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Worcester deserves a shot

After a long spell without affiliated baseball, Worcester finally gets the Red Sox Triple-A affiliate.

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images

My condolences to Rhode Island residents who are sad about losing the Pawtucket Red Sox. As someone who grew up in Worcester I am no stranger to the feeling of losing a team you care about. Worcester has lost a few AHL franchises, the Ice Cats and the Sharks, but neither team had the tenure and the history that the Paw Sox have had being in Pawtucket since 1973. While it is a major loss for the state of RI, it’s a major gain for central Massachusetts who emphatically deserves a team of this caliber.

To understand why the Paw Sox are leaving RI you need to look at a few things: aging facilities, declining attendance, and a unique opportunity in Worcester. Looking first at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, the facility was built way back in 1942. The stadium has done its job over the years updating as best it can to fit with modern baseball, but the 10,031-seat venue lacks the modernity needed to flourish. Among the many issues with the venue as cited by Alex Speier are hot water problems, poor lighting, leaks, small weight training facilities, no replica of the Green Monster, and a limited video area. Taken together these issues can inhibit the development of minor leaguers instead of giving them every advantage.

Paw Sox Attendance

Average Attendance Pawtucket Red Sox
Average Attendance Pawtucket Red Sox
2010 8343
2011 8270
2012 7551
2013 7827
2014 7367
2015 6572
2016 6076
2017 6406
2018 5753

As the chart above shows, average attendance at Paw Sox games has been on the decline steadily dating back to 2010, dropping by 2,590 fans from 2010 to 2018. The current figure of 5,753 fans on average this year ranks in the bottom third of International League attendance figures. In 2010, they ranked in the top third. The city has been trying to work with the state government for some time to secure funding and a site for a new stadium. They have been unsuccessful at both. It is just conjecture, but it wouldn’t be hard to imagine that all the uncertainty around the team’s future has hurt fan interest. The team made the playoffs in four of those seasons, even winning the Governor’s Cup (the International League Championship) in 2012 and 2014.

The opportunity that Worcester presented Larry Lucchino with was simply too much to pass up. By population the city is the second largest in New England with 184,509 residents, and the average age of a Worcester resident is 34 years old. The city also has a robust immigrant population from Ghana, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, Albania, and Puerto Rico and is constantly growing. Worcester also agreed to borrow $100 million to fund the construction of the $90 million stadium on a six acre lot in the Canal District. The project will be part of a larger $240 million initiative to build hotels, residential housing, and restaurants. Maybe most important to Worcester residents is that the project will also solve the seven-way intersection from hell that is Kelly Square.

Worcester is no stranger to professional sports teams, but it hasn’t always been given a fair shake. The city has a rich history in the game of baseball with the first perfect game pitched there in 1880, Babe Ruth drinking at the Hotel Vernon during prohibition, Ted Williams hitting his first home run at Fitton Field, and much more. Most recently, though, the AHL teams mentioned above have been well supported by the city, but were ultimately lost due to distance from their parent teams.

The Ice Cats became a franchise in 1994 when I was just seven years old and stayed until I graduated high school in 2005. I can’t even count how many of these games I attended. As a kid who grew up playing hockey it was amazing to have a local team to root for and practically everyone you knew said that they knew who Scratch actually was. The team was well supported reaching a pinnacle of around 6,800 average attendance during the 1996 season which was good enough for top four in the AHL. The only problem was that the team was affiliated with the far away St. Louis Blues. Lack of local affiliations and turning away fans on opening night killed support for Sharks as well as the fact that their parent club, the San Jose Sharks, was even further away.

Currently the city has an ECHL team known as the Worcester Railers who are drawing fans at the same level as the Sharks were despite being a lower level of hockey. On top of that the city is host to a Women’s professional hockey team, the Worcester Blades and an arena league football team, the Worcester Pirates. The city is ready for something big time and more permanent which makes the idea of the Worcester Red Sox so appealing. With the amount of money the city is investing in the new state of the art stadium it really feels like the Worcester Red Sox will be here for good.

The plan for the new stadium is to have a state of the art facility designed by Janet Marie Smith who oversaw the construction of Camden Yards and the revitalization of Fenway Park. Needless to say her track record is pretty spectacular and the new renderings of the park look beautiful. The park will be called “Polar Park” after the Worcester based Polar Beverages Co. located near Holy Cross College. The city will own the park and they estimate revenues around $1 million just on rent from the team. The city is already experiencing a bit of a renaissance right now and this project should only add to that success.

As we mourn the loss of the Paw Sox for the city of Pawtucket we need to also celebrate the rise of the Worcester Red Sox. A lot of details need ironing out before the team will play its first game in 2021, including the name of the team. Many have been referring to the club as the Woo Sox which may or may not stick. (Note from Matt: This name sucks and anyone who advocates for it even as a nickname should feel bad about themselves thank you for your time.) Some other suggestions have popped up based on items from Worcester’s history including the Worcester Rockets, Candlepins, Spies, Whirlwinds, and Gladiators. A name I thought of is the Worcester Perfectos in honor of that first perfect game. Rhode Island still has one major professional sports team with a great local affiliate—the Providence Bruins. The team is well supported and is there to stay. It’s safe to say that Worcester residents will always be jealous of the P-Bruins and their long history, but will take deep pride in the new Worcester Red Sox.