While McCoy Stadium's days as the host of the Pawtucket Red Sox appear numbered, the city itself appears to be increasing its chances of remaining the long-term home of the Triple-A club.
Last month's long-awaited independent study was more or less the death knell for professional baseball at McCoy Stadium beyond 2020 -- the final year of the PawSox's current lease at McCoy. Neither renovating the current stadium nor demolishing it and building a new one at the site can promise a reasonable return on what would be a significant investment -- at least $68 million.
The study, however, does not indicate the end of professional baseball in Rhode Island or even Pawtucket. After 2015's plans to move to downtown Providence fizzled, the new PawSox ownership has worked hard to repair the club's relationship with its city -- and it's hopeful that effort is paying off.
Appearing at McCoy Stadium's second annual Truck Day on Monday, Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien spoke of the city's renewed commitment to the club, going so far as to compare the repair of the relationship after a rocky period to the Patriots' Super Bowl comeback the night before.
"It's an affirmation of what we have built over these last 14 or so months," said PawSox senior vice president and general manager Dan Rea of the mayor's words. "To hear him say that and recognize that shows a good community partner. We like working with him, we like working with our friends in the city and at the state level, and we're looking forward to finding a good solution with those guys."
Rea and the PawSox have become more confident that a long-term solution can be found in Pawtucket.
"The PawSox belong in Rhode Island. Triple-A baseball belongs in Rhode Island," said Red Sox team president Sam Kennedy at a corporate luncheon held at McCoy Stadium on Tuesday. Kennedy is also president of Fenway Sports Management, a wholly owned subsidiary of Fenway Sports Group and one of the limited partners in PawSox ownership.
"Every intention of this group is to keep this team in Rhode Island and keep it in Pawtucket, R.I. and to find a solution that works," Rea said at Tuesday's corporate luncheon, drawing applause from the crowd.
As the PawSox have commenced a search for other suitable sites in Pawtucket, they will focus on areas connected to the downtown, visible from the highway and accessible through public transit. The site of the Apex department store appears to fit those criteria theoretically, at least.
In discussing what the major-league club would like in a new ballpark, Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski stressed a similarity to Fenway Park's unique dimensions. Already, Boston's Single-A affiliate, the Greenville Drive, plays in a replica Fenway Park. Its six-year-old spring training facility replicates Fenway's dimensions. Even its Double-A team in Portland plays in front of a Maine Monster wall in left field.
"We're training and developing our players to play in a ballpark that's quite unique," Dombrowski said. "The more closely it resembles our stadium, the better off we are."
That's what made Pendulum's initial designs for a new stadium at the McCoy site curious. The firm pictured a Green Monster for the Triple-A club -- but in right field. That would likely do more harm than good for up-and-coming hitters and outfielders.
Although McCoy's future does not appear to stretch into the long-term, Rea said the team would not let the ballpark slip further into disrepair. He addressed concerns about the current ballpark's structural deficiencies by saying nothing was imminently dangerous. The Pendulum study had warned of "significant liability issues facing the owner of the stadium" as areas of concern "if allowed to further deteriorate could fail in time."
"Over the course of the remainder of the lease, we would look at things and obviously keep things in compliance and up to date," Rea said. "Working with the city and the state, we wouldn't let something get to the point of being dangerous or out of compliance. We continue to work and monitor that while looking at the longer-term picture as well."