This is the first is in what we hope will be many first-hand accounts of the atmosphere in the press box of a sporting event.
PAWTUCKET, RI- Growing up in southern New England, I often spent many a night at McCoy Stadium taking in a game of the Pawtucket Red Sox, the Triple A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. Living in Rhode Island today my family and I take in nearly ten games a year. Like other minor league operations, the Pawsox know how to put together a fun family experience. The Pawsox are traditionally one of the most popular draws in minor league baseball, being at or near the top of minor league attendance figures each year.
In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s I covered the team for a local radio station. In my new role at Sports Media Journal I thought it was time to take in a game once again from the press box. I got in touch with longtime Pawsox Vice President of Public Relations Bill Wanless (who fortunately remembered me) and secured a press pass. The game I attended was a double header between the Pawsox and the Rochester Red Wings. In the minor leagues double headers consist of two, seven inning games. This was a true twin bill, not the separate admission affairs we see on the major league level.
McCoy Stadium was completely renovated in 1999 but the press box had been given an initial face-lift in the early 1990’s. The box is dual level with seating for about 20 members of the working press. It also has five private suites for radio and television broadcasts as well as stadium audio/visual operations.
The Pawsox provide the press with plenty of game material. Upon picking up my press pass I was given a team media guide and game program. In the press box the Pawsox fill a file tote with starting line-ups, notes and stats from both teams, and information from around the rest of the International League.
The Pawsox press box is staffed by a much larger crew than 15 years ago. Back then, Wanless had a PA announcer, an official scorer, and someone to handle the balls and strikes on the scoreboard. Wanless handled everything else, from player displays on the scoreboard to the playing musical selections over the PA to incite the crowd. He now has staff specifically to handle stadium video, audio, and multiple scoreboard functions. There are 7 in all. For the second straight season, Wanless also has an employee who handles stats for MiLB.com Gameday, the in-game live, multimedia account of the contest.
Media coverage of the Pawsox varies from game to game. Because of the team’s relevance to the Red Sox, both in distance (46 miles from Fenway Park) and fan interest, there are times that the press box is full (especially when a member of the parent club is in town on a rehab stint). On this night the game was covered by three local newspapers, the Providence Journal, the Pawtucket Times, and the Attleboro Sun Chronicle. There was also an appearance by a reporter and videographer from a local Providence television station grabbing highlights for that night’s late local news.
On this night local radio play by play was handled by WHJJ for the Pawsox and WHTK in Rochester. The Pawsox radio crew broadcasts every game, home and away. There are also a handful of television broadcasts of the Pawsox each season provided through NESN and Cox Communications. This game was not televised.
Even though the number of reporters may seem small by Major League standards, Wanless says that the Pawsox media contingent is consistently one of the largest in the minor leagues. Most clubs have one local reporter covering the team at home on a consistent basis. The Pawsox have at least three each and every night. There is also sometimes representation by the Associated Press. He also says that many homestands reporters from the Boston Globe and Boston Herald will make the short drive to McCoy to write about a member of the Red Sox farm system.
Advances in technology have also made its way into the Pawsox press box. The last time I was here, print reporters had “laptops 1.0″ and filed their reports via 14.4 baud telephone modems. Now the McCoy press box has a wireless Internet connection, allowing for fast, instant filing.
We can’t talk about a press box without talking about the food. When I covered the team years ago I remember the food being of high quality with varied offerings from night to night. This night was Chinese night, featuring General Tso’ Chicken and Lo Mein. Beverages were available all night and there was even a large plate of nachos available for a between-games snack.
The two games saw the teams split the double header with the Red Wings coming from behind to win game one and the Pawsox rallying to take the nightcap.
The highlight of the night, and what would dominate news reprots of the games the next morning, were two calls by the umpiring crew in the top of the sixth inning of game one. With one out, two on, and a run already across for the Red Wings, shortstop Gil Velazquez hit a long shot down the left field line and out of the park. Home plate umpire Pete Pederson ruled the play a home run, to the objection of most of the Pawsox team and Manager Ron Johnson. As is the case now a days, the umpires held a meeting around the mound and first base umpire Andy Vincent overruled Pederson and declared the ball foul. That raised the ire of Red Wings Manager Stan Cliburn.
But that was only the beginning. Once the commotion died down, Velasquez laced another pitch into the gap in left center scoring one run and Cliburn attempting to send home third basemen Tommy Watkins from first. The Pawsox, relay was perfect to the plate, with the throw in plenty of time to nail Watkins. Vincent saw the play otherwise, calling Watkins safe and causing Johnson to make another appearance from the dugout. The Red Wings would score three more times in the inning blowing the game open.
During the game updates were provided to the press by the official scorer or Wanless, who will often offer tidbits of note from his over 20 years of record keeping for the team. Within minutes of the end of the game, the Pawsox staff had a complete box score available for all members of the press.
Post game coverage at McCoy is traditional in that the managers speak from their offices and the players from their lockers. The discussion this night centered around the umpiring calls in game one and a complete game effort by Pawsox starter John Barnes in game two.
That Pawtucket Red Sox have always put the interest of fans first, and they are one of the most respected organizations in minor league baseball. Their treatment of the press is always professional. They may be a minor league baseball team, but their operation is anything but.