Monday, March 26, 2012

Memories at McCoy Stadium

Opening day in the majors is like nothing else in professional sports. It’s one of the few days all season that every park is jam packed with not only fans, but also optimism about the upcoming season. On opening day, everyone is in first place.

Logo courtesy of
As magical and enjoyable being at the ballpark for opening day can be, getting a ticket to the festivities is about as hard as it gets. This is especially true for opening day at Fenway Park, where securing a ticket to most games is like paying for 50-yard-line seats at the Super Bowl. It will be especially difficult this season, as Fenway celebrates its 100th year as home of the Sox.

What if I told you there was a way to enjoy the magic of opening day at a fraction of the cost? What if I told you there was a way to enjoy the magic at a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the cost? Well, there is. Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce you to a place where every day is opening day, McCoy Stadium.

McCoy is home to the Pawtucket Red Sox (affectionately called the PawSox by locals), the minor league Triple-A affiliate of the Red Sox.  Located about 46 miles south of Fenway in Pawtucket, RI, McCoy is an ideal spot if you’re solely looking to enjoy a simple game of baseball. The tickets are cheap, the atmosphere is light, and the players are trying to prove night in and night out that they deserve to be playing in the big leagues. McCoy is where the future talents of Fenway can be viewed at a very reduced rate.

But it wasn’t always home to future Sox stars. When McCoy opened for business June 6, 1946, it was home to the Pawtucket Slaters, Class B affiliate of the Boston Braves. The Slaters called McCoy home until 1950.

16 years later, McCoy became home to the Pawtucket Indians, the Double-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. The Indians only lasted two years in Pawtucket before moving to Waterbury, Connecticut.

It wasn’t until 1970 that the Red Sox decided to move their minor league team to Pawtucket. It’s where they’ve been since.

Logo courtesy of
One of the most important games in the history of baseball was played at McCoy Stadium on April 18, 1981. The PawSox took on the Rochester Red Wings in what became the longest game in baseball history, stretching two days and 33 innings. Dave Koza drove in the game-winning run for Pawtucket, outlasting Rochester for a 3-2 victory. Future Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. and Wade Boggs both played in this historic game.

Being a native of Rhode Island (and living less then 5 miles from the stadium), I can tell you firsthand how fun a PawSox game can be for a true fan.

First and foremost, 99% of the fans in the stadium don’t care about the outcome whatsoever. Most true baseball fans would probably find that overwhelmingly frustrating. Who wants to watch a game in a stadium full of pink hats?

But in reality, it’s kind of awesome. It makes for a stress free environment, which is unheard of if watching a game at Fenway.

The only thing you find yourself rooting for is the chance to see someone hit for the cycle or to see a game go into extras. When at McCoy, seeing a walk-off homerun, triple play, or successful suicide squeeze is awesome regardless of the team you’re rooting for. Not caring about the game makes everyone appreciate the little things that make baseball so great.

Jacoby Ellsbury, Spring 2007;
Photo courtesy of
Probably the biggest perk of all is getting to see MLB stars play; whether it’s in a rehab start, a rising star, or a player nearing the end of his career.

I had the pleasure of watching current Red Sox stars Kevin Youkilis, Clay Buchholz, Dustin Pedroia, and Jacoby Ellsbury all flourish down at McCoy before dominating the diamond at 4 Yawkey Way. Being able to say that I saw these guys kick ass before anyone else feels pretty cool, if you ask me.

I’ve seen a bevy of players making rehab starts down at McCoy. The first notable player I remember watching in Pawtucket was Manny Ramirez on June 25, 2002. It was my 10th birthday, and my friends and I went to the stadium to watch the prolific slugger up-close and personal. We sat out on the grass in right field, and I decided I was going to heckle Manny until he gave me some sort of reaction. After a good 30 minutes of screaming bloody murder, Manny turned his head and gave me a wink as he trotted back to the dugout at the end of an inning. At that moment in time, my life was complete.

Along with seeing Manny play at McCoy, I’ve also had the pleasure of watching Curt Schilling, David Ortiz, Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek and Carl Crawford all make rehab starts.

I have two distinct experiences from McCoy Stadium that I feel truly define the type of place it can be for a baseball fanatic.

Mid-summer, 2004

Byung-Hyun Kim;
Photo courtesy of
Before Red Sox Nation had become a national phenomenon, my dad decided to take my brother and I to a game at McCoy. I don’t remember what month it was, but I do remember it being really, really hot that day. Starting on the mound for the PawSox was Byung-Hyun Kim, who is best remembered for his role as the Diamondbacks’ closer during their World Series run in 2001.

Kim was somewhat irrelevant in baseball at this point, but that didn’t stop me from being excited to watch him play. I had always loved his sidearm pitching style, so getting to watch him pitch live was a real treat. Plus, I loved saying his name.
Kim got absolutely rocked that day and came out of the game after only a few innings. Regardless, I was satisfied.

July 3, 2006

Wily Mo Pena;
 Photo courtesy of
My family went to McCoy to watch the PawSox take on their rival, the Columbus Clippers. We were all especially excited for this game because after it was over, there was a fireworks show (McCoy has a fantastic fireworks show every year around July 4). Playing for the PawSox in this game was legendary fan-favorite Wily Mo Pena. My brother and I loved Willy Mo (also because his name was fun to say).

Right around the beginning of the game, Wily Mo hit a foul ball towards our section. Immediately, I knew to just get out of my brother’s way; there was no way he wasn’t getting this ball. Not only did he get the ball, he spilled a woman’s entire glass of red wine all over her in the process. Although he was apologetic, all he really cared about was the fact that he got the Wily Mo foul ball. He still to this day has the ball in his room with the ticket stub.

It just so happens that Wily Mo ended the game on a walk-off homerun to give the PawSox an 8-7 victory, helping to make that night really special.


McCoy Stadium has been an important part of my life. Without it, I would not be the sports fan that I am today. I have been able to grow up watching live, top-notch baseball in a friendly, safe environment (except for the time I was there when the stadium caught on fire in July of 2005). I have been very lucky to have McCoy so close to my home.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing like Fenway Park. Everyone needs to watch a game at Fenway, no questions asked. There’s truly nothing else like it. But if you’re looking to enjoy baseball at its purest form and make lifelong memories, McCoy can make that happen.

Make sure you wish McCoy Stadium a happy 66th birthday on June 6. Sure, Fenway turns 100 on April 20. That’s amazing. But McCoy deserves a little love as well.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Historical Event: Babe Ruth Coaches Clinic

Fenway Park and the Boston Red Sox have hosted a clinic for coaches who are a part of the Babe Ruth League Coaching Education Center every year since 1969. During the event, the coaches have many activities scheduled and multiple opportunities to broaden their teaching skills. Throughout the day, these dedicated coaches meet with members of the Boston Red Sox Major League staff to receive help and advice on how to be a successful coach.

The coaches that are involved with this organization, the Babe Ruth League Coaching Education Center, deserve to have this day at the park for so many reasons. Some of these include the simple fact that they truly dedicate coaches who genuinely love baseball and want to help younger people be successful at the game. The organization states on their website that “there is no one single action that can have more of a positive impact on our players than improving the quality and knowledge of our managers and coaches.”

Coaches are very influential characters in many children’s lives. It is an obvious fact that people who spend the most time with children become some of the most memorable people that they grow up to remember. Being trained to be a positive role model is much more beneficial than being an angry leader who only sees winning in their future. Parents want their children to build good character from sports, not just a good curve ball.

When it comes to good coaches and management, the Red Sox have the best of the best. Why? Well, just look at their fan-base. Kids grow up loving the Sox because they have players who are respectable, loveable and talented. These players do not necessarily come to the Sox with this positivity already instilled in them; they gain this mindset from the knowledge their coaches provide them with. The Babe Ruth coaches are lucky to have the privilege to attend this day and learn from already very influential people. At the end of the event, the coaches are invited to attend a Red Sox game and see the club in action.

By Fenway Park and the Sox hosting this great event, they are reaching out to the community and allowing their knowledge to be spread to everyone who wants the honor of receiving help from such a prestigious club. It is a great opportunity for coaches to learn from the best, but also for the Sox management to learn from them as well. This day has been successful for many years, and hopefully it continues for many more in the future. 

In Tek We Trust

If there were ever a baseball player who earned the C on his chest, then that player is Jason Varitek. On July 31st, 1997, The Boston Red Sox acquired Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe from the Seattle Mariners for relief pitcher Heathcliff Slocumb. Needless to say, this was a trade that changed the Red Sox franchise. Since that date, the Sox won their first championship in 86 years and another one three seasons later in 2007. Varitek was on the team for those two special seasons, and 13 more.

