By Paul V. Palange
I’m sorry, but I have to vent. I’m still angry and bitter, even sad, about our Pawtucket Red Sox’s imminent move to Worcester, Mass.
I really thought I was over it until I took the family to a recent game and observed a near-empty McCoy Stadium from the time we arrived for an on-field ceremony to the time we headed back home in the top of the sixth inning.
The kicker is that it was a beautiful evening for a baseball game. The sun was shining, and it wasn’t too hot or too cold. It was one of those perfect New England spring nights, and there was virtually no one in the stands.
Seeing that made all those feelings I had when PawSox ownership announced the organization would be moving to Worcester resurface. The emotions include anger toward the leadership of the Rhode Island General Assembly for deep sixing a plan that would have paved the way for the construction of a new baseball stadium in Pawtucket to keep the team there. Such a project would have been good for the City of Pawtucket and the State of Rhode Island.
The so-called Stadium at Slater Mill would have helped revitalize downtown Pawtucket. There’s little doubt it would have provided the spark necessary to fuel the economic evolution of an area that’s been a dead zone for too many years. Full-time and part-time jobs would have been created – both during and after construction – and municipal and state coffers would have benefited.
I could be angry at PawSox Chairman Larry Lucchino and the owners of the PawSox for abandoning the city and state, but I don’t think that would be fair. Lucchino and company were looking to utilize a private-public partnership to finance the project and were willing to step up to the plate with $45 million. I haven’t heard of any other business entities willing to make that sort of investment in downtown Pawtucket or any other section of one of the state’s largest and struggling cities.
In addition, having a new stadium visible off Route 95 at a gateway between the Bay State and Ocean State would have been a beautiful thing. It would have been a source of pride and a new landmark that probably would have wooed some spectators to the ballpark and visitors to Rhode Island.
Leaders such as Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello and Gov. Gina Raimondo insist that despite the loss of the PawSox, state officials have not abandoned Pawtucket. It felt that way, however, when it was announced the PawSox would be moving to Massachusetts, and it felt that way when I looked up at the stands the other day.
Since the collapse of the stadium deal, there has been no announcement from the state that there’s another project in the works to revitalize the center of Pawtucket. It appears all of the work to reach that goal is being done on the local level. That’s great and admirable. State officials, however, should be toiling just as hard or should be putting in more of an effort to compensate for blowing a save opportunity.
The previous mentioned pregame activity involved several of the PawSox’s community partners. Among those was the Boys and Girls Club of Pawtucket. Many of the club’s members had a chance to walk onto a Major Baseball League diamond and then enjoy a Major Baseball League game. Will those Boys and Girls Club members or future members have that opportunity after the 2020 season, which will be the last one at McCoy for the PawSox? Will the Pawtucket Corps of the Salvation Army, another community partner, receive the same type of support once the team moves to Worcester?
Furthermore, what about us seniors throughout Rhode Island? A convenient, affordable and, for some of us, beloved entertainment opportunity is being snatched from our midst. It was so enjoyable to go to McCoy to see a game and have a beer and a hot dog without spending a small fortune. A new stadium probably would have made that experience much more pleasant and fun.
According to the owners, the planned venue also would have been a place where we could have hung out on the team’s off days and during the off season. They wanted to make it a park-like facility, where people could have walked around or ate lunch, and they wanted to hold other events and activities there, including concerts.
My gut tells me the PawSox ownership had a solid proposal that was a win for the team and a win for Rhode Island. The deal was not a 38 Studios debacle in the making. It was a chance for Pawtucket to see new life, and it was a chance for the 50-year marriage between Triple A baseball and the Ocean State to continue.
Would a new house have made the relationship stronger and sweeter?
Now we will never know.