Imagine the Pawtucket Red Sox playing at a ballpark with similar dimensions and attractions seen at Fenway Park.
Such a scenario would provide the PawSox ballplayer with a significant competitive advantage, one that Red Sox President Sam Kennedy and President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski touched upon during a luncheon for corporate sponsors and local officials at McCoy Stadium on Tuesday.
From JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla. to Portland, Maine's Hadlock Field and Greenville, South Carolina's Fluor Field, there's a few facilities within the Red Sox's baseball chain buoyed by a Green Monster-type left field. If mimicking what takes place at the big leagues on down is a priority, you can understand why Dombrowski and Kennedy talked about the desire to perhaps have the Triple-A team take the field at a ballpark that had a definite Fenway feel to it.
To illustrate, Dombrowski mentioned Red Sox rookie outfielder Andrew Benintendi, who last year made the jump from Double-A Portland to the majors. With Hadlock Field containing a 37-foot high left-field wall, perhaps one of the reasons why Boston felt Benintendi didn't need to spend a single day in Triple-A was due to the lack of a similar feature at McCoy Stadium.
Why undo the lessons Benintendi learned while with the Sea Dogs by having him play home games at McCoy, only to give him a refresher course upon walking out to left field at Fenway Park for the first time?
"We're training our players to play at a ballpark that's quite unique," Dombrowski said.
Dombrowski shared with the estimated crowd of 125 about a conversation he once had with Detroit Tigers Hall of Famer Al Kaline, who referenced the degree of difficulty with right field at Fenway Park and the myriad of challenges it poses.
For those fresh off the Red Sox minor-league conveyor belt, the idea of learning how to judge fly balls in relation to Pesky's Pole might not prove as foreign if you're coming from a Triple-A venue that already has a similar structure already in place.
"The more it closely resembles our major-league stadium, the better off we are," Dombrowski said. "From a developmental perspective, it would be a big advantage."
Kennedy echoed many of Dombrowski's sentiments in an interview after the luncheon.
"It would be a great thing from a competitive standpoint to have your players in Triple-A who sometimes are days away from coming to Fenway Park to play in a ballpark with replica dimensions. It would be preferable and ideal, but it's not absolutely mandatory," Kennedy said. "It's an idea that's been discussed and every time it's come up for other minor-league facilities, we've always been supportive of it."
Besides his prominent front-office role with the Red Sox, Kennedy is also part of Fenway Sports Management, which contains an ownership stake in the PawSox. On Tuesday, Kennedy stated that regardless of the current Triple-A stadium saga plays out, the most important component is to ensure the PawSox continue to call Rhode Island home.
"The Red Sox are supportive of baseball in Rhode Island. I want to be clear about that," Kennedy said. "We'll see what the future brings. It's unknowable with regards to what's going to happen, but we'll be supportive partners."
Kennedy has a longstanding relationship with PawSox Chairman Larry Lucchino that dates back to the 1990s. If Kennedy needs an update about Pawtucket, he knows exactly who to call. Sharing the stage with Dombrowski and PawSox General Manager Dan Rea, who served as the event's emcee, Kennedy took the occasion to tell the room that the PawSox are in good hands with Lucchino.
"Larry understands better than anybody about how ballparks work and how they fit into their communities," Kennedy said. "You've got the ownership and management team in place to get a new ballpark or a renovated ballpark done the right way."
Of note, Kennedy spoke about the need to have the Triple-A affiliate geographically close to the major-league club. That's already the case with the PawSox, who are less than hour away from the front door at Fenway Park.
"Getting guys up from Pawtucket is a competitive advantage," Kennedy said. "The (New York) Mets have their Triple-A team in Las Vegas. Try playing a game after being on the red-eye." Kennedy may have skin in the ownership game in Pawtucket, yet he made it quite clear that he isn't about to stick his beak into business regarding the next step for the PawSox.
"When we invested into the PawSox, we invested in the management team here," Kennedy said. "That's a decision that will be made by PawSox ownership."