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Monday, August 17, 2009

McCoy Stadium and the Pawtucket Red Sox

My first ball game as a credentialed writer

For 2 years in the late ‘60’s, McCoy Stadium was the home of the Pawtucket Indians, not the Red Sox. Professional baseball in Pawtucket dates back to 1892, and the city has hosted a pro team continually since 1970. When the Indians pulled up stakes after the 1967 season, McCoy stayed empty until the Red Sox moved their AA team to Pawtucket. In 1972, the Pawtucket Red Sox became a Triple A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, and has remained so ever since. Ben Mondor, owner of the Pawtucket Red Sox from 1977 to 2005, purchased the bankrupt PawSox and turned the franchise into a model of AAA stadiums. He is the only Minor League owner to be inducted into Boston’s Hall of Fame. He remains Chairman of the Board.

Sensing that my trips back east might be lessening in the not too distant future, I tried to talk my brother into taking in a game at Fenway Park this year. He steadfastly refused to take out a 2nd mortgage on his home to finance such a trip, so I decided to try for a game at McCoy Stadium instead. No alternative financing was required, so we purchased a pair of tickets in a great location on line for $24. ($24 at Fenway might get you a beer and a dog.)

As soon as he completed the transaction…. DOH! I write for a Red Sox blog that gets well in excess of 4K hits a month! I quickly called Matt O’Donnell, owner and editor of FenwayWest.com, and told him I wanted to try and get press passes for a PawSox game. Well of course! I gave a call to the PawSox and was directed to Bill Wanless, Vice President of Public Relations, and left a voice mail. I followed that up with an e-mail, telling him about graduating from high school around the corner to my current status as a contributing writer to this blog. I received a quick response awarding me 2 press passes! (Well, don’t I feel special!)

Half way up to Pawtucket, I realized I had forgotten my questions that I had drawn up beforehand! We made a quick stop at a library, went to my e-mail and printed them up again. We had no problem entering and parking in the VIP section. I was thinking that I may not have time to get onto the field to talk to any of the players. After finding the press box, I made it to the field and spoke briefly with the first player I saw hoping I would not have to break out my poor, broken Spanish. No such luck, but I was able to communicate a bit with pitcher Randor Bierd, from the Dominican Republic.

Still looking like quite the newbie I was, I asked the first person I saw about talking with any players considering the late time it was getting to be. Feeling a little discouraged, I turned around to find my way back up to the press box when I see a player signing autographs for kids who would drop down toy buckets and cut out milk jugs in hopes of gaining an autograph. He turned slightly, and I saw #30- Michael Bowden! Yes! He was one of three players I had prepared questions for. He was easily accessible, friendly, and willing to answer my questions. He readily agreed to have his photo taken for my post of his interview as well.

This stroke of good luck certainly had a quick, positive effect on my attitude and confidence. I continue to backtrack and follow my steps from the press box. I’m walking along the edge of the field that borders the stands, when a group of kids from a Cape Cod youth organization start yelling down at me asking me for my autograph. "My autograph?! But I’m nobody." They responded, “Well, you’re down on the field, so you must be somebody!” So I obliged them and signed a t-shirt, sneaker, and a hat.

On up to the press box. I met the 2 Steve’s calling the game, and they directed me to sit anywhere that was unoccupied. I start walking down the aisle and stopped at the first station I saw. It wasn’t until after the game had started that I realized I was directly behind home plate, totally in line with the plate, rubber, and second base. Air conditioning on a hot, muggy Rhode Island summer day felt good at first. Soon though, the windows were being opened one by one, making the experience closer to what it should be- outdoors.

I opened my laptop, got Game Day up, and started typing. Score sheets, press info, statistics, and player bios were made available for all. There was great food and drinks for all in the press box, in a casual atmosphere.

It was another full house at McCoy. My brother had been roaming around while I made my way to the field and then back up to the press box and showed up just after the National Anthem had been sung. The Columbus Clippers get roundly booed as if they were the Yankees at Fenway.

I found myself sitting next to sports writer Mike Scandura who turned out to be of great assistance to me. When my brother showed up, he jumps right into the conversation giving me some time to write and enjoy the game, too. Scandura was very knowledgeable about the Sox and the game. He also filled me in about protocol for those with press passes. To my other side was the official scorer, behind him was the man who puts up the plays and stats on Game Day.

The PawSox would eventually lose the game. Clinging to a 2-1 lead going into the 7th inning behind a good 5 inning performance by Kris Johnson, Javier Lopez came in and unfortunately had a horrible day on the mound. He allowed three runs to score on three hits one walk and one error by himself. I had been hoping to see him return to his old self when he was pitching well for Boston. He had a recent run of good games in June and July, (8 games, 9 innings, 0 runs allowed), before another downslide. He’s been on a bit of a rollercoaster ride this season. After a few subpar games at the end of July, he’s gotten back into a nice groove in August (6 games, 6.2 innings, 3 hits, 1 walk, 5 strikeouts and 0 earned runs.) Let’s hope that’s the Javier Lopez that may show up in Boston in September.

Once the game was over, Mike showed me the way to the clubhouse. After giving the players about 15 minutes, we were allowed to enter. There were sofas, a big TV, and food for the players. Past these were the lockers. I saw Lopez, but was hesitant to approach him given his performance. My questions were based upon his good string of frames just earlier in the month. He was quick to make his departure, understandably so. Mike was interviewing Fernando Cabrera, after which I got to ask him a few questions. After Cabrera, I spoke with manager Ron Johnson and batting coach Russ Morman.

After we left the clubhouse, we took a walk through the halls beneath the stands which had seemingly endless memorabilia from the PawSox history, including the longest professional baseball game ever played- 33 innings, which started on April 18th, 1981, was called at 4 in the morning of April 19th. The game was finished on June 23rd. Members of the Red Sox roster in 1981 who played in that game include Wade Boggs, Bob Ojeda, Bruce Hurst, Rich Gedman, and manager Joe Morgan. Cal Ripken, Jr. was a member of the opposing team, the Rochester Red Wings.

Fenway Park isn't the only Red Sox park that hosts major concerts. While I was back east, Bob Dylan played a show there.

Everything about the day was near perfect. I got my first press credentials and 4 interviews. The only thing to make the day better would have been the PawSox winning, but as Johnson and Morman both said, the development of the players is just as, if not more important than winning. Big thanks go to Mike Scandura for showing me the ropes, Bill Wanless for getting me the passes, and Michael Bowden, Fernando Cabrera, Ron Johnson, and Russ Morman for taking the time to speak with me.

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