PAWTUCKET — By this coming Friday night, fans would have been down to just 31 opportunities remaining to see the PawSox at McCoy Stadium. Thanks to COVID-19, a sledgehammer was taken to a 2020 schedule that figured to run the emotional gamut.
Now the question becomes whether the PawSox will leave the state without having the opportunity to stage a proper swan song at McCoy Stadium that lowers the curtain on a 50-year relationship between a city and a minor-league franchise.
Who knows if Polar Park, Pawtucket’s future home in Worcester, will remain on track to be finished by next April. What is known is that the worst-kept secret is now official after Minor League Baseball announced the official cancellation of the 2020 season on Tuesday.
“Naturally, as baseball fans, we are deeply disappointed to not have a summer of PawSox baseball, especially in our 50th anniversary season,” said PawSox President Dr. Charles Steinberg in a statement released by the club.
“Yet all of us recognize that the health, safety, and well-being of our players, fans, and entire community are paramount, but we will keep the faith. This may not be how the story ends.
“We continue to speak with the Mayor of Pawtucket, the Hon. Donald R. Grebien, and other public officials, about the uses this summer – and beyond – of McCoy Stadium,” Steinberg added.
As part of Tuesday’s press release, the PawSox stated that they plan to explore ways to have a fitting farewell to 78-year-old McCoy Stadium. The club is still targeting to open the 2021 season at their new home in Worcester.
During a media tour of Polar Park on Monday, developer Janet Marie Smith stated “until we have a new plan, that’s our plan” when asked if next April’s target date to open the new ballpark remains realistic after losing a month-plus of construction time due to COVID-19.
This year marks the first in the 137-year history of the International League (founded in 1884) that no games will be played.
“These are unprecedented times for our country and our organization as this is the first time in our history that we’ve had a summer without Minor League Baseball,” said Minor League Baseball President & CEO Pat O’Conner. “While this is a sad day for many, this announcement removes the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season and allows our teams to begin planning for an exciting 2021 season of affordable family entertainment.”
Stated International League President Randy Mobley, “Until just a few hours ago [on Tuesday afternoon], the League and its 14-member teams continued to plan and prepare for the possibility of playing a 60-game shortened season. Due to the many COVID-19 related challenges that would accompany staffing team rosters for a two-month season, Major League Baseball has now advised that they will not be assigning players to the teams of Minor League Baseball in 2020. While we continue to pray for the health and well-being of those within our communities, our focus immediately turns to planning and preparing to welcome fans and sponsors back into our fabulous ballparks next April. During what will now become an extended off-season from Triple-A Baseball, I encourage fans to stay tuned in to activities planned by their local team.”
As Major League Baseball gears up for its season, the Boston Red Sox have discussed using McCoy Stadium as the home of some of their workouts. Schedules and details will be announced. The PawSox are also holding out hope of resuming its “Dining on the Diamond” on-field restaurant service that was sold out during each weekend in June.
“So many high school and college players have loved playing on this field through the years, and we will see if there is a way to continue to provide that opportunity,” said Steinberg. “We have also loved welcoming so many Rhode Island families to enjoy Dining on the Diamond, and we will see if we can continue to offer that experience as well.”
As for honoring a ballpark that has supplied five decades’ worth of baseball moments with some semblance of actual baseball activity before the operation crosses state lines, the PawSox on Tuesday didn’t flat-out say that’s all she wrote as far as McCoy Stadium is concerned. Still, when the preference all along has been to settle into their new digs in time for the 2021 season, it’s hard to see the team tweaking its plans just so that McCoy could receive a proper sendoff.
“You want an emotional and beautiful sendoff whenever the time is right,” said Steinberg during a recent interview. “You want to thank McCoy for being a house of memories.”
Fans with tickets to 2020 PawSox home games will be contacted by the club’s ticket office and receive personal attention regarding a variety of options, including refunds.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03