A Thursday Afternoon Tour of Worcester Baseball History At Polar Park
Imagine for a moment…you and your family have a very special, favorite restaurant here in Rhode Island. This restaurant is your go to destination for birthday parties, graduation dinners, special occasions growing up and growing old from a child of say 6 to now an adult in your late 40s, 50s, or 60s. You went there as a kid and now you are taking your kids there, and you can’t wait to tell the owner and the waiter and the busboy that fact every time you walk in the place. You and your family always have a great meal and an even better experience because of the restaurant’s ambiance. The photos on the walls, in the waiting area as you come into the building may have a deeper more personal connection to you because you and your family are Italian, Irish, Portuguese, or Cape Verdean descent. This restaurant has been serving Rhode Island families and their communities for 50 years and has won awards, citations, sponsored youth sports, and seemingly has done everything to win your business over your lifetime.
Now let’s imagine for a moment…The owners of this restaurant, the original owners, decide to sell the restaurant and move to Fort Myers, Florida to spend their last decade or two basking in the Gulf Coast sun and pointing their toes into the sandy beaches. New ownership takes over the restaurant, a younger group from out of Virginia, who has plans to modernize the look and feel of your go to restaurant. They add a new seating area and more parking spaces in front of the restaurant and a grassy area in the back of the restaurant for families with small kids who can’t sit still for 5 seconds. They add new restaurant amenities like big screen TVs and an expanded lunch menu and Wi-Fi connectivity. And in the process keep a lot of the same features – the personalized photos of famous restaurant guests, the citations, the great meals, the youth sports team sponsorships and photos, most if not all of the staff and their amazing customer service. However, they also start to run into the pitfalls of a business that is over 50 years in the same location – new building codes that have to be met, an icy draft or two that none of the staff can accurately identify where it is coming from, a sprinkler system that recently flooded the bar area, an aging central AC unit that is on its last legs. And the pressure from some in the ownership group to move to another location, as far as an hour away, with the prospect of building a beautiful, brand new, modern structure and still keeping the old style restaurant feel as much as humanly possible.
You went to this same restaurant for your 1st grade report dinner, for your high school graduation dinner and announcement of your marriage proposal and organized your parent’s 50th birthday and your child’s 10th birthday there. You went and had an experience with the first ownership group and the second. You loved the new amenities and missed some of the old staples. This restaurant was always a bit of a drive to get to but it was worth every penny, every mile once you got there. And then, the new ownership group did the unthinkable – it went through with plans to move the restaurant out of Rhode Island. Many, many loyal Rhode Island patrons protested and steamed up social media and were up in arms about how, why, what, when, and how can you do this? How can they move my favorite, our favorite restaurant out of Rhode Island – it was a Rhode Island tradition for 50 years??? How could they do this? And wherever it goes, I am not eating there!!! I’m done with that restaurant, good-bye, thanks for the memories.
How many of you can insert the Pawtucket Red Sox in place of this imaginary restaurant. For one, I can. I grew up a Red Sox fan, which included the players on the Pawtucket Red Sox. They played at McCoy Stadium for my entire lifetime!!! I’m 50 years old now and up until recently, they only played at McCoy Stadium. Almost 50 years of going to the games beginning at age 6 year old at Wickford Elementary School trips – they handed us all a general admission ticket every Spring. Into my teens as an aspiring professional baseball player, I would go watch batting practice and infield practice and bullpen sessions, then stay and watch and score the entire game. When I came back home from wherever I was in the world, in the summers, my friends and I would go to McCoy and see a game. When I became a parent and my sister and best friends became parents, we would take our kids and sit in the grassy area in left field and have a semi-reunion. When my kids were little, the admission cost for a Paw Sox game on a random Summer night was $18 for 3 kids and one adult (who felt like a kid at McCoy). It was a destination we all looked forward to and rarely, I mean rarely, did we have a less than 99% positive fan experience at McCoy Stadium for a Paw Sox game.
When the new ownership took over the Pawtucket Red Sox, the idea of a new, modern stadium began to swirl in the local papers and online. There were no definite public plans announced but the speculation of moving out of McCoy Stadium started off like a tiny stream at low tide and soon became a giant “Hang-10” raging wave during the 3 or 4 years after they took over. Where are they moving to? The old DMV, the Apex building, Quonset, Providence, Newport, Johnston? Many, many had a theory but fewer had the thought that the Pawtucket Red Sox would actually move out of the state of Rhode Island. That would mean they weren’t going to be the Pawtucket Red Sox anymore, and then emotions in Rhode Island got really, really sensitive. Myself included!!!
