McCoy Stadium – Pawtucket Red Sox
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Last Call at McCoy Stadium?
The year 2015 was a difficult one for fans of the Pawtucket Red Sox and their longtime home, McCoy Stadium.
In February, the team was sold by the family of long-time owner Ben Mondor to a group of local businessmen, headed by James Skeffington. Mondor had rescued the team from bankruptcy in 1977 and proceeded to build the Pawsox into a Rhode Island institution, taking the team from irrelevant to one of the model franchises in all of minor league baseball. Mondor stressed a family friendly atmosphere and affordability as the cornerstones of his operations.
Almost immediately, the new ownership group announced their intention to move the team out of its long-time home in Pawtucket to a new ballpark located in nearby downtown Providence along the Providence River. This proposal, which called for $120 million in public funding, met with immediate and unanimous disapproval from both local civic leaders and citizens.
In May, Skeffington unexpectedly passed away, creating a leadership vacuum within the new ownership group. Larry Lucchino, well known to local baseball fans as the president of the Boston Red Sox under owner John Henry, stepped into the void.
After months of negotiations with the State of Rhode Island, the City of Providence and proposed site landowners Brown University, along with a largely unsuccessful series of public forums which attempted to sway public opinion in favor of the project, the team announced in September that it would no longer be pursuing the downtown stadium.
The team is contractually bound to McCoy Stadium until 2021, but they have publicly stated that they intend to continue searching for alternative stadium sites in and around Rhode Island. Ownership has claimed that the cost to renovate McCoy Stadium, which turns 75 years old in 2017, will be upwards of $65 million.
Food & Beverage 3
The Pawsox have taken strides in recent seasons to expand the food options at McCoy Stadium, but the menu here remains average at best.
The majority of the concessions at McCoy Stadium are sold at two very large stands located behind home plate. All your basic ballpark fare can be found here, including hot dogs, burgers, sausage sandwiches, French fries, nachos and chicken fingers. Assorted snacks including popcorn, fried dough, pretzels and cotton candy are available for purchase. Fans seeking out healthier alternatives can choose from turkey burgers, garden salads, hummus with chips, wraps and veggie trays. Be warned to time your trip to these large stands carefully, as long lines form, particularly when a big crowd is present.
Several smaller stands line the concourse and fill out the offerings with items such as Papa Gino’s pizza and Hershey’s ice cream. In addition, there are two stands at the top of the seating bowls which offer a scaled-down menu for those not wishing to head down to the main concourse.
My recommendation is to head out to the food court located behind section 13. Located here is a grill which offers a similar menu to the main stands (hot dogs, burgers, sausage, grilled chicken), but cooked on an open fire, with larger portions and shorter lines. Also located here are several portable carts offering items such as kosher hot dogs, mini melts ice cream, churros and frozen lemonade. Several picnic tables are available in this area, but unfortunately they do not offer a view of the game.
Thirsty baseball fans will be pleased to find several stands dedicated solely for the sale of adult beverages. McCoy Stadium features an impressive variety of beer and wine at reasonable prices for this level of baseball. Pepsi products are featured at McCoy Stadium, and the Pawsox offer one of the nicer souvenir cups you will find anywhere.
In an effort to draw fans back to McCoy Stadium, Pawsox management has beefed up both the daily promotional schedule as well as the amount of in-game promotions. The results have been mixed at best, as long-time fans have been resistant to the changes, while younger fans appear to enjoy the enriched schedule.
One of the hallmarks of the Mondor regime was the lack of any extraneous activity during the game, as they preferred an old-school approach, with the game on the field serving as the primary focus. Now, every inning break features some sort of activity designed to keep the younger fans in attendance involved. From classic promotions such as Pawsox trivia and 50/50 raffles to newer features such as “Hurl the Pearl” and the video bus race, McCoy Stadium now resembles most minor league ballparks more than it ever has. Young fans are now included in the festivities more than ever, as local little leaguers take the field with the team, and young fans parade across the field with the mascots while wearing bear masks and paws.
A recent addition to the gameday experience at McCoy Stadium is “Mondor Way,” an area of the parking lot which opens up two hours before the first pitch. Various family friendly activities such as face painting, caricatures, photo opportunities with mascots Paws and Sox, and the chance to watch batting practice from field level are available.
McCoy Stadium is located in the hardscrabble city of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, located 6 miles from downtown Providence. Pawtucket is best known as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. Slater Mill, the first fully mechanized mill in the United States, is located a couple of miles away in downtown Pawtucket.
McCoy Stadium is located in an area that straddles an industrial park and a residential area. Fans looking for things to do in the immediate vicinity of McCoy will be disappointed. There is a small diner, a pub, a convenience store, and a Chinese restaurant next to the ballpark, but little else. Fans looking for a pre or postgame meal can drive to nearby Newport Ave., where there are several dining options. Likewise, options for lodging for out of town fans are particularly slim.
