By: Brendan McGair
WORCESTER, Mass. — The second-largest city in New England will soon be the home to the Red Sox's Triple-A affiliate.
Inside a crowded third-floor room inside Worcester city hall on Friday afternoon, the Pawtucket Red Sox signed a Letter of Intent to build a new ballpark in the city’s Canal District. The deal signals the end of Pawtucket’s long-running and highly successful relationship with professional baseball, which dates back to the 1970s and saw future stars like Wade Boggs, Dustin Pedroia and Mookie Betts pass through on their way to the major leagues.
The PawSox will still call McCoy Stadium home until the conclusion of the 2020 season, which is when the team’s lease with the ballpark will expire. Beginning in 2021, the team will be known as the Worcester Red Sox and will play their home games at a 10,000-seat stadium that PawSox chairman Larry Lucchino hopes will be named Polar Park.
“You go where you are wanted and the people of Massachusetts are happy that we are here,” Lucchino said before an overflow crowd featuring media outlets, PawSox club officials, Worcester and Massachusetts politicians, and interested spectators gathered inside the Levi Lincoln Chamber room at Worcester City Hall.
“Today is a historic day,” Worcester mayor Joseph M. Petty said.
“We’re ready to make history,” Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito said.
When Lucchino was done speaking, he smiled as he held a can of Polar Seltzer, a beverage whose company is based in Worcester. The scene of Lucchino publicly attaching himself to a nearby product was one of several reminders of just how different the support was between Rhode Island and Massachusetts officials.
The speeches delivered by Petty, Polito, Worcester city manager Edward Augustus, and Worcester city council member Candy Mero-Carlson were bound by a common thread. A collaborative effort helped lure the PawSox out of Rhode Island.
“It was a team effort all the way around,” Petty said.
“Today, the stars are aligned,” said Augustus, who persevered after approaching Lucchino last summer and being rebuffed about the prospect of taking the PawSox across state lines.
In Worcester, the ballpark project will be accompanied by the development of apartments, a 150-room hotel, a second boutique hotel, and 65,000 feet of retail and restaurant space. The project that will be overseen by Madison Properties and is expected to cost between $86-90 million, with the state of Massachusetts committing $35 million toward infrastructure.
“There’s a lot going on in Worcester and things are already in motion,” Lucchino said.
The decision to move to Worcester was made at 11 a.m. on Thursday, per Lucchino. Before that, Pawtucket's ownership group on Tuesday evening gave Lucchino the authority to enter into an agreement with Worcester.
“We were determined to explore all possibilities and go to the edge of the diving board before deciding,” Lucchino said.
Lucchino noted there are still a few approvals the PawSox need to obtain—from the Worcester city council, to the International League, to Minor League Baseball. At this point, none of those groups poses major roadblocks.
International League President Randy Mobley toured the proposed PawSox ballpark site in Worcester as recently as last week. From the league’s vantage point, each International League team owner must vote and approve the lease agreement between the PawSox and Worcester. Mobley’s office has yet to receive those documents but has seen the drafts.
“There’s no question that Worcester is excited for this opportunity, and it showed through,” Mobley said. “Minor League Baseball won’t render an opinion until the league has done so.”
As for the next two seasons and how the PawSox are received at McCoy Stadium, Lucchino hopes that support will remain even with a move to Worcester on the horizon.
“It’s hard to say. I hope the fanbase will come out and we’ll continue to treat them with respect and affection,” Lucchino said.