The sun may have set on the Paw Sox’s reign in McCoy Stadium, but a new era has emerged for the Triple-A Red Sox affiliate as the Woo Sox kick off their inaugural season in the newly-designed Polar Park right in Worcester. Both baseball fans and local businesses have rejoiced in the team’s presence in the city, serving as a clear display of the importance of Minor League Baseball not only to the future of the league, but the cities and towns it resides in.
Baseball-wise, the Woo Sox roster has a lot to offer in terms of exciting young talent. The Red Sox farm system hasn’t exactly been one to boast about for much of the last few years, but it all seems to be coming together now just in time to showcase all the young talent on display at Polar Park. Names such as outfielder Jarren Duran, second baseman Jeter Downs, and of course starting right-handed pitcher Tanner Houck are already turning heads as just a few of the system’s top prospects right now.
Currently, the Woo Sox stand in 4th place in the AAA-E Northeast standings, but make no mistake, similar to their big brother Red Sox in the AL East, the division will be a dogfight to the very end, and at just three games back on May 20th with an exciting offense and impressive pitching staff, things can change in the blink of an eye.
However, this story is less a scouting report, and more a look at just what kind of impact Minor League Baseball has on the communities it’s a part of. I spoke with several fans who recently attended a Woo Sox game and what their experience in Polar Park and Worcester was like.
Molly Richard, who works in the area at Wachusett Brewery, one of the local businesses benefitting from the influx of visitors due to the new park and team, was able to attend Opening Day for the first-ever home game for the Woo Sox and raved about her experience. “We have been excited about the park opening for so long. I loved how the park feels like a smaller version of Fenway but also celebrates Worcester. The food vendors were local Worcester restaurants like Wonder Bar pizza and Coney Island hot dogs. There was a sense of local pride for the people and business owners of Worcester seeing their city doing something big.”
A sense of local pride certainly seems to be a common theme for those familiar with the area. Central Mass native Quinn McCarron attended last Friday’s 2-1 win over the Syracuse Mets and expressed similar feelings to the team and park’s impact on the community. “Worcester has long been waiting for another professional sports team after the Sharks left, and the excitement in the city is at an all-time high,” McCarron says you can feel the excitement just being in the park. “With fan energy high and a brand new ballpark, the Woo Sox are a can’t miss event this summer.”
Local fans aren’t the only ones getting in on the excitement. Baseball fans throughout New England have already made the trek to Worcester to see what the Woo Sox and Polar Park are all about, some having never even been to Worcester before.
Though Alyssa Kelly is not as familiar with the Worcester area as Richard and McCarron, as someone who enjoyed attending Paw Sox games at McCoy Stadium, she took the trip to Polar Park last Friday and had the same at-home feeling one gets in minor league ballparks as she did at McCoy. “McCoy and Polar Park are very different, I loved McCoy because of its classic charm. It was a classic and held a lot of memories for me, however, I was happy to see that a lot of the employees from McCoy now work at Polar Park. The fan experience was just as great as I remembered at McCoy.” “I was really blown away by the overall environment [at Polar Park]. Everything looks great, with a lot of interactive photo opportunities for fans both inside and outside the park. There was a great variety of new ballpark favorites to try, at pretty reasonable prices, and the Friday night fireworks were one of the best displays I’ve ever seen.”
JJ Shea is another fan who had some great memories at McCoy but says Polar Park is just an overall “nicer” experience for all fans. “It’s just a much nicer looking ballpark. They definitely put a lot of thought into the food and drink options, and it’s something that should do really well for the local businesses too. I think once the stadium is allowed full capacity, the vibe will be similar to how it feels at Fenway.” He then adds, “while construction isn’t completely done yet, once it is you can tell it’ll be the place to be this summer.”
Certainly, Polar Park will become the place to be this summer, as it prides itself in its accessibility and inclusivity for all fans. I spoke with Bella Chautin, a fan whose average baseball park experience is different than others. “My experience is a lot different, as I have a disability. We have season tickets and initially, I was very overwhelmed on the street Wednesday. Once we got in the park we went to fan services and found out they had a sensory room, which was great for me and others with disabilities. Not only that, we explained my situation, and someone was there that understood and alerted the staff at that gate about it. It’s been such a great experience, the staff has been so kind and nice.” Chautin says the park’s accommodations and their understanding staff was one of the best parts of the whole experience.
Even the park’s food options are accommodating to all fans! Polar Park offers healthier food options than most ballparks, as well as vegetarian, kosher, diabetic, and heart-healthy choices. While perhaps the most common grievance regarding the park was the prices of food and drinks, as is often the case with any sports venue, the large selection of options offered in addition to the added bonus of supporting local Worcester businesses and Minor League Baseball itself certainly makes it a little less painful.
The impact the Woo Sox has already had on the community of Worcester is the perfect showcase of the importance not only of preserving Minor League Baseball, but promoting and supporting it. Polar Park should be a go-to attraction in Massachusetts for a long time, both for baseball fans and those just looking for a fun day out in the sun. Let the growing success of the Woo Sox serve as an example of MiLB done right.
Design by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter @ IG)