By Casey Callanan
July 1, 2020
On June 30, 2020, Minor League Baseball announced it will not be played for the first time since 1901. With this announcement came an official end to the Pawtucket Red Sox (Paw Sox) and their 50-year run in Rhode Island.
I feel the pain of those that rooted for the Baltimore Colts, Hartford Whalers and Seattle SuperSonics now. I feel for every fan base that has had to say goodbye. As a native Rhode Islander, the Paw Sox were a point of state pride.
I suppose it may look odd, or drastic, to outsiders. Especially with the Paw Sox simply crossing the state line to play in nearby Worcester, Mass. Most Rhode Islanders are used to rooting for teams that play in the Bay State. However, the Paw Sox were one we could call our own.
Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens, Mo Vaughn, Nomar and finally Mookie. They all played at McCoy Stadium before Fenway Park. A point of state pride.
As a kid, my family moved to Illinois. My Grandpa back in R.I. sent me a Paw Sox hat in the mail. I wore that hat every day and everywhere in Chicagoland. They all assumed I was a Boston Red Sox fan, until they looked closer and saw it said Pawtucket. “What’s a Pawtucket?” they would ask.
“Walpole” Joe Morgan himself even razzed me a bit. As a kid now living in the Chicago area, I switched my Major League Baseball allegiances from the Red Sox to White Sox. It was the early 1990s; Frank Thomas and his Sox were an easy team to love.
My Grandpa had met Morgan at an autograph signing in a department store. Morgan had managed the Paw Sox in the 1980s. He addressed the autograph: “To Casey, a great 'Sox' fan.”
Fishing for autographs at McCoy Stadium is a summertime rite of passage for kids in Rhode Island. (Due to the unique layout of McCoy, fans literally “fish” for autographs at games. It is a unique quirk of the old ballpark unlikely to resume in Worcester.) Will fans in Worcester care their franchise once hosted Baseball's Longest Game? (A 33-inning marathon featuring Cal Ripken Jr. and Boggs took place at McCoy in 1981.)
I’ve discovered as a sports fan that the opposite of joy isn’t losing. It’s having a team leave town. The ultimate heartbreak as a fan. Something you can never imagine, nor empathize, until it actually happens to you.
Sadly, I have not been to a Paw Sox game since 2002. On a summer visit to Rhode Island that year, I saw Manny Ramirez (the best right-handed hitter of my lifetime) make a Triple-A rehab start at McCoy. I had planned (before the COVID-19 outbreak) a final return to the old ball yard this summer, but I should have gone sooner.
The Paw Sox were the first team I ever loved. They made me proud to be from Rhody, even if no one in Chicago “knew what a Pawtucket was.”
Perhaps the best way to recap my feelings is to modify a quote from the great Ernest Thayer. Thayer captured the painful side of America’s pastime in Casey at the Bat.
“But there is no joy in Pawtucket—the mighty Paw Sox have left town.”
Casey Callanan is an author and writer living in Baltimore, Md. A lifelong fan of baseball he was named after longtime New York City baseball legend (and character) Casey Stengel. You can contact him here.