WORCESTER — Before they built Polar Park, the Worcester Red Sox hosted 21 fan meetings and jotted down 877 ideas. One thing was crystal clear: Worcester didn’t want its new stadium to be Fenway Park.
“Worcester wanted something different. They didn’t want to be Fenway green,” says Dr. Charles Steinberg, Worcester Red Sox president. So most everything will be blue; from the understated industrial corrugated metal exterior to the blue seats and 22-foot blue Worcester Wall in right field with seats and a fan deck.
No Green Monster in left?
“There was a naturalness to the Green Monster that we didn’t want to force,” says chairman and principal owner Larry Lucchino. “And there was a hill in right field that we needed to build a wall in front of.”
The inside feels like a comfortable baseball palace, with plenty of open spaces for groups. There’s capacity for 9,508 fans, but the seating bowl of 6,000 seats — all with cup holders — is almost entirely around the infield.
Lucchino, who was responsible for designing/renovating Camden Yards in Baltimore, Petco Park in San Diego, Fenway Park, and JetBlue Park during his career, says building Polar Park was a huge challenge.
“Boy, am I happy,” says Lucchino. “It’s been very difficult, particularly because of COVID and building this through a shutdown and through the COVID restrictions. It has been a really arduous process. But it’s what I hope will end as a win-win proposition for both us and the city.”
Lucchino’s confident everything will be ready when the Triple A ballplayers arrive April 1. The home opener is scheduled for May 11.
Polar Park will be unique. There’s a Woo Shop where purchases are recorded on an app without any checkout or waiting in line. There are heart-shaped light towers and a heart adorned on the side of each seat; Worcester declared itself the heart of Massachusetts when it became a city in 1848.
Worcester is already in the record books. It once hosted a Major League Baseball team in the National League from 1880-82. On June 12, 1880, Worcester pitcher Lee Richmond threw the first perfect game in Major League history, against the Cleveland Blues.
“One of the things we’ve been good about is making sure that there is a customization factor in every ballpark, so it looks and tastes and feels and smells like the city in which it is located,” Lucchino says.
Lucchino teamed again with legendary Janet Marie Smith, the architect behind Camden Yards and Petco Park and the refurbished Fenway Park. Smith, who recently improved Dodger Stadium, says they didn’t take the easy way out, either
They could have built the stadium on flat land, but instead they shoehorned it into the historic Canal District with multiple levels, a nod to Worcester’s three deckers and the up-and-coming downtown restaurants.
“We like being one with the energy that was already here,” says Smith, who said they used a Lego-like building block effect to create different spaces on different levels in this city of seven hills.
Lucchino, the Red Sox president/CEO from 2002-15, says the game day experience should be affordable.
“So you should be able to experience a two-dimensional ballpark. Both a low-priced ballpark where tickets are eight or nine dollars, and we have higher-priced tickets that come with more creature comforts,” says Lucchino.
Freight trains will pass very close by. A long ball hit to left field could land in an open boxcar and wind up in Chicago.
On a recent sunny March day, grounds crews used rakes and hammers to chip away at the ice at Polar Park.
Steinberg, the maestro of so many Fenway celebrations, even helped, on the box seat stairs with the heel of his 2013 Red Sox championship boots.
The home bullpen is just a few feet past the dugout and built into the stands. To sit in a box seat sandwiched between the dugout and the bullpen is unique. Fans get an umpire’s view of pitchers warming up, and hear the pop of the catcher’s mitt up close and personal.
Sitting here would be like watching baseball in stereo, sights and sounds in all directions.
“Isn’t this great?” says Steinberg.
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.