Editorial: A chance to play in the big (minor) leagues

Print More

The Pawtucket Red Sox and the state of Rhode Island announced on Sept. 19 they have ceased negotiations to build a new riverfront stadium in Providence.

The next day, Bill Ballou reported in the Telegram & Gazette that Larry Lucchino, managing partner of the Triple-A ballclub, had hinted three days earlier that “Worcester sounded like it had all the requirements, especially a downtown urban location.”

Worcester, it seems, could be in the running for Boston’s top minor-league affiliate.

On Friday, Tom Quinn of Worcester Magazine reported that both City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. and Timothy P. Murray, president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, are sending positive yet measured signals about the city’s willingness to engage in talks to bring the PawSox to Worcester.

“My administration is always open to big ideas, and I’m happy to sit down and talk to anyone about why they should invest in Worcester,” Augustus said. “So while a new stadium would require some creative thinking, I’m open to the idea.”

“We have begun the process of trying to reach out, but it’s with the caveat that we have a proven owner and team here,” Murray told Worcester Magazine.

These statements appear in stand in stark contrast to comments made a few months ago.

In May, Augustus told The Associated Press the city had no intention of using public funds for a new stadium. On July 29, Murray was quoted in the Boston Globe as saying, “I don’t think anybody is interested in getting played twice,” a reference to Worcester’s failed bid to bring the team to Worcester in the mid-1990s. The team used the threat of leaving Pawtucket for Worcester as leverage to extract a deal from the state of Rhode Island.

It’s hard not to see the allure of a state-of-the-art stadium in downtown Worcester on the former Wyman-Gordon site near Kelley Square. It’s hard not to be drawn to the prospect of thousands of baseball fans patronizing the establishments in the Canal District after a weekend matinee. And it’s hard not to view this as an opportunity to have the 14-acre site cleaned up and be part of a larger urban renewal project.

But those dreams of thousands of fans crowding into the city should remain just that. And like a batter with a 3-0 count and the bases loaded, Worcester should not swing at this pitch.

In a political year in which we’ve heard candidates for public office say education and public safety need additional resources and residential and business tax rates are too high, the prospect of using city resources in support of a business that operates 72 days a year strains credulity.

Major-league stadium deals never work as well for the host as they do for the team’s owners. The data is less clear regarding stadiums for minor-league teams; leaders in Durham, N.C., for example, suggested their deal directly led to a great deal of private investment around the stadium.

Team owners have time and again pitted cities against each other to extract deals that best suit their interests. Indeed, Springfield and New Bedford have already been named as possible homes for the Pawtucket team. This means that even if the federal and state governments assist in purchasing and cleaning up sites, and agree to assist in financing the construction of a stadium, all cities in the running will find themselves at some point conceding more than they care to in order to craft a winning bid.

In a political year in which we’ve heard candidates for public office say education and public safety need additional resources and residential and business tax rates are too high, the prospect of using city resources in support of a business that operates 72 days a year strains credulity.

Also, it should go without saying that a successful bid could negatively impact the city’s current baseball team, the Worcester Bravehearts of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League. The Bravehearts, who are owned by Worcester businessman John Creedon Jr. and play at Hanover Insurance Field on the campus of the College of the Holy Cross, won their second league title in as many years while setting a league attendance record with more than 50,000 fans.

For these reasons — plus the obvious concerns over parking, traffic and neighborhood impact — we believe the best course of action is for the city to withdraw from consideration.

If the city proceeds, it should ameliorate these concerns by first receiving exclusive negotiating rights to ensure it is not in a competitive situation.

It should also ensure Creedon’s investment in the city does not go unrewarded, either through a purchase of his franchise by the owners of the Pawtucket Red Sox or an option for an ownership stake in a new Worcester team.

Most importantly, the city should require that if the deal is not completed, PawSox owners must agree to waive the team’s territorial rights, a 35-mile zone of exclusivity that currently bars Worcester from being home to a team affiliated with a major-league club. The owners of the Pawtucket Red Sox have been unwilling to waive the territorial rights, granted by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, and it is a key factor in why Worcester does not currently field an affiliated team.

Should Worcester again find itself being played, a waiver of the 35-mile rule will allow another team, perhaps one locally owned, to consider Worcester.

A new stadium and a high-level team can boost a local economy. However, the margin for error is small and the stakes are great. While we understand the obvious lure and the once-in-a-generation opportunity, we believe the city’s efforts are better directed elsewhere.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *