The sights and smells that remind us a new baseball season is dawning are everywhere at McCoy Stadium.
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 winter’s slumber, as the grass is freshly cut, the dirt layered and new chalk is placed down on the foul lines.
“This is the magic time for us because you’re breathing life into a building that’s been cold and quiet,” says PawSox general manager Lou Schwechheimer.
Yes, it’s 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 – a man who earnestly believed that haste makes waste – would have wanted.
“We never really saw a lot of Ben (in the offseason). He went away to Florida and would come back around mid-March or so,” team president Mike Tamburro was saying the other day. “You would be in full gear, trying to get everything completed that goes into getting the season ready.
“When Ben walked in here, you knew that the season was upon us,” Tamburro continued. Schwechheimer, now in his 30th season working for the PawSox, took it a step further with a Mondor anecdote from the franchise’s early years.
“We 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,” regaled the G.M. “Even when Ben would come back from Florida, he would poke his head in the kitchen. It was his time to talk.
“More than anything, his energy … he just lit this place up,” added Schwechheimer. “You would see that twinkle in his eye and knew he was back – and the season was here.”
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, “holding court,” as Tamburro and Schwechheimer noted.
“That office of his, it was his castle. That suite, he was the king of the castle,” Tamburro said. “He would tell old stories and make them better. He would create brand new ones. That’s where he was in full bloom.
“To be in that suite on opening night and the nights after, without him there, they’ll be a big emptiness,” Tamburro underscored.
Once again Schwechheimer picks up the story about how Mondor added to the pageantry of a new season.
“There 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,” he said. “Spring was back in the air, and you really realized how much he loved baseball. I don’t know if he ever missed a game. He hung on every pitch.”
There were times, Tamburro noted, that he would plead with Mondor to have him come inside from his box, particularly during April when there’s still a definite chill in the air.
“He would sit in that box in 30 degree weather and I would go out there and say, ‘Come inside, you’re going to get sick!’” said Tamburro. “He said, ‘I’m an old son-of-a-gun, I’m going to die anyways!’
“I 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,” stressed Tamburro.
This PawSox season is dedicated to emphasizing Mondor’s legacy, and rightfully so. Some of the tributes have already been announced, like the circular patch emblazoned with “BEN” that will appear on the player’s 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. “He will be a big part of the pregame ceremonies,” he said, noting that Madeleine Mondor, Ben’s widow, is slated to be present.
There’s just one final question: what about Mondor’s office, a sanctuary covered in memorabilia? Tamburro and Schwechheimer – always known around the ballpark as Mondor’s top lieutenants – affirmed there are no plans to remove anything. Also, people will still have the chance to view the game from Mondor’s box – the same spot where he always had the welcome mat rolled out.
“We’re going to entertain people every night,” said Tamburro, “and I honestly think that’s the way Ben would have wanted it. There’s 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.”
Echoed Schwechheimer, “This season more than any will be a celebration of Ben in that box.”