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.

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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.

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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.

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