The late PawSox owner Ben Mondor, shown here with former player Nomar Garciaparra, is missed around McCoy Stadium this month.
The sights and smells that remind us a new baseball season is dawning are everywhere at McCoy Stadium.
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The main offices are flush with hustle and bustle, be it finishing the media guide or gameday program, or handling ticket sales. The rugs in the home and away clubhouses have been thoroughly shampooed, the jerseys hung in the lockers while an unopened box of caps sits patiently in the middle of the room, just waiting to have their brims creased. Outside the field is waking up after a long winterâs slumber, as the grass is freshly cut, the dirt layered and new chalk is placed down on the foul lines.
âThis is the magic time for us because youâre breathing life into a building thatâs been cold and quiet,â says PawSox general manager Lou Schwechheimer.
Yes, itâs standard protocol for this time of year at McCoy, as opening night is set for next Thursday. The staff is hard at work, striving to make sure that when the time comes to raise the curtain, there are no errors, no glitches. Everything must run smoothly.
Just the way Ben Mondor â a man who earnestly believed that haste makes waste â would have wanted.
âWe never really saw a lot of Ben (in the offseason). He went away to Florida and would come back around mid-March or so,â team president Mike Tamburro was saying the other day. âYou would be in full gear, trying to get everything completed that goes into getting the season ready.
âWhen Ben walked in here, you knew that the season was upon us,â Tamburro continued. Schwechheimer, now in his 30th season working for the PawSox, took it a step further with a Mondor anecdote from the franchiseâs early years.
âWe would be working like crazy, and every Friday the three of us (myself, Mondor and Tamburro) and a couple of guys in the clubhouse would always have fish and chips,â regaled the G.M. âEven when Ben would come back from Florida, he would poke his head in the kitchen. It was his time to talk.
âMore than anything, his energy âŠ he just lit this place up,â added Schwechheimer. âYou would see that twinkle in his eye and knew he was back â and the season was here.â
Such recollections drive home why Mondor is such a unique figurehead. He is the patriarch of PawSox baseball, a person whose greatest asset was perhaps his keen eye to detail. Nothing less than perfection was acceptable, a trait that has made Pawtucket a model of efficiency and smoothness, one whose consistency has never been questioned.
Rest assured its still business as usual at McCoy, albeit with one noticeable absence. As tough as it was to bid farewell to Mondor last October, it figures to be even more challenging to usher in a new season without him sitting in his box along the third base side, âholding court,â as Tamburro and Schwechheimer noted.
âThat office of his, it was his castle. That suite, he was the king of the castle,â Tamburro said. âHe would tell old stories and make them better. He would create brand new ones. Thatâs where he was in full bloom.
âTo be in that suite on opening night and the nights after, without him there, theyâll be a big emptiness,â Tamburro underscored.
Once again Schwechheimer picks up the story about how Mondor added to the pageantry of a new season.
âThere would be years where you would get snow flurries on media day, and he would be bundled up in that jacket and on the field. It was like a rebirth,â he said. âSpring was back in the air, and you really realized how much he loved baseball. I donât know if he ever missed a game. He hung on every pitch.â
There were times, Tamburro noted, that he would plead with Mondor to have him come inside from his box, particularly during April when thereâs still a definite chill in the air.
âHe would sit in that box in 30 degree weather and I would go out there and say, âCome inside, youâre going to get sick!ââ said Tamburro. âHe said, âIâm an old son-of-a-gun, Iâm going to die anyways!â
âI always got a kick out of him saying that he was a businessman, not a baseball man. He loved baseball and watched baseball more than anyone in this building,â stressed Tamburro.
This PawSox season is dedicated to emphasizing Mondorâs legacy, and rightfully so. Some of the tributes have already been announced, like the circular patch emblazoned with âBENâ that will appear on the playerâs right sleeve. Around the corner from the ticket office marks the location of Mondor Gardens, a project that will be unveiled next week.
There are other tributes in the works, though Tamburro wishes to keep those under wraps until the opener. âHe will be a big part of the pregame ceremonies,â he said, noting that Madeleine Mondor, Benâs widow, is slated to be present.
Thereâs just one final question: what about Mondorâs office, a sanctuary covered in memorabilia? Tamburro and Schwechheimer â always known around the ballpark as Mondorâs top lieutenants â affirmed there are no plans to remove anything. Also, people will still have the chance to view the game from Mondorâs box â the same spot where he always had the welcome mat rolled out.
âWeâre going to entertain people every night,â said Tamburro, âand I honestly think thatâs the way Ben would have wanted it. Thereâs no better way to celebrate his life than by keeping that box alive and filled with the people he would have liked to visit with.â
Echoed Schwechheimer, âThis season more than any will be a celebration of Ben in that box.â