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By Paul V. Palange
One of the enjoyable aspects of journalism is that it’s a people business. You meet so many interesting, unique, courageous and talented individuals, and you come to appreciate the privilege of being allowed into their lives for various reasons and periods of time, depending on the story you’re working on.
When you climb the proverbial career ladder, you continue to deal with numerous people, and you might have the good fortune of establishing a few relationships that transcend work without compromising anyone’s ethics or what it takes to get the job done. That’s happened to me, and luckily one of the people with whom I have formed a bond is Michael Tamburro, former president of the Pawtucket Red Sox and now a co-owner and vice chairman of the organization.
I needed to reveal that before encouraging people to attend Mike’s induction into the Pawtucket Red Sox Hall of Fame on May 26 at McCoy Stadium. Also entering the Hall then is former Boston Red star Fred Lynn, who played one full season in Pawtucket.
I plan to attend the ceremony with my wife, Andria, and our daughter, Olivia, because Mike and his wife, Anna, are in our family’s hall of fame. The Tamburros have embraced our daughter, Olivia, who is on the autism spectrum. They treat her with an incredible amount of affection and connect with her on a genuine and personal level that parents such as us wish was more common. In addition, Mike ensures her visits to McCoy are special. That’s indicative of the type of person he is.
The 66-year-old continues to be involved with a number of charities and sits on several charitable boards. He is on the board of the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen, the Bristol County Savings Bank Charitable Foundation and Meeting Street. He is also a trustee of the Pawtucket Boys & Girls Club. Mike created the Pawtucket Red Sox Charitable Foundation that supports numerous organizations throughout New England, and he is a past recipient of the Fall River Diocese’s Timothy Cotter Friend of Catholic Education Award.
“A genuine appreciation of our fans,” is what Mike says drives much of his community involvement. “An organization is not a successful organization until it helps its community to stand tall. It’s part of our DNA.” And the new ownership of the team, he added, is making the charitable foundation “bigger and better” to provide assistance to those who are less fortunate.
Mike came to Pawtucket in 1977, and teamed up with Ben Mondor, who bought the club out of bankruptcy, to engineer a remarkable turnaround. Under the leadership of Mondor, who passed away in 2010, and Tamburro, the Boston Red Sox’s Triple A affiliate became one of the most successful franchises in all of professional baseball. During the transformation, Mike served as general manager from 1977 to 1984, and as president from 1985 to 2015.
The toughest obstacle Tamburro and Mondor had to overcome was the commonly held belief that no minor league club could survive in the shadows of a major league franchise. “We felt just the opposite,” Mike said. “We felt we had the greatest coattails in the world to ride on.
“We said: ‘Don’t judge us on our wins and losses, on our record, but judge us on who we send up to the major league.’ That philosophy rang true with our fan base, and people started to come to see the next Red Sox star. … That is what has made PawSox baseball special, and that is what became the center of our marketing campaigns,” he said.
The event that pushed the team over top, Tamburro said, was the longest game in professional baseball in 1981, a 33-inning affair between the PawSox and Rochester Red Wings that was stopped after 32 innings and then completed on June 23, when Rochester returned to McCoy.
“The fact that an event of that significance occurred at the little ballpark in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, was the first major step of putting us on the map, of successful development,” Tamburro said.
After Tamburro joined Mondor, the PawSox went from drawing 70,000 fans in 1977 to 560,000 fans or more for 15 consecutive years between 1999 and 2013. The PawSox also had a stretch of six straight seasons with an attendance of 600,000-plus from 2004 to 2009, which marked an annual increase of nearly 10 times since that first year in 1977.
Tamburro, who was inducted into the International League Hall of Fame in 2012, is the only person to earn the International League’s Executive of the Year Award five times. He is a past member and former chairman of the board of trustees that is the governing body of minor league baseball, a founding board member of Baseball Internet Rights Corporation and a director of the International League. Mike also served as chairman of the Presidential Search Committee charged to find a new president of minor league baseball for 2008 and beyond.
Mike says his induction into the PawSox Hall of Fame “is an organizational award” that he wouldn’t have earned without the help of many people. “We had a great staff for a long time. I am proud of so many people that have gone on to do other great things both in and out of professional baseball. … And I’m glad to be involved with Larry Lucchino (chairman of the PawSox and a co-owner), Dr. Charles (Dr. Charles Steinberg, president of the PawSox), Dan Rea (general manager and executive vice president of the club) and a great young staff.”
Mike said he is not ready to retire, and that he will continue to battle for the construction of a new ballpark at the Apex site in downtown Pawtucket. “This is a wonderful opportunity for the state, for the ballclub and most importantly for the revitalization of a great, old city.
“With a little imagination and hard work, we can create something special out of the Apex site. … We need to believe in ourselves again as a state. We can’t be afraid to do great things,” he said.
May 26 is a great opportunity to show appreciation for someone that continues to labor to provide family entertainment at affordable prices. The induction ceremony will occur between games of a doubleheader with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs that starts at 4:05 p.m., and a patriotic fireworks display will be set off after the second game. In Triple A, doubleheaders consist of two seven-inning contests.
McCoy Stadium is located off Division Street in Pawtucket, and tickets can be purchased at the box off there or online at pawsox.com. And remember there is a senior discount.