WORCESTER — Wearing a dark blue Polar Park hat that Larry Lucchino said “metaphysically and metaphorically” felt good to put on, while still attempting to catch his breath after several rounds of ceremonial shovel scoops and tosses, the PawSox principal owner/chairman was asked to look back on a day where the central theme was full speed ahead.
Will there always be a part of Lucchino that wonders about what could have been regarding the PawSox remaining in Pawtucket? Specifically, at a ballpark with Slater Mill and Rhode Island’s portion of the Blackstone River serving as the backdrop.
“Absolutely. No one could have tried any harder than we did,” said Lucchino. “I think (Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien) can testify to our great efforts as we can testify to his. We’ve been in Rhode Island for 50 years and wanted to stay, but these kinds of major undertakings and redevelopment projects require a private/public partnership that’s sincere and real. We couldn’t achieve that in Rhode Island, but we genuinely wanted to get it done, I assure you that, and I can tell you that our partners will testify to that fact as well.”
Thursday’s groundbreaking ceremony for the future home of the Pawtucket Red Sox was the latest in a series of reminders that Pawtucket’s loss of a longtime cultural staple is now Worcester’s gain. Those who flocked to the congested and well-worn portion of Kelley Square listened to speeches where optimism reigned supreme. The chance to sip Polar beverages and purchase Polar Park gear was also afforded.
Only one of the scheduled speakers received a standing ovation. It wasn’t Lucchino, nor was it any of the Worcester and Massachusetts political leaders who are credited with luring the PawSox across state lines.
The honor went to Gene Zabinski, known in Worcester as Mr. Postcard. Through Zabinski’s tireless efforts of mobilizing enough folks to send an estimated 10,000 postcards to Lucchino in Pawtucket, Worcester from an Everyday Joe standpoint made it quite clear that it’s zest for the PawSox was quite real.
Zabinski told the crowd that it wasn’t uncommon for him to make multiple visits per week to drop off a fresh stack of postcards to the 17 bars and restaurants that happened to be located a deep fly ball away from where Polar Park is to be constructed. .
“We kept pushing at it,” said Zabinski.
“It was a major statement of support from a public that was passionate about this city and its desire to have the Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox,” said PawSox president Dr. Charles Steinberg after the ceremony when asked about Zabinski’s approach. “It was the one of the major brushstrokes in the portrait that Massachusetts and Worcester painted.”
“It was a very refreshing. First of all, it was self-generated,” said Lucchino. “The fact that it was them-to-us makes it even more impressive rather than something we asked for.”
The enthusiasm that was spearheaded by Zabinski’s grassroots approach was unlike anything that was seen or witnessed in the area surrounding McCoy Stadium, the longtime home of the PawSox. There were plenty of folks who wanted Pawtucket to stay put, yet nothing was done to the extent of the campaign efforts led by Zabinski. The closest show of support in Pawtucket leading up to the August 2018 relocation announcement was a “Let’s Go PawSox!’ banner that was displayed outside the Slater Mill site that now serves as a museum.
Two of the PawSox owners with Woonsocket ties – former Feet National Bank CEO Terry Murray and former CVS Caremark CEO Tom Ryan – were present at the Polar Park site on Thursday. Of note, current PawSox vice chairman Mike Tamburro and Jim Skeffington Jr. – son of late PawSox owner/president Jim Skeffington Sr. – grabbed shovels shaped like a baseball bat and dug into the ceremonial dirt as City of Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty led a countdown that was capped with him saying 2021, a reference to when the PawSox will begin playing games at Polar Park.
While Lucchino expressed confidence in construction being complete by the time the 2021 season rolls around, he did make reference to a contingency plan that could result in the PawSox remaining in Rhode Island until the last nail is hammered into the wall.
“We’ll jump off that bridge when we come to it,” said Lucchino, “but my hope is that we’ll be playing in Worcester on Opening Day in 2021. If not Opening Day, I suppose it could be the Fourth of July or midseason, but we’re anticipating to finish on schedule.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03