Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, baseball fans across the country have been waiting to return to the stadiums. Here in Worcester, people now have a chance to do exactly that.
The construction of the brand-new Polar Park in the Canal District is wrapping up, and games have already begun. The stadium is home to the Worcester Red Sox (or WooSox), a Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. With the first home game having been played on May 11, everything is set for a safe and fun season.
At full capacity, Polar Park can hold nearly 10,000 fans. Capacity is currently limited to 25%, but if vaccine efforts continue along their current trajectory, the stadium is expected to see a much higher attendance this summer.
Adapting the stadium to meet the safety requirements was a monumental task, according to Joe Bradlee, the Vice President of Baseball Operations & Community Relations. Despite the challenges, however, the people behind the scenes were very successful in this endeavor.
“A huge hats off to our ticket team,” Bradlee said about the people who helped implement this change. “That entire crew did such an impressive job of trying to figure out how to space people out six feet apart. They really operate efficiently and effectively at 25% capacity. It’s no small task.”
Bradlee also acknowledged the role of Governor Charlie Baker, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty, and City Manager Ed Augustus in getting to this point. Their leadership and guidance have played an important part in the process. As a whole, Massachusetts has been one of the leading states in the administering of vaccinations, and that has made a significant difference in allowing the state to slowly return to normal.
The pandemic has affected not only the way in which the stadium is operated, but the construction of the venue itself. This had to be put on hold for a time, due to the uncertainty and the risks towards the workers’ health.
“When everything first hit, we did lose about six to seven weeks of construction during the spring,” Bradlee explained. “One thing this pandemic did is it taught us it’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen a few weeks from now, let alone a few years.”
Fortunately, after this initial delay, the construction was able to continue as planned in a safe manner, which is another one of the reasons the stadium is now able to open. Although a few areas are still being completed (including the grass in left field and a five-story office building), the rest of the venue is operational.
The Worcester Red Sox moved from the city of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, which served as the home of the Triple-A team for 50 years. The location of Polar Park, located in the second largest city in New England and easily accessible by neighboring states, is expected to draw plenty of eager spectators. Although the team will be missed in Pawtucket, it is starting a new relationship with Worcester, hopefully one that will last just as long.
Having worked in this industry since 2012, Joe Bradlee understands that the work required is diverse, and there are 300 people in the offices; in Triple-A, there are closer to 40 people. Despite the different numbers, teamwork has remained integral parts of the job.it is too large for one person to do on their own.
“You realize there are a lot of people who wear many different hats in this organization,” he said. “I’m definitely one of those guys who plays a number of different roles with the club.”
Thanks to all the hard work behind the completion of Polar Park and the implementation of safety precautions, the WooSox are able to play in front of actual fans, not just the cardboard cutouts that we’ve seen positioned around Fenway Park for the past year. If you are in the Worcester area this summer, make sure to catch a game and experience the new stadium for yourself.