Gordon Hayward apparently isn’t the only free agent being wooed to Massachusetts this summer.
The Pawtucket Red Sox also became a free agent, of sorts, this month. And as the Telegram and Gazette reported Tuesday, there is an effort to bring professional baseball back to Worcester — with mutual interest between the city and the PawSox.
Pawtucket’s exclusive negotiating rights with Red Sox’s Triple-A affiliate expired as of July 1, providing an opening for other cities to lure the PawSox to town. Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty is ruling nothing out.
“If the PawSox move from Pawtucket, I’d be happy to entertain the possibility of them moving to Worcester,” Petty told Boston.com in a statement.
Behind the scenes, officials have already been reaching out.
According to the Telegram, there have been ongoing “back-channel” conversations between Worcester and PawSox representatives, as well as a postcard campaign led by the city’s Canal District Alliance. As of Tuesday, roughly 10,000 postcards had reportedly been mailed to the PawSox from fans supporting a relocation to Worcester.
In a statement, City Manager Edward Augustus confirmed the discussions between the two parties.
“The City of Worcester has spoken with the leadership of the PawSox and communicated our openness to the possibility of having them come to Worcester if they decide to leave their current home,” he said.
Why the PawSox might leave
The PawSox are currently locked in to play at 75-year-old McCoy Stadium through the 2020 season. But as The Boston Globe reported last month, the team has struggled with lagging attendance and “mounting deficiencies” of the aging ballpark.
After an unsuccessful effort by ownership — which is led by former Red Sox president Larry Lucchino — to move the team to Providence in 2015, team officials recently introduced a plan to build a replica Fenway Park in Pawtucket.
Rhode Island legislators introduced a revised bill last week to finance the proposed stadium, which Gov. Gina Raimondo said would shield state taxpayers from any revenue shortfalls. Lawmakers adjourned the legislative without acting on the bill; however, state Senate President Dominick Ruggerio recently told the Globe they may consider it during a special autumn session.
Worcester currently has no minor league baseball team, despite being the second-biggest city in Massachusetts with a population over 180,000 people (by comparison, Lowell, home of the Single-A Spinners, has a population around 110,000).
“We’re an attractive city for many businesses as well as the PawSox,” Petty said. “We’re centrally located and we’re in the middle of a cultural and economic renaissance.”
The city also has a rich history of professional baseball teams. In fact, the first recorded major league perfect game was thrown in 1880 by Worcester Worcesters pitcher Lee Richmond (and yes, the Worcester Worcesters were their actual name).
Currently, the city’s highest-level baseball team is the Worcester Bravehearts, a summer collegiate team that plays in a 3,000-seat stadium at Holy Cross. According to the Telegram, the Bravehearts have a “substantial constituency,” but a Triple-A team such as the PawSox would need a bigger stadium (McCoy seats over 10,000).
One proposed stadium location is a vacant lot adjacent to the city’s revitalized Canal District. Incidentally, Lucchino’s personal legacy already includes serving as the driving force behind the construction of downtown ballparks in Baltimore and San Diego.
An unnamed PawSox source adamantly denied to the Telegram that the team was using Worcester as leverage in their negotiations with local lawmakers for a new stadium in Rhode Island.
“People and businesses are noticing our city because the momentum we’ve built is real,” he said.