By Steven H. Foskett Jr.
WORCESTER -- On an afternoon that saw plenty of sports metaphors tossed around the Common, City Manager Edward M. Augustus dug deep Monday for the city’s celebration of the arrival of Triple-A baseball.
Discussing “Casey At the Bat,” the famous poem penned by Worcester’s own Ernest Lawrence Thayer and first published in 1888, Mr. Augustus noted that the poem ends on a note of failure when Casey strikes out. But he said that 130 years later, the city’s own story is being rewritten, driving a home run far out of the park in successfully wooing the Pawtucket Red Sox away from Rhode Island.
The event, a joint effort between the city and the team and billed as a “Grand & Glorious Civic Celebration,” came less than a week after the City Council voted to approve a $100 million deal that will include construction of a new ballpark in the Canal District, a fresh redesign for Kelley Square, and a mixed-use development including street-level retail, parking, hotels, and housing.
Thousands turned out for the event, which featured several Red Sox legends, including Dwight Evans and Pedro Martinez. Mr. Martinez, an integral member of the 2004 curse-breaking World Series champions, elicited the most applause as players and local and team officials walked across the Common on a red carpet that led to Mullaney Plaza.
Mr. Martinez noted that Worcester, not Boston, was his first stop on his way to play for the Red Sox, for a physical exam with longtime team physician Dr. Arthur Pappas. He said he looks forward to seeing future Red Sox players develop in this city, and he threw out a ceremonial first pitch to Worcester native and Red Sox great Rich Gedman.
Setting aside doubts voiced after the deal was made public as to whether the city entered into a risky agreement that might not pan out long-term, Mr. Augustus called luring the team to the city his proudest moment as city manager.
“Pessimism and doubt have retreated from our vernacular in favor of optimism and pride,” he said.
Noting that the $35 million in MassWorks funding, part of the development package, is the second largest grant her administration has given out, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said the state needed to know early in the process that the city could get the job done. She said the city did a phenomenal job.
“This city, this community, believes in itself,” Ms. Polito said.
Streets around the Common were blocked off early in the afternoon, and autograph seekers darted back and forth as the former players arrived for the ceremony. Food trucks lined Front Street, and the Worcester Youth Symphony Orchestra played as fans gathered.