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I love baseball – and the Red Sox are my team. And, just to be clear, I hate the Yankees.
A few weeks ago, at the All-Star break, the Red Sox were in first place with a 3½-game lead over the Yankees. Shortly after the second half of the season started, the Sox lost a few games in a row and all of a sudden, the Yankees were sitting in first place. My friend Carl, a real Yankees guy, called and left me a telephone message of a choking sound.
Wouldn’t it be great having the Triple-A Red Sox play the Yankees’ International League affiliate right here in Worcester?
Well, we have a real opportunity to do just that!
A little history
According to Bill Ballou of the Telegram & Gazette, in 1976-77 Worcester had a few meaningless conversations with someone named Marvin Adelson about bringing the Triple-A team to Worcester. In those days, the International League owned the team, so the discussions were not worth much.
When I was mayor, we had a conversation with the Red Sox about moving their Pawtucket franchise to Worcester. Right from the start, General Manager Mike Tamburro, a Worcester native, made it clear that the team’s first choice was to stay in Pawtucket. We knew that Worcester was being used as bait to force Pawtucket’s hand.
But there was a chance, albeit a small one, that the Pawtucket deal would fall through. If that happened, we wanted Worcester at the front of the line. I believed then, and still do, that a Triple-A Red Sox affiliate would be a great addition to our city.
The deal in Pawtucket
The Red Sox’s lease of the existing 75-year-old McCoy Stadium runs out in 2020. The team wants a new stadium to help attract new fans to the games – the team has experienced a 10-year slide in attendance from a high of about 9,500 fans a game in 2005 to about 6,000 a game this year. The team ranks 10th in the 14-team league in attendance.
Although Pawtucket stepped up in 1999, it may be a different story in 2017. Under new ownership, the team in Pawtucket gave the city and the state of Rhode Island a deadline of July 1 to complete a deal or it would no longer negotiate exclusively with Pawtucket. That deal had Pawtucket investing $15 million, the state investing $23 million, and the remaining $45 million, plus any cost overruns, for a new stadium being the responsibility of the team.
Pawtucket is willing to make the investment to keep the team. There is a website devoted to promoting the many advantages of having the team in that community.
However, unlike the city’s spending piece, the state investment stalled. Insiders have pointed the finger at a rocky relationship between Rhode Island’s governor and leaders in the state Legislature.
At present, the PawSox have been contacted by about a dozen communities, including Springfield and Fall River, expressing some level of interest in attracting the team. While there have been a few “off-the-record” visits to some of those communities, Worcester has been the only community where owners and executives from the team have taken the time to officially and publicly tour the proposed site for a stadium and meet with local leaders.
Here are the benefits
Most people agree that having the Red Sox’s top minor-league affiliate in Worcester would be an unqualified asset for the city. Here are some of the obvious benefits:
1.) Finding something for the vacant Wyman-Gordon site Sure, there are plenty of wonderful ideas about what we might want located on the Wyman-Gordon site. But the simple truth is that the site is contaminated and has been sitting vacant for about 15 years. During that period, there has been very little serious discussion about what to do with this 12.68-acre parcel.
Locating a baseball team there would require that the site be cleaned up. It would eliminate a gaping eyesore from the middle of a major entryway into our downtown, and bring life to an area that is, and likely would otherwise remain, barren for decades to come.
2.) Continuing the revitalization of the Canal District Ten years ago, the Canal District was in rough shape. Today, it is a beehive of new shops and activity. Adding a Triple-A team and stadium would cause an explosion of activity in the area and make the Canal District one of the hottest destinations in the region.
3.) Fixing Kelley Square If Worcester had a dollar for every curse word uttered while a driver was trying to get through this ridiculous mess of roads and intersecting ways, we could pay for the entire stadium and have plenty left over to fix the traffic nightmare that we call Kelley Square.
Bringing another 3,000-5,000 cars to a new ballpark at the proposed site would have a huge impact on Kelley Square. To make this possible, we would need to have a redesign of all of the roads leading into this area. That would force the state to invest millions. The end result would be a substantial benefit to that entire section of the city.
4.) Civic pride! I remember when we opened the Centrum (now the DCU Center); Frank Sinatra was the main attraction. The next day the headline in the Telegram shouted “No more little town blues.” Major entertainment venues that attract thousands of visitors to a community can have a huge impact on civic pride.
Adding a Triple-A Red Sox affiliate and stadium to Worcester will have an enormous impact on our perception of ourselves. By itself, adding the team would be a significant accomplishment. But add the team to the redevelopment of downtown and the hundreds of millions of investment dollars pouring into our city, and you have something really special.
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- Analysis: Just say no? The cost for towns passing on pot
- Worcester Weekly | Inbox | Worcester Games
Here are possible concerns
1.) Taxpayer investment To bring the Triple-A team to Worcester, both the city and the state will need to make investments. At this point, no one knows exactly what that financial deal would look like. It will certainly include cleanup costs associated with the site, infrastructure work for redesigning and reconstructing Kelley Square, and some sort of tax break for the team.
