League Baseball team in Rhode Island, and that team is the Pawtucket Red Sox. The PawSox, as they are often referred to as, have spent the entirety of their existence at McCoy Stadium.

001As you can see in the above photo, McCoy Stadium is located on Ben Mondor Way. Ben Mondor bought the PawSox in 1977, when their financial situation was dire, and turned the team into one of the most well-regarded operations in the industry. Two of his key employees then, Mike Tamburro and Lou Schwechheimer, went on to log decades of service with the club. Tamburro remains the CEO, and Schwechheimer stepped down as vice president following the 2015 season. The PawSox, all the way around, have been a model of consistency. They operate in the league’s oldest stadium, boast its longest-running affiliation and have a front office core that has been with the club for decades.

But nothing lasts forever. Mondor died in 2010 at the age of 85, and this past February his widow, Madeline, sold the team to a Boston Red Sox-affiliated ownership group which immediately announced its intent to move the team to the neighboring city of Providence. To say that this relocation plan has been controversial would be an understatement. Emotions have run high from the start, and everybody in Rhode Island seems to have an opinion. And, usually, it’s been a negative opinion.

The PawSox relocation controversy was front page news on the day that I visited. This machine was  situated just down the street from the stadium.

002

I’ve written plenty about the PawSox in recent months, including articles (HERE and HERE) that originated during this visit. For a fairly up-to-date recap of the situation, click HERE.

To sum it all up: The Paw Sox will be playing AT LEAST two more seasons at McCoy Stadium, and probably more than that (the current lease expires in 2020). This post and those that follow will simply focus on what it is like to attend a game at McCoy. That’s where I was on this low-key Tuesday evening, and that’s where they’ll be for the foreseeable future.

McCoy is located in a scruffy, largely residential area. AMVETS Post 13 is located just down the street. 004This nearby driveway appears to lead directly into the back of the outfield fence.

005The Right Spot Diner, probably the most visible and best-known business in the immediate vicinity of the stadium, serves three meals and day and specializes in “Hot Wieners.” This is a Rhode Island-specific form of hot dog, which, according to Wikipedia, are also sometimes referred to as “Gaggers.” I went in before the game, sat on the counter, and got a hamburger steak with green beans. It just seemed like the right thing to do.

006

Moving toward the stadium proper, I was greeted not by a hot wiener but by a cool bear.

007

The bear’s name is Paws.

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Okay, resume:

McCoy Stadium is, in a word, venerable. There is a lot of history here, and much of this history is commemorated within the facility’s hallways, stairways, offices and ramps. I would bet that, taken together, no stadium in Minor League Baseball contains more team-specific memorabilia than does McCoy.

011McCoy’s main entrance is located out toward left field, so one of my first views of the playing field proper came from this vantage point. This is a stadium that immediately felt unique. Even after an extensive renovation (in 1999), there is nothing cookie-cutter about it.

012

Souvenirs are available on the concourse.

015Many, many souvenirs. There is even an “autograph fishing set,” which, if you don’t already know, will make a lot more sense later in the post.

016On the concourse, one finds an extensive homage to McCoy’s biggest claim to fame. In 1981, the stadium hosted the longest professional baseball game of all time. The game, between the PawSox and Rochester Red Wings, took 33 innings to complete. 32 of these frames were played on April 18 and 19th.

018

For what it’s worth, here’s what the team’s 1981 program looked like. None of the three players that this boy is dreaming about — Dave Stapleton, Glenn Hoffman, John Tudor — played in “The Longest Game.”

009Another great “McCoy Stadium Moment” occurred in 1999, when Paw Sox outfielder Michael Coleman went 7-for-7 and hit for the cycle in a 25-2 rout of Norfolk. As this sign notes, Coleman “became the first player in the history of professional baseball to go 7-for-7 and hit for the cycle in the same game.” Coleman played 22 games over part of three Major League seasons (1997, 1999, 2001) and didn’t hit for the cycle over the entirety of his MLB career (he collected eight hits, including one double and one home run).

Baseball is a rabbit hole. I’m always getting lost.

022McCoy Stadium is laden with such signifiers of the past. This painting of a sad-looking Rich Gedman, who did play in “The Longest Game, “is located on the ramp leading to the upper level.

023The view from the top of the ramp. Yep, more Paw Sox-related player signage can be seen from here as well.

024

There is a ramp leading from the upper-level aisle into the press box, which looms above and in front of a section of seating. I don’t think that I’d ever seen that before.

025

The McCoy broadcaster’s booth, which in 2014 was occupied by Josh Maurer and Will Flemming, has long been a hotbed of future big league talent. I wrote an article about this phenomenon for MiLB.com last offseason (after PawSox broadcaster Jeff Levering was hired by the Brewers), and that article was reprinted in the Paw Sox’s 2015 yearbook.

Pass the mic:

pawz

Notable alumni

Every Minor League broadcaster wants to eventually get to the big leagues. But Pawtucket is a good place to be in the interim, as the listening audience is far bigger than the average team’s.

053

McCoy Stadium also has what is considered to be the best press box spread in Minor League Baseball. Several people told me this, and despite the small sample size I would have to concur. If you work in the Minors, then you know how rare it is to get a healthy, balanced press box meal. What a perk.

I was in attendance during a Tuesday night in September, and just like in Lowell the night before I was told that I had picked one of the worst days of the season to visit. I seem to have a knack for doing such a thing.

But the show, it must go on. It always does and it always will. 028 The dugouts at McCoy are located at field level, directly under the seats (the seating bowl begins 10 feet above the field of play). This unorthodox layout has led to the tradition, seen in the photo below, of placing balls and other memorabilia into milk jugs and buckets for the players to sign. This is why the team store sells an “autograph fishing set.”

On a busy day, dozens of fishing apparatuses would be hanging from the railing as their owners waited for a bite from the players down below. But, again, this wasn’t a busy day. 029The fishing occurs at both dugouts. Note that here, on the visitor’s side, most of the hanging items are baseball card albums. 030Time to reel it in, folks, as the game was about to start. The PawSox, following established (but by no means mandatory) protocol, asked me to throw out a first pitch.

Me, thinking about throwing a perfect strike: pitch1Me, throwing a perfect first strike: pitch2Me, posing with a PawSox player after throwing out a perfect strike. pitch3The Paw Sox do it up right when it comes to first pitches, giving each first pitch thrower a commemorative cap and ball as well as a business card including a link to all of that evening’s pregame photos (which is where I got the three seen above).

After throwing out the first pitch, I was directed back into a corridor and, yes. That corridor was packed with memorabilia. 035Now is as good a time as any to “Paws” this McCoy Stadium saga. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion, which will appear as soon as humanly possible.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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