New PawSox stadium: About so much more than baseball

New PawSox stadium: About so much more than baseball

It has been said that sports, arts and restaurants truly make Rhode Island a cultural destination for tourists. While the City of Pawtucket, with its abundant mills, has gained an international reputation for being a great place to have a studio or art gallery, McCoy Stadium, home of the Pawtucket Red Sox, continues their long-time legacy of being a beacon attracting baseball fans, families and out-of-state visitors into our community.

McCoy Stadium is an economic engine for the city’s restaurants and businesses. For over 19 years serving as Pawtucket’s Economic & Cultural Affairs Officer, I have witnessed the Triple-A baseball team bring millions of fans to McCoy (this number is almost 11 million people) from Pawtucket, and throughout Rhode Island and Southern New England. According to the 2017 PBN Book of Lists, PawSox baseball was ranked the sixth largest tourist and cultural attraction in the Ocean State in 2015, bringing over 600,000 people.

During the Pawtucket Arts Festival, McCoy did not sit empty. It was transformed over the years into a music venue, attracting over 50,000 people. From 2006 to 2012, some of America’s greatest musicians and legendary bands gathered to play to their Rhode Island fans. Lou Schwechheimer, the PawSox former vice president and general manager, made sure he booked the best, from Bob Dylan who returned twice to McCoy (including once to play with Willie Nelson and John Cougar Mellencamp), Counting Crows, Drop Kick Murphy’s, Boston Pops (with Keith Lockhart and Kenny Loggins), to Further, a rock band founded by former Grateful Dead members Bob Weir and Phil Lesh.

Under former PawSox owners Ben Mondor and Mike Tamburro, McCoy Stadium was not only a place to watch a great baseball game and watch dazzling fireworks displays, but a stadium housing a variety of community oriented events and fund raising initiatives to support Rhode Island causes, from school kids to veterans. Some memorable events include the Jeffrey Osborne Softball Classic, Veterans Nights, the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular, and Color Run.

Today, the new PawSox ownership follows in Mondor’s and Tamburro’s footsteps to use the stadium as a venue to bring the crowds to Pawtucket when baseball is not played – much to the benefit of the Rhode Island community. And the events keep on coming – Beer and Food Truck Festival, the Veteran’s 5 K Walk ‘n Run, and Big Time Wrestling. The PawSox also host numerous charity fundraising events at McCoy throughout the entire year.

All told, the PawSox Foundation has donated more than $1.1 million since 2004, raised at events held at the staidum. Furthermore, when combined, the PawSox Foundation and the PawSox ballclub have donated more than $2.2 million since 2004 to well over 100 different Rhode Island organizations.

Following other AAA and Major League Baseball organizations, PawSox Chairman Larry Lucchino and his co-owners bring vision on creating increased activity and use after the 70 regular games are played in the new 10,000 seat AAA stadium built along the Pawtucket River. Creating public spaces around the newly built minor league stadium will make it a year-round venue for Pawtucket residents, Rhode Islanders and tourists, bringing hundreds of thousands of spectators into the stadium and into the city’s historic downtown each year.

Walking trails, jogging tracks, picnic areas, play grounds for children, art galleries, banquet halls for corporate and private functions are being considered to increase usage 295 days a year when ballgames are not scheduled.

Almost 60 years ago, Pawtucket’s downtown was filled with movie theaters, department stores, men stores, book stores and restaurants that attracted so many people that one found it difficult to walk on the sidewalks. Since then, 10 mayors struggled and failed to bring life to downtown. A waterfront, direct highway access, a train station and breweries will all add to the regional and national prominence that the Ballpark at Slater Mill will bring. The foundation has been laid for the park to be the catalyst and new economic engine.

Just think, with a new AAA stadium, maybe the legendary Bob Dylan might just return for a third time to play in Pawtucket.

Herb Weiss

Pawtucket

Weiss is Pawtucket’s Economic & Cultural Affairs Officer