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Thursday, Apr 24th

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McCoy Stadium / Pawtucket Red Sox

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Age is relative when it comes to baseball stadiums -- a point well exemplified by McCoy Stadium, the home of the Pawtucket Red Sox. In theory, McCoy Stadium is one the oldest ballparks in the International League, first opening in 1942. So a visitor unfamiliar with the recent history of McCoy Stadium would expect a quaint, classic ballpark -- after all, if small and quaint is good enough for parent team Red Sox, it should be good enough for its Class AAA affiliate, right?

FAST FACTS

Year Built: 1942
Capacity: 10,031
Dimensions: 325L, 379LC, 400C, 375RC, 322R
Website: pawsox.com
Phone: 401/724-7300
League: International League (Class AAA)
Ticket Prices: Box Seats, $10; Adult General Admission, $6; Children and Seniors, $4
Parking: There's a smaller free parking lot adjacent to the stadium, as well as free parking at Jenks Junior High School, at the corner of Division Street and Ashton Stadium. On busy nights, the PawSox route traffic to a pay parking lot on Delta Drive, kitty-corner from the ballpark.
Address/Directions: Ben Mondor Way, Pawtucket. This street probably won't make it on many Pawtucket maps, as it's a short, one-block-long street that runs directly beside the ballpark. Your best bet is to check out the PawSox Website and download directions from there. It's not overly difficult to make it to McCoy Stadium (there are a slew of signs pointing out the directions), but you will be driving through the city's residential area.

But McCoy Stadium is not quaint, though it is still classic. McCoy Stadium was extensively renovated between May 1998 and April 1999 -- so extensively that the PawSox refer to it as the New McCoy Stadium. This renovation is both good and bad: while McCoy isn't exactly the same as it was 10 years ago, the many upgrades were made to bring the stadium up to modern Class AAA standards -- and it did make the ballpark a more comfortable place to see a game.

In fact, today's McCoy Stadium bears a pretty strong resemblance to many of today's modern Class AAA stadiums in terms of layout and amenities. You have the obligatory concourse lining almost the entire stadium, as well as a grassy berm in left field and two tents to better accommodate groups.

And if you walk around a while, you can tell what's old at the ballpark and what's new. It's pretty apparent that the grandstand is one of the oldest parks of the ballpark, while almost everything past the grandstand is new -- including some renovations completed before the beginning of the 2003 season (which we'll discuss in a bit.)

The very existence of McCoy Stadium and the Pawtucket Red Sox is an amazing story. After entering the International League in 1973 as Boston's top farm team, the PawSox were pretty much a failure and couldn't draw many fans to a rundown McCoy Stadium. By 1977, the PawSox franchise was in bankruptcy after drawing only 70,000 fans to see a team that ended up winning the International League pennant. Ben Mondor bought the team, stabilized its finances, and then embarked on a mission to make over McCoy.

The mission was successful. Today the PawSox is one of the top-drawing teams in minor-league baseball. Part of this is due to the general resurgence of minor-league baseball across America, but some very smart marketing by the PawSox is surely the bigger factor: tickers remain at $10 and $6 for PawSox games, which is quite low for Class AAA teams. While these ticket prices have remained constant, McCoy Stadium has been improved significantly in the past few years, which tells fans that the team in committed to improving the general fans experience. Throw in free parking, and the PawSox represent an excellent value for the average family.

Except for the twin scoreboards in the outfield, the PawSox have stressed comfort over any flashy additions to McCoy, so as a result it's actually a fairly bland ballpark. Nothing about the stadium's architectural really stands out: the newer elements, like the picnic area, are utilitarian, while there are very few reminders of the old McCoy Stadium. In some ways the PawSox did too good a job of renovating McCoy Stadium: the grandstand has been cleaned up and modernized, but maybe the renovation should have been more of a gentrification to make it look more like the way it originally did in 1942. If anything, some displays showing the history of McCoy Stadium and the various teams inhabiting it since Opening Day 1942 would probably be greatly appreciated by fans.

If you go to McCoy Stadium, your choices will be to sit in the grandstand or to buy a bleacher seat. After sitting in both areas during a recent doubleheader, I'd recommend sitting in the grandstand if only because you can more easily see the twin scoreboards and you're also closer to the main concession area, which offers a better selection than the other concession stands scattered throughout the park.

Modernizing a ballpark can be tricky business: you want to be able to offer the best of today without sacrificing the best of yesterday. And it's certainly possible that McCoy Stadium was a pretty blah ballpark before recent renovations. It's just a shame that there's not more sense of history at a ballpark first opened in 1942 -- and it's an issue that PawSox should really address next season and beyond.

CONCESSIONS
You are never too far away from a concession stand at McCoy Stadium, but not all concession stands are created equal. The best selection can be found at the concession stand behind the Main Concourse, which also offers the most lines as well. You can count on some hearty fare at McCoy Stadium: besides the usual ballpark fare, you can find local delicacies like Italian sausage with peppers and onions ($4.50), which was damned tasty; sausage subs; cheese fries; fish sandwiches; super nachos (with chili, cheese and jalapenos); giant Freeze Pops (which were extremely popular, judging by the huge percentage of kids at the ballpark eating them); and fried dough, which locals were ordering as "dough boys." Fried dough can be found at ballparks throughout New England, but for some reason they don't serve it with sugar -- only cinnamon can be found at condiment stands. Other food concessions offered soft-serve ice cream, Ronzio pizza, smoothies, frozen alcoholic drinks and lemonade. Most of these freestanding concessions were located on the third-base side of the stadium.

The beer selections were average. Molson Canadian and Miller Lite were on tap for $4, while a 16-ounce tap Heineken went for $4.75 and a Double Diamond went for $5. Available in bottles were MGD, Fosters, El Presidente, Heineken, Miller Lite and Amstel Light.

All in all, the concessions are a definite highlight at McCoy Stadium: the food was delivered fresh, and the abundance of concession stands means you never need to wait too long in line for food.

WHERE TO STAY
There are no hotels within walking distance of the ballpark, which sits between a residential area and an industrial area. Pawtucket isn't known as a hotel mecca, either, so your choice is to stay in adjoining Providence (where there are a number of fine hotels downtown and by the airport) or drive down from Boston, which is what I did.

FOR THE KIDS
The lack of a play area for kids is a definite weakness in McCoy Stadium. Currently the PawSox have three separate BBQ tents for groups, but at some point they should probably scrap one of them and install a play area. There was an abundance of kids running around slightly bored during my visit, and their energies could be better diverted to some kind of play area.

BEFORE THE GAME
A popular spot is the Left Field Pub, which is indeed located outside of the ballpark on the left-field side, within the McCoy Stadium parking lot.