After more than three decades of running the Pawtucket Red Sox, owner Ben Mondor, President Mike Tamburro, and the entire staff have Opening Night planning down to a science.
But that wasn’t always the case.
“I remember the very first year, 1977, when we were expecting about 1,000 people – which was a big crowd in those days – and we got about 2,500,” Tamburro recalled with a laugh. “I remember (former Red Sox general manager) Haywood Sullivan standing on a chair in the entry lobby selling tickets off of the chair because the lines were all backed up. So Ben Mondor was on one chair, I was on another chair, Sully was on another chair, Ben’s wife Madeleine was on a chair, but we got that 2,500 in and we would love to have that problem on April 8th. If you see me in the lobby on a chair, it’s probably good news.”
I can guarantee two things: Mike Tamburro won’t be standing on a chair at the home opener, and the crowd will be considerably larger than 2,500 fans.
(photo courtesy of Tom Perreira)
In fact, last year’s Opening Night crowd of 11,982 is the largest for any game in McCoy Stadium history. With this season’s opener less than two weeks away, the PawSox president is confident that everything will be in working order when they open the gates.
“Stuff will get done, but there are always butterflies,” Tamburro said. “There’s excitement about Opening Day that is like nothing else. When the season ends, you begin to work your entire off-season based on one date and that’s opening day. We look forward to it. It’s great to see this building come back to life. It’s great to see our friends – the fans who haven’t been in the building since September. It’s a community center and it’s great to see the community come together around these great kids that we’ll have on the field.”
Fans who are returning to McCoy Stadium will notice a big change in 2010 – literally big – the new high-tech video board that will be among the largest in minor league baseball. Imagine a plasma TV that’s 22 feet tall and 38 feet wide.
“This is all about creating as great a value as we possibly can for our fans,” Tamburro told me. “It’s hard to believe, but the original video board was 10 years old and technology changed dramatically – I think when fans see the new board they’ll understand why. It’s going to be phenomenal – we’re really excited about it. Kevin Galligan, who runs all the scoreboard operations here, has some great creative ideas so it’s going to add a heck of a lot. Who knows – maybe if there’s a great Red Sox/Yankees game at the end of July, we might just open the building and watch it here.”
Ticket prices have gone up slightly – for the first time in several years – but remain family friendly, as they range from $5 to $11. Parking is free.
“Affordability has always been the mantra here – it’s what we built this operation on going back to 1977 when Ben and I first came here,” Tamburro said. “It’s about giving value at the lowest possible price. We still believe in that – that’s what “Kids Eat Free” is all about. From Opening Day until the 15th of June, every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, kids 12-and-under with a box seat ticket get a hot dog, Pepsi, and a bag of chips absolutely free. It’s about the economy, it’s about the recession, it’s about saying thanks, and it’s about letting our fans know that we care and we want them here at McCoy.”
The only thing the PawSox can’t promise is a winning team, but the fans of Red Sox Nation understand that the mission of a Triple-A affiliate is to develop future major league players.
“We told our fans in those early years, ‘Don’t judge us on wins and losses – judge us on who goes to the big leagues,’ Tamburro said. “That’s what these murals are all about. There’s no greater thrill for us and our fans than to see a young guy who’s had success here, get the opportunity to play at the big league level. That’s what it’s all about.”