Out of town baseball fans should head to nearby Providence for their sightseeing and dining needs. Providence consistently ranks as one of the top dining cities in the country, and there is no shortage of excellent options here for eating and lodging.
Fans of the Pawsox, once known as one of the most dedicated and knowledgeable in all of the minor leagues, have shown their displeasure with ownership’s desire to move the team by staying away from McCoy Stadium in droves. Through the first third of the 2016 season the team is averaging just over 4,200 fans, good for only 12th in the International League.
While attendance at McCoy Stadium traditionally builds over the course of the season, attendance figures this low haven’t been seen since the early days of the Mondor regime. Average attendance has been in a steady decline for a decade since the team averaged over 9,000 fans per game in 2008.
Given Pawtucket’s proximity to the parent Boston Red Sox, it is easy to understand how passionate and knowledgeable these fans are. The slump in attendance is a recent phenomenon, as the Pawsox were traditionally an annual presence atop any attendance rankings. In fact, back in the 2000s ESPN would often compare Pawtucket’s attendance to the Montreal Expos before that franchise moved to Washington. More often than not, the Pawsox would come out on top in that comparison.
The city of Pawtucket is located on the Rhode Island/Massachusetts, state line, six miles from Providence and 45 miles south of Boston via Interstate 95. McCoy Stadium is located about a mile or two from I-95 depending on from which direction you are travelling. If coming from the south, take the School Street exit (exit 27) and follow the signs to the stadium. If travelling from the north, take exit 2A (Newport Ave) and follow the signs. Be warned that if driving around rush hour, traffic in and around Pawtucket can be hairy, particularly around the infamous S-curves.
The most efficient way to travel to McCoy Stadium is by car, but for those fans using public transportation, RIPTA offers bus service to the stadium. Route 79 has a stop right at McCoy Stadium. If taking the bus from Providence, take the Route 51 bus from Kennedy Plaza to Main and Roosevelt, where you can pick up Route 79. The closest Amtrak train station is located in Providence, about a 10 minute drive away, while the MBTA train from Boston has a stop in nearby South Attleboro.
Fans requiring handicapped access will be pleased to find several seating areas for their use. Bathrooms at McCoy Stadium are plentiful, but lines do form at certain times. Be sure to time your trip to the concession stands wisely, as long lines are the norm here as well. The wide concourse under the seating bowl is generally easy to navigate.
Return on Investment 5
The Pawsox have always prided themselves on providing an affordable entertainment option for families. Despite several modest ticket price increases over the past few years, tickets are still very affordable, especially for this level of minor league baseball.
Tickets cost $13 for reserved seating (all green and red seats) and $9 for general admission (all blue seats). Children and seniors can purchase seats for a mere $6. Parking is available at no charge in the lot adjacent to the ballpark. This lot fills up fast, so get to the ballpark early. If you get shut out of the main lot, there are several surface lots near McCoy that charge $5 to park. On street parking is also available for fans willing to search for it.
With reasonable food prices, the Pawsox have certainly achieved their goal of making a night at McCoy Stadium an affordable alternative for Rhode Island families.
Fishing for autographs-McCoy Stadium’s physical setup is such that the first rows of stands are about eight feet above the playing field. The dugouts are located underneath the stands, and fans looking to get autographs from their favorite players have to “fish” for their autographs. Kids will dangle their items for signing on strings inside pails, milk cartons, or binders in hopes that a player will “bite” and sign their treasures. Resourceful autograph seekers will try to entice players with candy or gum left in their buckets.
The longest game-In 1981 McCoy Stadium played host to the longest game ever in professional baseball, lasting 33 innings between Pawtucket and Rochester. There is a display on the concourse commemorating this game, with artifacts, photos, and even the home plate from the game present for viewing.
Pawsox murals-With their affiliation with the Boston Red Sox dating back to 1973, the Pawsox have seen more than their share of players move up to the major leagues. Several alumni have been immortalized in murals that line the old entrance ramps to the stadium.
Ben’s treasures-if you ever have the chance, take a tour underneath the stadium, where memorabilia from longtime owner Ben Mondor’s personal collection are displayed along the walls leading to the luxury boxes.
While the team is contractually bound to remain at McCoy Stadium until 2021, the chances of the Pawsox remaining there beyond then are admittedly slim. The team has stated that they wish to remain in Rhode Island, and all indications are that the team would prefer to move to the larger city of Providence. As negotiations progress, expect many New England cities to take their shot at luring the top farm club of the local Boston Red Sox. Fans wishing to visit this most unique ballpark should take a trip to the Ocean State soon, before it’s too late.
Follow all of Paul Baker’s stadium journeys on Twitter @PuckmanRI.