McCoy Stadium turned into a memorable place to view my first AAA game. Home to the Red Sox's top farm club since 1973, the short trip from the bigs to the minors is well worth the drive down I-95.
Odd, unique, or a combination of both is the way I would describe McCoy Stadium, which underwent a major renovation in 1999. The home of the team affectionately dubbed as the PawSox is nestled in the neighborhood of homes off Columbus Avenue in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, a mere 41 miles from where Fenway Park settles in Boston's Back Bay.
Easily the oldest stadium in the 14-team International League, with the closest being Columbus's Cooper Stadium (1977), McCoy remains one of the league's smallest ballparks. Currently, McCoy's capacity exceeds only two other IL teams, and by just 31 seats at that: Durham Athletic Park and Charlotte's Knights Stadium seat 10,000.
Depending on how early you get to a game in Pawtucket (located about 5 miles from Providence), the first of many things to leave an impression at McCoy is the unique shape of the stadium and that the dugouts are anything but, as McCoy is the only second story stadium in all of baseball, meaning the dugouts are at ground level.
As a result, enterprising fans have created one of the most unique traditions in all of baseball, making the autograph scene a scene within itself. Fans flock above the home and visitor dugouts with their "fishing lines" in tow, hoping to reel in an autograph or few.
Having never heard about or seen the "McCoy fisherman" at work, I was taken aback by the numerous two-liter bottles and milk jugs dangling from pieces of string. The end result is obtaining an autograph and the players seem happy to oblige, as the entrance to the dugout is blocked by a wall of beach sand pails and the like, oddly reminiscent of the beaded curtains you'd find separating the back rooms of a Chinese restaurant.
Also, since the stadium's main seats reside on the second story, the ballpark looks more like a Coliseum at first glance, reminding me more of a Spanish bull ring than a baseball stadium.
Minor League baseball is supposed to be fan friendly and affordable and Pawtucket excels as much in those areas as any professional sport franchise I've ever encountered. Having rescued the club from bankruptcy when he purchased the team in 1977, owner Ben Mondor helped rejuvenate interest in the team and McCoy Stadium, built in 1942, with a major renovation and expansion during and after the 1999 season.
The $11 million project, jointly financed by the team and the state of Rhode Island, expanded the seating capacity of McCoy from 7,002 to 10,031. Included in the transformation was the addition of the popular berm seating in left-center field and the signature three-story staircase down the left field line. In order to increase the capacity the PawSox opted to add seats on the third-base side, jutting out from the symmetrical grandstand and giving the ballpark an oblong feel.
Sitting on the third base side and looking in towards home plate, you get the feel you're in a stadium built in the World War 2 era. Turn your head to the left or sit on the first-base side of the park and you're confronted with the picturesque modern-day appeal that has been the boom of ballparks since the introduction of Camden Yards.
Another nice McCoy perk is that if the Red Sox and PawSox play on the same day the right-center field Jumbotron shows live Red Sox game updates before the PawSox bat in the bottom half of each inning, which I found to be a nice touch since the game I attended occurred at the same time as the first Pedro Martinez-Roger Clemens showdown of 2001.
In addition to the stadium's uniqueness, the PawSox remain affordable to watch, with the 4,014 box seats topping out at $8.00 and the remaining general admission tickets a mere 5 bucks. As an added bonus, and a nice surprise to start off the day, parking is free. Obviously the fans have been very appreciative, as the PawSox have become accustomed to playing before the highest percentage of ballpark capacity in the International League.
If you want to get a sense of the final destination on the long and arduous journey to the Major Leagues for many recent Red Sox greats, Pawtucket's McCoy Stadium is a great place to take in a ballgame and proves that Fenway Park is not the only quaint and charming New England ballpark.