The Red Sox are confident the increased taxes that they would pay, even with a tax break, combined with increased taxes associated with area businesses directly as a result of the team locating there will pay for all of the annual debt on any taxpayer loan.
My best guess is that might be true initially, but we should assume some taxpayer costs beyond that going forward.
2.) Impact on the Bravehearts When Worcester was looking for someone to step in and take ownership of a Futures Collegiate Baseball League team, the Creedon family stepped up. Since that time they have invested their money and their time making that franchise successful. The Bravehearts just completed their 56-game fourth season, averaging 2,356 fans per game, a 6 percent increase over last year’s FCBL-best 2,230 fans per game. In fact, Ballpark Digest touted the Bravehearts’ 2017 attendance as seventh-best in the nation among summer collegiate franchises.
Worcester has an obligation to do whatever it can to ensure that any deal does not leave the Bravehearts and the Creedon family high and dry.
3.) Traffic at Kelley Square No matter what we do to Kelley Square, adding thousands of additional cars into this area will create more traffic challenges. The good news is that most games are played either in the evening, after rush hour, or on the weekend, when regular traffic is significantly reduced.
Look at it this way: If the city of Boston only built something that would have a minimal impact on traffic, it would never build anything ever again. Having traffic is the price you pay for living in a vibrant city. Besides, all of the local residents will quickly figure out ways to avoid the area on game days.
4.) This project will compete with other state funding priorities There is an argument being made by some that if we get state funding for this project, that will limit our ability to get funding for other important projects. Nonsense!
When was the last time that you heard that argument applied to Boston? Never. When it has a project worth pursuing, it demands the state’s support.
Worcester has to stop acting like our state leaders are doing us a favor when we get funding for a project; they are simply doing their job. It is time we asked for what we need without feeling embarrassed. We are the second-largest city in New England. We should act like it.
5.) The experience in Hartford A recent article in Worcester Magazine detailed the struggles of a Double-A Colorado Rockies team in Connecticut. While the descriptions of the Hartford problems are accurate, in my opinion, they do not apply to Worcester. First, as they have for Pawtucket, the private team ownership would likely be willing to take on the responsibility of any cost overruns that were a real problem in Hartford.
Second, and more importantly, in New England, who the heck wants to see the Colorado Rockies’ minor-league anything? What makes this franchise exciting is that they are the top-level Red Sox affiliate.
I was listening to Mayor Joe Petty talk about possibly getting the Red Sox to locate in Worcester on the Jordan Levy Show. With each question Jordan asked, the mayor said, “We’re not there yet, we’re just talking.”
So what are the next steps?
Worcester The reason that the two sides are just talking is that Worcester does not have an actual site to offer to the ballclub. If Worcester is serious, the very next step is for Worcester to gain control over the Wyman-Gordon site. As I write this column, there have been no discussions by Worcester officials with Wyman-Gordon executives about the site.
There are several ways to get this done, but before anything else moves forward, Worcester needs to control the site. Once that happens, serious negotiations can begin.
Red Sox This entire interaction reminds me of two teenagers at a middle school dance looking at each other, both afraid to ask the other if they would like to dance. Unless they want to stand against the wall all evening, someone has to summon the courage to make the first move – or run the risk that a third party will step in and take that chance away.
If Red Sox executives see Worcester as a good fit, they need to give Worcester a timeframe for responding. By setting a reasonable deadline, the Red Sox push Worcester into acting and, at the same time, let Worcester know that they are serious about the city.
Think big, be bold and invest
To get this deal done, Worcester needs a leader with strong political connections and a real desire to lead. That man is Ed Augustus. The city manager is uniquely qualified for this assignment. He has strong connections with our congressman, with leaders on Beacon Hill, and with Tim Murray at the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce. If he wants to, he can pull all of the pieces together.
Recently, the city manager sent a letter to the Red Sox signed by 107 business, political and community leaders expressing “strong and enthusiastic support” for bringing the team to Worcester. That letter is nice, but Augustus needs to move boldly and decisively if Worcester has any chance of being a serious contender.
Sure, there are challenges with locating a major sports franchise here in Worcester. And it is also very possible that the team will end up staying in Pawtucket. But sitting on the sidelines guarantees bad news. In my opinion, locating a Triple-A Red Sox affiliate in our city would be a huge win.
Every Little Leaguer learns one simple truth: You can’t hit the ball unless you are willing to swing the bat. It is time for Worcester to step up to the plate, focus on the pitch and take its best swing.
Play ball – Triple-A ball in Worcester!
Raymond V. Mariano is a Worcester Sun columnist. He comments on his hometown and global issues that impact it every Sunday in Worcester Sun.