Spring is back in New England and so is baseball. The Public’s Radio political analyst Scott MacKay takes a look at the fortunes of the Boston Red Sox and their Pawtucket minor league affiliate, the Pawtucket Red Sox. (Advance copy of commentary scheduled to air Monday.)
The weather in those parts may more resemble the Stowe Winter Carnival than the arrival of the summer pastime of baseball. No matter; the games are back in Boston and Pawtucket as we dive into the season of daffodils, Easter, Passover and renewal.
The Boston Red Sawx, as they are known in our fingernails-on-chalkboard regional accent, open their home season shortly after noon tomorrow in historic Fenway Park in the Hub’s Back Bay. It will be a festive afternoon as the 2018 World Series banner is run up the flagpole at the nation’s oldest major league field. The Boston Symphony Orchestra will play before the game in center field and the football Patriots, winners of the Super Bowl, will also be honored.
History oozes from Fenway, opened in 1912. It’s a ballyard named for its surrounding urban neighborhood, a rare thing in an era when team owners more often sell ballpark naming rights to bailed out banks, telecom giants or insurance conglomerates.
The question in Boston is whether the team can be the first since the 2000 edition of the Evil Empire, aka the New York Yankees, to repeat as world champions. Despite some rocky early season pitching, the Red Sox are well-stocked with young players and veterans. Mookie Betts, last year’s Most Valuable Player, is the folk hero outfielder on whose arm and bat ride the hopes of Red Sox Nation.
Winning consecutive championships is tough. Baseball is a 162-game marathon that spans six months. Injuries and the vagaries of the schedule often determine which teams will be ready to compete in the playoffs and World Series.
The national pastime faces challenges. Baseball is the lone major sport played without a clock; games are measured in innings, a 19th century invention. Games are too long, riddled with commercials and punctuated by pitching changes; rare is the game where a starting pitcher goes a full nine-innings. The fan demographics skew old. Baseball devotees are of the generation more likely to be hearing their doctor outline hip replacement options than listening to Hip Hop. Unlike football, baseball isn’t great on television.
The irony in New England is that the younger generation of Red Sox worshippers have been much spoiled, compared to their Greatest Generation and Baby Boom brethren. The team appeared in four World Series between World War II and the end of the 20th Century. They lost every one, too often by snatching defeat from the lap of victory in seven game series. But they redeemed themselves in the 21st, winning four World Series and breaking an 86-year championship drought.
The Pawtucket Red Sox face a different hurdle when they open Thursday. The team has played at McCoy Stadium since the early 1970s, but is leaving Rhode Island for a new stadium to be built in Worcester. Boston’s top minor league team features great baseball at affordable prices; you can take a car load to Pawtucket for less than it costs to park near Fenway. It’s always been family entertainment, giving fans a chance to see young players on their way to the big leagues.
The twist this year is whether Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts fans will flock to the PawSox. Or will they stay home, punishing the team for taking the money (A $100 million taxpayer subsidy for the new stadium) and running to Worcester. Attendance has fluctuated much over the years, from nearly 700,000 in 2005 to less than 400,000 last year.
A clue to how the PawSox will be viewed this year will come next month, when the team hosts the first Worcester Red Sox Preview Night. The team hopes to lure central Massachusetts fans with fireworks, an all you can eat buffet and a preview Polar Park, the new stadium to be built in Worcester’s rundown Canal District.
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and Pawtucket city government are working on a plan to lure a new professional sports team to McCoy to replace the PawSox when they leave in two years. Don’t hold your your breath. The stadium is historic but crumbling. Nobody should be surprised if McCoy succumbs to the wrecking ball.
You can’t blame the PawSox owners for marketing to their new fans in Worcester. But it’s a bittersweet foul ball for the team’s loyal Rhode Island fans.
Scott MacKay’s commentary can be heard every Monday morning at 6:45 and 8:45 and at 5:44 in the afternoon. You can also follow his political reporting and analysis at our web site at ThePublicsRadio.org