PAWTUCKET — While the Pawtucket Red Sox were celebrating their International League North division championship on Saturday night, Club President Mike Tamburro found himself thinking about the franchise’s late owner, Ben Mondor.
“I was definitely thinking of Ben,” Tamburro admitted on Monday. “I know he’s somewhere up there celebrating.”
Mondor, who pulled the franchise out of bankruptcy after buying the International League club in 1976, passed away last October at the age of 85. His fingerprints are still all over McCoy Stadium. His gravelly voice no doubt resonates in the ears of all the employees who worked for the former Woonsocket mill owner.
Tamburro thought of Mondor first and then the players on this 2011 team second.
“It was great to see these kids get their chance to celebrate,” he said. “Our victory on Saturday night was like a foreshadowing of our entire season. We got off to a good start, scuffled a bit in the middle, then Ryan Lavarnway came up and hit a big three-run homer to put us ahead. That’s what he did when he came up in June. Ryan put this team on his back and carried them.”
The PawSox won Saturday night’s game over five-time defending North champion Scranton/Wilkes-Barre by a 12-7 score, playing hard in every inning and never giving up. That’s the way this team played all season long, through injuries and promotions to Boston.
Manager Arnie Beyeler’s collection of former big leaguers, upcoming prospects and journeyman Triple-A players all bought into the idea of playing this season out to the final game. A strong surge that began when Lavarnway was promoted in mid-June carried the PawSox past front-running Lehigh Valley and into the playoffs.
Now they’ll provide have to compete in the playoffs without Lavarnway, who was recalled to Boston on Sunday.
The PawSox, as division champs, have home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs, meaning they will host the final three games of the best-of-five series against Lehigh Valley, assuming the series goes the limit.
“We’ll be playing (home games) at 7:05 p.m. on Friday, 6:05 on Saturday and 1:05 on Sunday afternoon,” Tamburro said.
Columbus, which won the 2010 Governors’ Cup championship, is favored again this year after winning the West by a 12-game margin. The top farm team of the Cleveland Indians won 88 games this season, seven more than Pawtucket and eight more than Durham, which won the South title.
The PawSox last won a Governors’ Cup championship in 1984. They finished second in the league championship playoffs in 1991 (under manager Butch Hobson) and in 2003 (under Tony Torchia).
The PawSox last won a division title in 2003. Their most recent playoff appearance came in 2008 under former manager Ron Johnson as a wild-card recipient.
“I was on that 2008 team,” Rochester first baseman Jeff Bailey admitted after Monday’s game with Pawtucket had ended. Bailey, who spent parts of five seasons with Pawtucket, smiled at the memory.
“I missed the playoffs that year because I was up with Boston,” he said. “What I remember from that season is five of us made the All-Star team and Ben (Mondor) gave us each $500. He just did it kind of quietly. It was an extraordinary gesture on his part. I remember Ben as someone who was always joking and was extremely generous with the players.”
After Monday’s game ended, the entire PawSox team was introduced on the field and handed baskets of foam baseballs to throw into the stands. This is a season-ending ceremony that invokes the essence of Mondor’s philosophy. Ben always believed that the fans came first. He imparted that belief to Tamburro and everyone else on the PawSox work force.
“The season we’ve had is a great tribute to our fans,” Tamburro said. “The playoffs are really for the fans. They provide one more opportunity to watch an exciting team try to put a magical finish on to a remarkable season. We’d like nothing more than to win the Governors’ Cup this season for our fans.”