There are many special moments throughout his career that will make any baseball fan appreciate the way Varitek played the game. He is the only Major League catcher in history to catch four no-hitters, he was part of two World Championship teams and, he was a factor in the game that can be said to have changed the 2004 season and the Red Sox/Yankees dynamic forevermore.

At Fenway Park on July 24th 2004, after a long rain delay, the Sox were stumbling along in the season, with the taste of one the worst loses of the year handed to them by the Yankees the night before. Mediocrity seemed to be the theme for the season up to that point, as the Sox continued to play .500 baseball. However, that day in late July was a turning point for the team.

It was A-ROD vs. TEK. The Yankees third baseman was hit by a pitch and started to yell at pitcher Arroyo as he made his way to first. Tek acted as the leader he truly is and stepped in front of A-Rod as if to protect his pitcher. A few choice words were exchanged and, a fight broke out that left A-Rod with a catcher’s glove to the face. Former Red Sox player, Gabe Kapler, described the moment as one that proves just how great of a teammate, leader, friend, and hero Tek really is.

Any Sox fan knows what happened after the fight in July of ‘04. A rally off of legendary Mariano Rivera and then a walk-off home run is how that game ended. The momentum after the win had a huge impact on how the Red Sox played throughout the next few months; it gave them a spark, a pulse, which carried into October. Because of that day, and so many more notable games with Varitek, he ranks highly on the list of all time greatest Red Sox players. He was prepared for every matchup, proven in his ability to exceptionally call the game from behind the plate. Tek also left the Sox with a career 193 homeruns and a .256 batting average. Although Tek was never known as a power hitter, I still remember some special games at Fenway when he added to the magic with his bat.

April 2007 at Fenway Park…Ramirez, Drew, Lowell, Varitek. Those four men homered in consecutive at-bats, a first in Sox history. Oh, and remember game 2 of the 2004 World Series at Fenway? Jason Varitek was up to bat in the bottom of the first with two outs. Ramirez and Ortiz were walked as Cardinals pitcher, Morris, thought the hardest part was over with. He was wrong. Tek took a pitch to the deepest part of Fenway, right in front of the 420 foot mark, earning himself a triple and two runs batted in.

Those are just several of the many moments Red Sox fans were able to enjoy with number 33. Varitek always played the game the right way and never failed in his leadership ability as he became the only player to participate in a Little League World Series, College World Series, Major League World Series, Olympics, and World Baseball Classic. More importantly, he is the only player to punch A-Rod in the face. Red Sox nation will never forget that one.

Jason Varitek earned the title of being the Red Sox captain for 7 seasons. He always put the team before his individual accomplishments, which is one of the many reasons he is and will always be loved by Sox fans. It’s going to be hard not seeing Tek in a Red Sox uniform come Opening Day. It will be the first time since 1997. Even though Sox fans had to say goodbye to Varitek as a player, any team would be lucky to have him on the management staff. For the sake of Red Sox nation, we hope that team still remains The Boston Red Sox. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Different park, different name

Fenway Park did not always look as modern as it does now. Back in 1911, there was no red seat, no green monster and the metal grandstands were made out of wood. But after a fire destroyed most of Fenway in 1934 in 1934 the owners of the park thankfully realized that wooden grandstands were a terrible idea. Before the reinvention in the 30’s, Fenway was born out of the mind of architect James McLaughlin and constructed ten years after the debut of the Red Sox… although at the time I think they were called the Boston Americans.

During the first six years of the team they found themselves playing in an old, dilapidated park called the Huntington Avenue Grounds. Despite the fact that the team had an incredibly boring name and were playing in an ugly park that could only seat about 11,500 fans (less than a third of what the capacity is at Fenway today) it did not take long for the public to notice that the Boston Americans were a team to be reckoned with. Most notably, former Red Sox pitcher Cy Young pitched a perfect game at Huntington in 1904. Boston Globe owner Charles Taylor would then go on to buy the Boston Americans three years later, rename them the Red Sox and promise them a new park to play in.

Construction on Fenway began in September 1911 and cost $650,000. The first version of the park wasn’t perfect; there was a 10 foot inclined embankment near the left field wall. This did not make for very effective runs for fly balls but every humble beginning has a few missteps. It would take years for Fenway to come close to resembling the way that we know it now but we can all be sure that however new or imperfect the park was at first, it still beat Huntington Avenue ballpark. No one wants to watch a documentary about that place. If you really want to see were the Red Sox played before they were actually the Red Sox, you can find Huntington on the Northeastern campus but come on, you know you’re just going to be going to Fenway instead.