The last year at McCoy Stadium, as some of the Pawtucket Red Sox staff could explain much better than I, was to be a farewell tour of Rhode Island baseball history in Pawtucket. 50 years of history to be exact. That year, the Pawtucket Red Sox, like so many other youth sports, restaurants, businesses, and organizations had limited and/or no access to the public due to Covid-19 Federal restrictions. No fans in the stands one more time, no chance to say good-bye to a familiar place, no nostalgic walk around the park one more time – McCoy Stadium shut its doors in 2020 after a season of Dining in the Park, Taxi Squad batting practices, and one more youth clinic (which I was honored to help set up with some local youth leagues.) The team, the staff, the ownership group closed a historic chapter in Red Sox history and in 2021, would touch down in a new ball park, with a new mascot, with a new name – Polar Park, The Woo Sox, and now officially known as the Worcester Red Sox.
So how many of you Rhode Islanders would take the longer drive to the newer, imaginary restaurant from earlier in the blog? Would you take your kids or your grandkids an extra 20 minutes to get that special Shepard’s Pie or Chicken Alfredo or Thai Swordfish you grew up enjoying 1000%? To show your kids, your Mom, your co-worker the photos of Ireland or Cape Verde that show a village your grandparents grew up in? Would you take your girlfriend or wife or spouse on a special occasion there even though you pass other, very much comparable restaurants here in Rhode Island on your way out of state? Would you take another stance and say “Nope, I am staying in Rhode Island and supporting Rhode Island business, they need the support and I am loyal to RI.” Would you go so far as to remove the restaurants name from your vocabulary and only utter it when asked where you would DEFINITELY NOT GO!!! Without a doubt, many Rhode Islanders were hurt by the Pawtucket Red Sox moving. Many Rhode Islanders read the papers and the social media posts and the theories and many even drew their own conclusions on the political and economic aspects of the situation. Many Rhode Islanders didn’t want the Paw Sox to go, many were confused, many were pissed off, many are still pissed off. Honestly, I would put myself in the didn’t want them to go hurt, confused, and pissed off category. Until yesterday…
Whew!!!! I hope I still have your attention because based on the title, you were probably thinking this was going to be one of my typical go to a baseball game, take pictures, have a day Noel articles. But I was really hurt and pissed off for awhile about the team I grew up rooting for leaving my wonderful state of Rhode Island. And I needed to set the scene for what happened yesterday and how I got there and the wonderful reunion and incredible history Worcester Baseball history lesson and an amazing baseball experience. And to vent! And now that is over, let’s get to some photos and my tour of Polar Park located in the “Heart of the Commonwealth”, Worcester, Massachusetts.
The Worcester Red Sox play their home games at Polar Park, which is located in the Canal District of Worcester, MA. From my home in North Kingstown, it is approximately 57 miles door to gate to Polar Park. Yesterday, there was zero traffic when I went early afternoon. That’s not saying it will always be like that, but I got incredibly lucky to drive about 1 hour or so with few stops on the highway. There is signage for Polar Park on Route 146 as you get closer to Worcester and I decided to bypass my GPS and just follow the signs. After a right on Green St., Rachel and I parked and paid the hourly meter and headed up a steep incline to the stadium area. There is designated game day or night parking around the stadium’s street perimeter by the way, but since we were there way earlier than game time, this street parking was perfect. I texted an old friend from the Pawtucket Red Sox front office, Joe Bradlee, that I was in the area and he got back to me in short order. Rachel and I had booked a tour of the Park and I told Joe we could connect, time permitting, after the tour. After a few photos of the outside of the building, we met our amazing tour guide Kevin, a former Worcester Firefighter and proud Worcester Red Sox staff member.
Kevin started us in the lobby, showcasing the 10,000 greeting cards heart display which perhaps helped jump start the Worcester Red Sox project. If you don’t know the story, Kevin explained that a Worcester business man got 10,000 greeting cards printed and then signed by 10,000 Worcester businesses and residents, then mailed them to the then Pawtucket Red Sox front office. It was a sign, as Kevin stated, that Worcester wanted to welcome the ownership group should they consider them to be a future home. 10,000 people, according to Kevin, is roughly the seating capacity of a minor league stadium. Sort of Worcester’s way of saying “If you move and build it, we will come and watch the Sox.” I’m not sure if Kevin signed one of those greeting cards sent to the Pawtucket Red Sox, but his heart was in it for sure.
