By the time this has posted, the WooSox, as the former PawSox Triple-A Boston Red Sox franchise is called, will have played their home opener at the new Polar Park, in Worcester, Mass. Rhode Island baseball fans are of two minds about the team’s absquatulation from Pawtucket: 1) they hate it, or 2) they really hate it. Most non-fans don’t much care. I had some pleasant outings at McCoy after I learned how to find it. Still, in this whole sad train of events, it was the lost opportunity for Providence that irks me the most.
(Absquatulation is a comical Latinate synonym for departure, with a hint of leaving with its tail between its legs.)
To recapitulate events that might have fled the memory of some readers, longtime team owner Ben Mondor died in 2010. His widow sold the team in 2015. Its new owners soon announced the team would move into a retro stadium to be built on the new Providence waterfront. Alas, the deal fell through. The new owners, disinclined to remain in Pawtucket, then played “let’s make a deal” with several Massachusetts cities. To counter this auction tactic, Pawtucket proposed, along with the state of Rhode Island, a new riverfront stadium next to its downtown. In 2017, the General Assembly approved a deal that shifted more of the financial burden from the state to the team. The team rejected that deal. At last, in 2018, Worcester pitched the best woo, with an assist from Massachusetts. Polar Park was built and the WooSox held their home opener today against the Syracuse Mets. (The WooSox won 8-5 in a game with six home runs.)
Rhode Island will survive the loss of professional baseball. Pawtucket is the big loser, but Providence could have won big-time if the stadium had been built on the vacated Route 195 land where the west end of its new pedestrian bridge terminates in one of the many public parks along the city’s new riverfront.
It seems to me that the long knives were unsheathed for this proposal from the start. The owners’ initial proposal was treated not as an opening gambit to be negotiated toward parity but as a non-negotiable deal killer by owners intending, for some obscure reason, to fail. When the proposal was twisted by the media as wealthy team owners eager to turn a public park into private profit, the city and Brown University withdrew their support, never mind that the waterfront was festooned with parks. This led to the swift demise of what could have been a bonanza for the city, the state, their citizens and, of course, the team.
My own personal stake in this deal was the hope that the classic beauty of an old-fashioned ballfield might cause the recently created innovation district to shift its architectural strategy from one of stark, raving modernism to a more people-friendly set of traditional styles – similar to the classical trend in Capital Center that was aborted by the GTECH building in the mid-1990s. That was my excuse for supporting the sin of a publicly funded sports venue. Whether it would have worked I have no idea; as things stand now, it didn’t take long for modernism to stifle all hope of a humanistic innovation district on the edge of downtown.
Polar Park, named for a soft-drink manufacturer in Worcester, is a great title for the new stadium, but not because the naming rights belong to Polar Beverages Inc. Yes, Worcester is cold in winter, but baseball is a summer game. No, Polar Park is apropos because it evokes the ballpark’s ice-cold architecture. Look at it. Warm it ain’t. A chill for WooSox fans is, however, cold comfort for baseball fans in Rhode Island, 49 miles’ drive from McCoy in the Bucket.
Brrr! … But wait! Below is an early rendering of the ballpark in Worcester back in 2019, cozy and traditional. That’s not what they built. What happened? Maybe it was the old bait-and-switch. Maybe the cozy traditional stadium proposed at first for downtown Providence would have been the same bait-and-switch. If so, this will be the last word on the subject from a rube who swallowed it hook, line and sinker.
Read William Morgan’s assessment of Worcester’s new WooSox stadium at GoLocalProv.com. It’s excellent, except for when he seems to be sorry the team did not build an even more exacrable stadium.