First the Pawtucket Red Sox, next the Maine Red Claws?
The Worcester City Council passed a motion this week asking city officials to reach out to the Boston Celtics to “express interest” in bringing the team’s G League affiliate to the Massachusetts city. As the Worcester Business Journal reported Wednesday, the motion floats the idea of swiping the Red Claws from Maine once the Celtics finalize their recent agreement to purchase the Portland-based team.
“I just want to extend that olive branch if there’s ever any potential down the road,” City Councilor Sean Rose, who introduced the motion, said during a meeting Tuesday.
Rose called Worcester “one of the best sports cities in New England.” The city already has a minor-league NHL affiliate in the Worcester Railers and the PawSox, the Triple-A team for the Boston Red Sox, plan to move to Worcester in 2021.
In the wake of the PawSox move, Rose told The Worcester Sport Scene, which first reported his planned motion last week, that it “seemed appropriate to make a push for us to get this G League affiliate to Worcester.”
Jon Jennings, the city manager of Portland and founder and former general manager of the Red Claws, isn’t keen on the idea. In an interview Thursday with Boston.com, Jennings said he has “great admiration” for the city of Worcester, but thinks what they’re trying to do is “unfortunate.”
“Having the Red Claws in Portland is incredibly important to the city of Portland,” he said, adding that the city is “well established as a sports mecca.”
Portland has also had minor-league baseball and hockey teams in the Portland Sea Dogs and the Portland Pirates, the latter of which moved to Springfield in 2016.
Jennings said he expects the Red Claws, which he helped bring to Maine in 2009, to remain in Portland for the “foreseeable future.” The Red Claws’ lease to play at the Portland Exposition Building runs through 2024 and the team has an option to extend it through 2029. Jennings added the Celtics organization has consistently been “very supportive” of having the team in Maine.
Jennings said the reason he picked Portland — “and not Worcester” — more than a decade ago was because Maine has a “phenomenal history of high school basketball.” The former Celtics scout, assistant coach, and player development director said that the late Red Auerbach used to tell him stories about bringing the team to Maine for exhibition games in the 1960s and 1970s.
The motion passed Tuesday by Worcester officials requests that City Manager Edward Augustus “consider reaching out” to the Celtics about the city’s interest in the Red Claws.
Jennings — whose has also been an aide to President Bill Clinton and Sen. John Kerry, a Democratic congressional nominee in Indiana, and the co-owner of a frozen yogurt store — says he actually worked with Augustus in Washington, D.C., when the Worcester native was Rep. Jim McGovern’s chief of staff. Jennings said he reached out to his counterpart Thursday.
“I know Ed to be an incredibly honorable man who wouldn’t try to steal a sports franchise from another city,” he said.
“I greatly respect Worcester,” Jennings added. “I would never ever try to do the same to them. I know our city council wouldn’t, either.”
In an interview Thursday with a local radio station, Augustus chuckled when asked about the Worcester City Council’s motion and said the city was “optimistic.”
“I think it’s a great order,” he said. “I think it’s a great idea. We certainly will make sure that the Celtics organization knows that Worcester would be very excited to talk about the possibility of [the Red Claws] making Worcester their home.”