Pawtucket Red Sox President Dr. Charles Steinberg has a message for PawSox fans who have been agonizing over the loss of the team to Worcester: he feels your pain.
“I understand that. I feel like I empathize” with fans, said Steinberg, 60. He said he realizes that many Rhode Islanders grew up at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket.
“You celebrated birthdays, you watched other families” sitting near you at the ballpark each summer, Steinberg said in an interview during a morning game in early June (the PawSox beat the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, 7-5).
Steinberg cut his baseball teeth during a 19-year tenure with the Baltimore Orioles, starting in 1979, when he met his longtime mentor and friend Larry Lucchino, now the PawSox CEO. While at the Orioles, Steinberg served in many capacities, including the club’s dentist. (He earned a doctorate from the University of Maryland’s dental school, and in 1982 he was a founding and charter member of the Academy for Sports Dentistry.)
He followed that up with stints at the San Diego Padres, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and the baseball commissioner’s office, and is now in his fourth year with the PawSox.
While chatting, it became apparent that Steinberg – who frequently walks around McCoy to talk baseball with the fans – has heard an earful about the move, which was announced late last summer and will take place after the 2020 season.
“I understand the anguish people felt” upon learning that the team was leaving for Worcester, he said, drawing on his love of the Orioles’ longtime former home, Memorial Stadium, as a big reason for his empathy.
Steinberg explained that, like many Baltimore fans, he was initially hesitant to leave the park, where he saw many memorable games, including one in 1975, in which future Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, at the end of his career, was the Milwaukee Brewers designated hitter.
But after Camden Yards (now called Oriole Park at Camden Yards) was built in 1992, “it had the effect of soothing their angst,” he said of the fans. Steinberg said he, too, eventually embraced Camden Yards, but that didn’t dim his memories of Memorial Stadium, including two he vividly recalled: the first one involved him and his buddy mistakenly exiting the park, and then having to buy bleacher seats to get back in. The story might have ended there, except for a sympathetic member of the public relations department, who gave them tickets to another game.
The second memory was a game he couldn’t attend, because it fell on Rosh Hashanah. He might have dropped the matter, but he wanted the free back-to-school book covers that were being given out. So he called the Orioles’ offices to explain that the game conflicted with the Jewish High Holy Days, and “one week later, a big manila envelope arrived in the mail with the Orioles’ logo. That was as exciting for me as the book covers” inside, he said.
Steinberg used the anecdotes to stress that the PawSox have long put a premium on taking care of families, going back to the days of the late owner Ben Mondor, who resurrected the struggling franchise in the ’70s. He said that this commitment won’t change over the last two Pawtucket seasons.
“We have tried to preserve that,” he said over the screams of thousands of students who were enjoying the game on this day.
Steinberg especially wants PawSox fans still upset about the move to know that after the proposal to build a new stadium at the former Apex site in Pawtucket was altered in the Rhode Island House to the point where it didn’t work for the team, the club had offers from outside the region. But Lucchino vowed not to leave the area, Steinberg said, noting that Worcester is in the Blackstone Valley corridor.
Steinberg nonetheless realizes that not everyone is on board with the move, and from his conversations with fans, he broke down their responses into three categories: Some are “frustrated and wounded” that the team will leave Rhode Island; some are taking a wait-and-see attitude about what will be built in Worcester; and some are already sure that “I’m with you in Worcester.”
Steinberg pledged that one thing that won’t change is the team’s commitment to the community. In fact, he said, the PawSox increased the club’s community outreach this year, thanks to Lucchino, who insisted that charitable endeavors be expanded. That led to the creation of the team’s “50 Acts of Kindness” initiative, which was launched to celebrate the 50 years of the Boston Red Sox-Pawtucket Red Sox affiliation.
In Steinberg’s words, the effort has included diverse “mitzvahs” spread out across the Ocean State.
Steinberg hopes that local fans will continue to flock to McCoy this summer and next. If they do, they’ll likely see many PawSox executives rooting on the team.
“We are fans. We have always been fans” of baseball, he emphasized.
LARRY KESSLER (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer based in North Attleboro.