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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Boys of Summer, North of the Tower

When Cathy and I returned to Rhode Island eight years ago, among the items on our long list of things to do was take in the Pawtucket Red Sox at their beautifully restored digs at McCoy Stadium.

Time passed and between work demands and other distractions, we didn’t make it up to Pawtucket. After a short time, we adolpted the Rhode Island mind-set about distance – that anything more than 15 mines is “way far” and the South County reluctance to go “north of the Tower.” Besides, neither of us are baseball fanatics.

But last Saturday, we decided to take advantage of the respite from the rain, to make the one hour trek to McCoy Stadium to see the PawSox battle the Toledo Mud Hens (made famous by the Corporal Klinger character in MASH), not to mention fireworks at the end of the game.
Right behind the plate (note the protective webbing

We paid $11 a piece for the best seats in the house, almost directly behind home plate. Every seat in the stadium is a good seat – that’s the great thing about minor league ball, no nosebleed seats. 

Tickets are cheap! We could have paid $5 for general admission senior citizen tickets (kids are $5 too) or adult general admission for $7.

Parking is good and the stadium is intimate enough that everything a ball fan needs for a game (concessions for baseball food and beer, and restrooms) are close by. 

My main base of comparison is the New Orleans Zephyrs. When I worked on the Avondale Shipyard organizing campaign, we often took some of the shipyard workers on outings to catch a game. Nothing you’ve seen on television, except maybe Bull Durham, is like minor league ball. The community spirit is real. I was amazed at how family focused the whole scene is, even though the proceedings stretched into the night.

From the opening National Anthem by the children’s choir from Henry Barnard School, to the contests and games between innings, the mascots firing souvenir baseballs into the crowd, it was a far cry from the McCoy Stadium I knew in the 1960s.

I grew up in a three-decker in Pawtucket and McCoy was a very different place. Any event there was an adventure. You usually came with something tucked away – chains, a knife, a hammer – because the odds of having to fight your way out were pretty high. But now what they’re doing at McCoy makes me proud of Pawtucket.

I find baseball on TV to be very boring. Cathy remarked that the scene in McCoy was so lively – there was so much going on all around us – that she found it hard to focus on the game. That was true for me for most of the game mainly because the PawSox were getting ass-whupped by the Mudhens who jumped out to an early lead 4-0 lead.

The PawSox were not only awful hitting, but also did some pretty bad fielding. There was a high pop foul right next to home plate, easily catchable. Half the PawSox team gathered in a circle watching the ball float down. Nobody called it and the ball plopped to the ground untouched in the middle of the circle. Later in the game, one of the PawSox relievers threw a wild pitch into the dirt at the plate and the Mudhen runner dashed for second base. Should have been an easy out, but the catcher beaned the pitcher as he tried for second base.

In their defense, minor league clubs improve later in their seasons when they have marquee players and superstars on the roster as they are coming off of injured reserve. Red Sox stars play a few games in Pawtucket to get ready to return to Boston. So no Mike Lowell or Dustin Pedroia or Jason Ellsbury to spice up the team.

But just when you were wishing you had brought a good book, in the eighth inning, the PawSox put on a lively rally. They battered the Toledo pitchers and drove in three runs to end the 8th, just behind 3-4, setting the stage for the big comeback in their final at-bats.

Didn’t happen. But it certainly gave you what you always hope for in baseball, the genuine hope that it might.

Game over, but very few people left. Instead, many of the families with kids took the club up on the invitation to come down onto the field to get a better view of the fireworks display. Hundreds of little kids with their moms and dads and grandmas and aunts and uncles trooped onto the field. After some suspense, the fireworks started and it was a really great show – no skimping. And from our $11 seats in the stadium, it felt like the show was meant just for us.

I wish we had gone sooner and took the way far trip up to see our own pro baseball team. When you’ve got family or friends visiting this summer from out of state and they get sick of the beach, give the PawSox a shot at one of their frequent home games. There’s another game against Toledo this afternoon as well as Monday and Tuesday – 17 homes games in May alone. Enjoy!

Author: Will Collette