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Politics and the City: Baseball runs strong in Worcester’s DNA

Why all the buzz about the city’s efforts to lure the Pawtucket Red Sox to Worcester?

It’s because Baseball is part of Worcester's DNA, make no mistake about it.

The city's connection with baseball is a notable one, spanning some 140 years from the very early years of the sport.

That may explain, in part, why so many are hoping the Boston Red Sox Triple A minor League team will someday soon call Worcester its new home.

When a good friend happened to run into PawSox Chairman Larry Lucchino during one of his visits to the city, Mr. Lucchino asked him if there was a lot of local support for the move to happen. His response was that the support was "off the chart."

Needless to say, that caught Mr. Lucchino’s attention.

Whether the PawSox move to Worcester remains to be seen. But if it doesn’t happen it won’t be for lack of effort by city officials, as they have been doing all they can to make it happen.

Led by City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr., and assisted by Mayor Joseph M. Petty, and Timothy P. Murray, head of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, the city has quietly been making a strong case to PawSox officials for Worcester.

While everyone involved has been very tight-lipped about the negotiations, the fact they are still talking is most encouraging. Also, the fact that Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration seems to be on board with Worcester’s efforts is another good sign.

All of which seems to have caught the attention of folks in Rhode Island, some of whom fear a Worcester deal could be imminent. Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien last week went so far as to declare a "now or never" plea to Rhode Island lawmakers to approve state funding for a new baseball stadium in his city or run the risk of losing the team to Worcester.

"The Worcester, Mass., deal is real and make no mistake about it," he said.

In the end, however, the decision will rest with the PawSox, and everyone will have to see how that plays out in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, to understand the relationship between Worcester and baseball one must look at the past. Baseball has a place in Worcester’s history, and the city certainly has a place in baseball lore.

Worcester had one of the first teams to play in the National League, and it is where the first recorded perfect game in professional baseball was pitched by J. Lee Richmond back in 1880.

It was a Chatham Street resident, Ernest Lawrence Thayer, who in 1888 wrote "Casey at the Bat," which the Baseball Almanac considers the single most famous baseball poem ever written.

The very first team Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel ever managed was a Worcester minor league team, the Worcester Panthers, affiliated with the Boston Braves in 1925. He succeeded another Hall of Famer, Jesse Burkett, who had managed the same Worcester team from 1923 to 1924.

Worcester is also where Hall of Famer Ted Williams played his first game in Massachusetts as a rookie with the Boston Red Sox back in 1939. About 5,000 people turned out at Fitton Field on what was a cold and raw mid-April day to see Williams play in the annual Red Sox-Holy Cross exhibition game. He hit a grand slam home run in his very first at-bat.

The 1952 Holy Cross baseball team brought great pride to Worcester when it won the College World Series, and the 2002 Jesse Burkett Little League team competed in the Little League World Series. Its second-place finish was the best in the history of Massachusetts Little League baseball.

In 2005, the Worcester Tornadoes, an unaffiliated baseball team in the Canadian-American Association of Professional Baseball League, won the Can-Am championship. After that team's last season in 2012, the Worcester Bravehearts came on to the scene in 2014 as a local affiliate of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League. It won the FCBL championship during its first year and repeated as champs the following year.

The Bravehearts have not only been popular draw playing at Fitton Field – the team's average attendance (2,356) last season was the seventh-highest in the country in a group of 153 summer collegiate franchises and its total attendance (65,957) ranked eighth in the nation – but it has become an important and valued member of the community as well.

Add to all that the many Worcester-area people who have played professional baseball.

Yes, baseball is very much a part of Worcester's DNA.

When talk first surfaced this past summer that the PawSox might be looking for a new home and that city officials were willing to talk with them, there was plenty of skepticism in some circles. After all, Worcester had been down that road many times before regarding minor league baseball, only to end up at a dead end every time.

There were talks with the PawSox back in the mid-1990s about coming to Worcester, but the team ended up staying in Pawtucket. There was also a proposal back in the mid-1980s to have the New Britain Red Sox, the then Double A team of the Red Sox, move to Worcester.

The team proposed building a stadium that was to be tied into an apartment development at the Perkins Farm property off Grafton Street. But that proposal ran into strong neighborhood and environmental opposition and went no further.

The city has also courted nonaffiliated professional baseball leagues, such as the Atlantic League and the now-defunct United Baseball League. In the hopes of luring a team to Worcester, stadiums have been proposed over the years for the Shrewsbury Street area, the Prescott Street area (now home to Gateway Park), the now-vacant Wyman-Gordon property off Madison Street and off Route 146.

All of which ended up going nowhere as well. So why would this latest effort be any different?

Mr. Augustus and Mr. Petty made it clear from the outset that Worcester is in a much stronger and more favorable position today than it was all those other times. The city doesn’t have to get down on its hands and knees to beg a team to come here, nor does it have to give away the store.

It would benefit a team to come to Worcester as much as it would benefit the city. If the city gets the PawSox, that would be great; if it doesn’t, Worcester still has a lot going for it and its future remains a bright one.

Hopefully, though, that future will include the "Worcester Red Sox" – it certainly has a nice ring to it – because baseball is very much a part of this city’s DNA and, yes, support for it would be off the chart.

Contact Nick Kotsopoulos at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @NCKotsopoulos

The post Politics and the City: Baseball runs strong in Worcester’s DNA appeared first on Shareabler.



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