After years of anticipation, the professional baseball season is finally underway in Worcester. But the Opening Day crowd was limited because of the pandemic.
The Worcester Red Sox — nicknamed the WooSox — christened their new stadium Tuesday after the city lured the team from Pawtucket, R.I. with millions of dollars in aid building a new stadium.
However, the state is currently only allowing only sports teams to fill 25% of seats. Tuesday's game drew 2,377 fans to Polar Park, the maximum permitted under restrictions designed to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Yet over the long term, the business community hopes the team's arrival could become a catalyst for economic development in the Canal District neighborhood and the larger region.
"It’s been such a long time coming to see the Canal District bustling during the day with excited people going to a game and buying stuff," said Victoria Mariano, who owns the Electric Haze bar near the stadium. "I’m extremely excited to see what that’s going to look like."
Mariano was already delighted to see people walking by the bar Tuesday, looking in the windows.
The new stadium is smaller than McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, where the top Red Sox farm team used to play. But it does boast a view of the Worcester skyline and a giant blue wall in right field, a contrast to the Green Monster in Fenway Park's left field. Trains can be seen in the distance, beyond center field.
The stadium was initially expected to cost about $100 million, but wound up costing closer to $160 million after budget overruns. The city owns the ballpark and bore most of the expense.
Still, former Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, who heads the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce these days, says he’s confident the investment will pay off.
"Any construction or project of this size is going to run into some challenges, and there have been some," Murray said. "But I think over time this will realize the goal of paying for itself and bringing in net new jobs and revenue."
The team also had good fortune in its first official home outing. The WooSox (3-4) downed the Syracuse Mets 8-5 in a game featuring six home runs sprayed around the park.
With reporting from WBUR's Callum Borchers
This segment aired on May 11, 2021.