Of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: "It might have been!"
John Greenleaf Whitter
The mood inside Worcester City Hall on Aug. 17, was euphoric; there were high fives and hearty back-slaps all around. The city's political and business establishments had joined forces to make the great day happen. Various factions had put aside their differences, and the fruit of their labors had ripened. Worcester would be the new home of the Boston Red Sox's Triple A affiliate. It would mean not only a new stadium, but also housing, hotels, restaurants, and shops. A tired old neighborhood would spring to life again, and it would be an economic engine for the entire region.
When Larry Lucchino, the team's chairman and managing partner, was introduced to speak, he was given a hero's welcome. Then he did an extraordinary thing. When Lucchino listed those who should be thanked, the first name he mentioned was that of the mayor -- not of Worcester, but of Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
As joyful as the atmosphere in Worcester was, Lucchino understood that it had to be one of bleakness in Pawtucket City Hall. Worcester's great day was a bad one for Pawtucket. Really bad.
Pawtucket has been home for the Pawtucket Red Sox for 45 years. The team has a reputation as one of the cornerstones of the International League; it has a loyal and proud fan base; it is where Hall of Fame members Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken played against each other in the longest game in baseball history. But it's all over now, or will be soon. The Pawtucket Red Sox will be playing in Worcester in two seasons -- or as soon as the new stadium is completed.
The most painful thing is that it's not Pawtucket's fault that the team is relocating; neither is it the team's fault. The mayor, Don Grebien, had worked tirelessly with Lucchino and his partners to keep the team in the city, only to be rebuffed by the Rhode Island House of Representatives. It had been agreed by all parties that 76 year old McCoy Stadium was out-of-date and that it was not practical to rehabilitate it. The team needed a new stadium, and there was no getting around it. An agreement was worked out between the team, the city, and the governor's office for its funding. The Pawsox found an ideal location, right off of Interstate 95, and hired Janet Marie Smith, the esteemed architect who had worked with Lucchino to design Baltimore's iconic Camden Yards and Petco Park in San Diego, and to renovate Fenway Park in Boston, to design the new park. The artist's rendering of it was breathtakingly beautiful. It was going be right at a bend in the road where passing motorists going to and from Providence and beyond would have been able to see right into it as they drove by. What a billboard for the city it would have been.
The team was excited; the city was excited; the state senate jumped on board with the plan -- and the leadership in the house of representatives killed it. Maybe they thought they were being fiscally responsible. Maybe it was payback of a kind for the money Rhode Island had lost in luring Curt Schilling's failed video game company into the state.
In any case they killed the plan and in the process drove a dagger into Pawtucket's back.
Pawtucket is not one of Rhode Island's tony ocean-front towns, it is a hard-scrabble city of 72,000 people living in the shadow of Providence. The Pawtucket Red Sox have for years been an important part of its self-identity and its civic pride. The other high-profile business in the city is Hasbro, the giant toy and game company that has its corporate headquarters there; but there are rumblings that Hasbro is looking to build a modern corporate campus elsewhere in Rhode Island. What if Hasbro moves too? These are not easy days in Pawtucket, and it seems they are about to get even more difficult.
Lucchino recognizes that. He didn't want to leave the town or the state but the legislature left him and his partners with no choice. The need for a new ballpark was still there and the Rhode Island house was not going to let the state join in the funding of it. The speaker of the house, after forcing the move, did the predictable thing -- he employed the old "blame-the-victim" strategy. He put out a statement accusing the Pawsox of disloyalty.
Now Larry is taking his late mother's advice, he's going to a place where he feels wanted, where his team feels appreciated, and where they look upon the building of that park as an economic boon. Gone are the days when he had to roam the corridors of the Rhode Island state house, hat in hand, looked upon with suspicion if not outright hostility.
Forty miles up the road from that state house, in Worcester, where everyone had been working together on the off-chance that things in Rhode Island might fall apart, opportunity has knocked, and they are welcoming it with open arms. Now a new day is about to dawn. In April of 2021 a new ballpark will be dedicated in Worcester's Kelley Square just off of Interstate 290; the shops, the housing, and the hotels will not be far behind. And in Pawtucket, at the bend of Route 95, where it all might have happened, the land will lie empty.
Who do you suppose should be given the honor of throwing out the first ball at the dedication game when the new park in Worcester opens? The governor of Massachusetts? The mayor of Worcester? The city manager? The developer who builds the park? Larry Lucchino himself? Maybe it should be the one man who was indispensable to the whole project, without whom it would never have happened -- the speaker of the Rhode Island house.
Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox “Poet Laureate” and The Pilot’s recently minted Sports’ columnist.
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