Monday, February 23, 2009

Baseball Place No. 17: McCoy Stadium; and No. 17A) Beehive Field

The problem with Pawtucket is that it’s so close to Boston.

That would be fine if you lived in Pawtucket. But we lived on the New York side of Connecticut, so if we were going to drive that far to see a ballgame, we were going to head all the way to Fenway.

Josh Pahigian, however, did stop at Pawtucket, and it sounds like McCoy Stadium is a pretty neat place. He made it stop 17 of his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

The grandstand was built in 1942 as part of the Works Progress Administration, and it’s famous for two things.

First, for the portraits of PawSox players who were promoted up the road.
The other is that it is the home of the longest game ever, a 33-innings affair in 1981 against the Rochester Red Wings, which started in April and was resumed in June, with the Sox winning 3-2. Wade Boggs, Cal Ripken Jr. and future Met Bob Ojeda all have their names in the box score.

While we never made it to Pawtucket, we did have some minor-league adventures in New England. Some were exciting, but one turned tragic. And they took place at:

Baseball Place No. 17A, Beehive Field in New Britain, Conn.

The home of the New Britain Red Sox was only five years old when we first visited in 1988, but I would have sworn it was much older.

The park was small park was mostly wooden with some metal bleachers extending along the base paths. The bleachers were topped by a short chain-link fence. Remember that for later.

The park gets its goofy-but-cool name from Joe “Buzz” Buzas, the executive who brought the team to the area.

I had never been to a minor-league game before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The park was way smaller than I imagined – it seated 4,700 – and I’d never been that close to the action.

Professional ball, cheap snacks, and free parking made this a worthy expansion of my baseball horizons.

The concession stands – well, the stand, singular – was behind home plate on the other side of the grandstand. During my second game, I had just paid for my hot dog and soda when a foul ball flew over the screen and hit me on one bounce.

I retrieved it with only minor spillage – my first and only foul ball!

Another game had a pretty horrible event. Rich and I were sitting along the first base sign, and noticed a guy sitting atop the chain-link fence that is supposed to be a backrest for the last row. He was talking to a camera man.

Rich and I decided to make a snack run, and walked through the exit under the stands.
We heard a sound I’ll never forget. We turned around and saw someone on the asphalt path. It was the guy who was sitting atop the fence. He must have fallen backward, and it was at least 20 feet to the ground.

Rich ran over to help the guy, I went to get help. Technically, I ran screaming incoherently down the path.

I know this because we saw video on the news that night. The camera man must have turned to the path when the man fell.

Police and an ambulance came, and the game went on even through much of the small crowd was now standing on the top of the bleachers looking over the top. We called our paper, and later found out the man died.

The man was sitting atop the fence along the back of the bleachers.

We went to another game at Beehive a month later, and there were marks still on the pavement from where he fell and the paramedics worked. The brought back a lot of sad feelings, and we didn’t go to another game there.

The Red Sox didn’t stay too much longer, either, moving to Trenton in 1995. Another team, sadly named the Hardware City Rock Cats were born that year, and played at Beehive for a year while the new New Britain Stadium was built next door.

Beehive still stands, but the little ballpark is used mostly by the New Britain High School team. My proudly obtained Eastern League ball remains on display in the Baseball Room, still my only caught foul ball.


MMayes said...

I've never gotten a foul ball. The closest I've come was a game in KC in Ripken's final year. My son and I got seats on the front row in left field. I warned him that if a ball came to us during the game, we couldn't lean over the rail.

In the 6th inning Tony Batista hit a ball right at me. I was up with my glove. If I had leaned slightly forward and put my glove down to knee level, I catch the ball. I held up, the ball banged off a metal pole (leaving cool seam marks in the iron) and caromed into centerfield for a triple.

Another time in St. Louis, Will Clark hit a screaming liner to a seat I'd just vacated.

Hope you know who hit your foul ball.

Mets Guy in Michigan said...

Mr. Mayes -- I don't have any idea who the player was! I was so busy admiring my trophy -- and getting my hot dog condiments properly applied -- that I forget to run back in to the stands and see who was up!