It’s a warm June afternoon sometime in the early 2000s. I’m sitting on a blanket with my family on your grassy outfield berm. McCoy Stadium, home of the Pawtucket Red Sox. My fingers and cheeks are sticky and stained blue from the ice pop that is melting fast in my hands. I am too young to understand or care about the action happening on your infield, but the feeling of excitement is contagious.
I, like so many kids raised in Rhode Island, have many fond memories of you, McCoy. After one game, the children in attendance were allowed to go down to the field and run the bases. I, however, was too petrified that I would run in the wrong direction to participate (I apparently didn’t think of just following the hordes of others who were running as well). I remember another night around one Fourth of July when my family parked the minivan a few blocks away from you, while the ice cream truck nearby played “It’s a Small World after All” on loop, to watch the fireworks display after the game. As I grew older, I spent less time with you, McCoy. We went our separate ways, but I loved to come back. Tickets were cheap ($9 for General Admission, $13 for Box Seats), parking was free, and watching the summer sun sink into left field while the lights hummed on had just the right feel of Americana. You made me love Rhode Island.
And now they’re abandoning you, dear McCoy. The new owners of the PawSox are abandoning your venerable bleachers for an expensive, shiny, new stadium in Providence, complete with the shopping and dining experience that you lack. They are so willing to overlook your history: the Red Sox stars you’ve watched rise (Dustin Pedroia, Jason Varitek), the longest baseball game ever played that unfolded on your diamond (33 innings in 1981), the franchises you’ve hosted (affiliates of the Boston Braves and the Cleveland Indians before the Red Sox found you), your construction on a swamp that (legend has it) swallowed equipment overnight. They only see the opportunity to build a complex of restaurants and stores around a new stadium, eliminating your free parking and cheap tickets in the process. Providence, riding the swelling wave of its cultural renaissance, is pulling away your team (to be renamed the Rhode Island Red Sox) and leaving you empty, to fall into disrepair. And if it’s not Providence, perhaps Massachusetts will claim your team, which will leave the whole state behind.
Pawtucket will fall with you, McCoy. The once thriving textile city of the Industrial Revolution that lies along the Blackstone River now struggles along. Its brown brick mills already stand vacant, broken windows like hollow eyes looking out over the dilapidated triple-decker homes that line cracked streets. You are just about all Pawtucket has left.
They say (in a still-secret study) that it will cost $65 million to renovate you to the standard of other minor league ballparks, but I don’t believe that. Maybe those other ballparks have baubles and amenities, but you don’t need those to survive. The Del’s Lemonade truck outside, the satisfying stadium concessions, the opportunity to watch future Red Sox stars play on your field, and the atmosphere of nostalgia will keep loyal Rhode Islanders coming season after season. I want to bring my children to you so they can scout for foul balls and home runs hit into the bleachers, hug Paws the Bear, and eat blue ice pops in the summer heat like I did.
You are a tradition, an institution, an icon of Rhode Island culture. And I refuse to forget you.