As we walked through the lobby and up the stairs, Rachel and I began telling Kevin about my baseball life and this Rhode Island Baseball Experience project and how it tied in with the Pawtucket Red Sox. I wanted him to know how important the Pawtucket Red Sox were to me and my family and he listened and listened some more and not once did he interrupt me or attempt to sway me one way or another. And as I walked up the stairs and onto the second level of the stadium, I felt the same feeling from the design and photos of Polar Park. There were tons of Pawtucket Red Sox photos and memorabilia honoring the Paw Sox years. They were there for 50 years, that is a lot of history. And it doesn’t have to be wiped out or erased just because the team moved. Mookie Betts is still in a team photo, so is Jim Rice and Dwight Evans and Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens. Polar Park did a masterful job of honoring the wonder Pawtucket baseball history of the AAA affiliate for the Boston Red Sox for 50 years and its stadium.
Kevin was great. His knowledge of baseball, Worcester baseball, Worcester businesses, Worcester restaurants, what was once there, what is going there, the whos of Worcester that everyone knows, and the whos of Worcester you might not have known about. As a former firefighter, Kevin was astute in pointing out exits and ambulance routes and safety stations and stadium policies and spoke in a Worcester accent that added even more authenticity to the tour. He showed us the suites, the right field bleachers, the Craft Corner, the hallways outside the player’s locker rooms, restaurants and event rooms, the photos honoring baseball’s greats like Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente and Hank Aaron, the picnic areas, the David Ortiz seats (34 of them in Center Field), the Taj Mahal aka media room, the press box, the raised garden beds of herbs and vegetables in WooSox Farms, just about every square inch of the park that we could walk to, we went. Kevin and I traded baseball stories and trivia and it was an amazing hour or so with an amazing person. He represents the city of Worcester and the Worcester Red Sox very, very well.
As our time was running out, Kevin took us up to the front office suites and I got to catch up with Joe Bradlee. Joe, along with Alex Richardson, was such a great advocate for community involvement in Rhode Island. Their work brought many, many smiles to many, many baseball families who enjoyed their youth clinics, days at the park, and the Paw Sox experience. And their same commitment to youth sports and excellent family entertainment continues in their roles with the Worcester Red Sox. Joe was really excited to welcome fans for Rhode Island Heritage Day in July and to welcome teams from the Challenger Division to Polar Park in the days to follow. It was great to see Joe and hear about all the great work he is still doing in the communities in Rhode Island, as well as in the Worcester area.
Rachel and I had not planned on going to the game vs Buffalo, so after the tour, we said a fond farewell to Kevin and Joe and Polar Park. Walking back to the car, I told Rachel that I was really happy I took the tour as my first trip to Polar Park. To see the photos and history that honored the Pawtucket years was overwhelming. And like Kevin stated with his Worcester accent, the walls of Polar Park will soon be adorned with Worcester Red Sox history, team photos, league champions trophies, and local charity awards and citations. But you have to honor the past and how we got here, was his closing statement on that topic. So, that is what I did. I honored the past, the wonderful Pawtucket Red Sox past of my youth and adult life, and started a new chapter in my baseball book of memories with a fantastic tour of the new AAA affiliate for the Boston Red Sox, the Worcester Red Sox.
And for those of you who love Rhode Island baseball – Summer collegiate leagues, showcase tournaments, Little League District All Stars, Pawtucket Slaterettes, etc.- and have felt the same emotions I did, and said I have enough baseball here in Rhode Island to satisfy my baseball needs, I can totally commiserate with you and your opinions and your hurt and/or pissed off feelings. The Paw Sox will always be a special part of my baseball life, my personal life. However, I have to say…I am beyond ecstatic to have taken the drive (albeit 20 -30 minutes farther than McCoy) to Worcester to Polar Park, to have met Kevin and taken the stadium tour, to have re-connected with Joe Bradlee, and to see and experience a beautiful baseball stadium. Don’t punch the messenger – if you go to Polar Park, please take the tour, maybe stay for the game, I know it will feel strange at first for some of you but in the end, it will be a positive baseball experience for even the most hurt, pissed off Rhode Island baseball fan.
Love you Paw Sox forever! And nice to meet you Woo Sox and continued success this year and for years to follow!!!
For more information on the Worcester Red Sox, head over to Woo Sox Baseball.
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The RIBBE is The Rhode Island Baseball Experience. It is promoting the game of baseball here in the great state of Rhode Island for the entire baseball world to see. The RIBBE is positive stories, photos, videos, and responsible social media posts. The RIBBE is an information resource for families looking for an AAU team or a summer camp or a great place to buy a first baseman’s mitt. The RIBBE is a network of coaches, tournament directors, parents, leagues, and baseball junkies whose passion of the game of baseball is unquestioned. I believe that providing expert analysis, information and directions to ballfields, and coaching advice from some of the top RI baseball minds will help promote the game of baseball here in RI to a whole new level.
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