What a moment: Preserving history at Polar Park
WORCESTER, Massachusetts -- It's Aug. 13, and the Worcester Red Sox are hosting the Syracuse Mets at their downtown home of Polar Park. The evening's ballgame has just begun, the first of a doubleheader, and soon, team president Dr. Charles Steinberg will step out of his office to watch it.
WORCESTER, Massachusetts -- It's Aug. 13, and the Worcester Red Sox are hosting the Syracuse Mets at their downtown home of Polar Park. The evening's ballgame has just begun, the first of a doubleheader, and soon, team president Dr. Charles Steinberg will step out of his office to watch it. But not quite yet, because at this particular moment he's telling stories. More specifically, he's telling stories about the importance of telling stories.
"Ours is the game of storytelling," says Steinberg, clapping his hands for emphasis. "Storytelling is one of the greatest gifts that baseball brings to world culture."
During this, the first season in WooSox history, Steinberg has many stories he wants to tell.
Boston's Triple-A affiliate relocated to Worcester in 2021 after playing 50 seasons at Pawtucket's McCoy Stadium. Steinberg joined the organization in 2015 after a group led by former Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino bought the team. The two men had a decades-long working relationship at the Major League level, beginning in Baltimore before moving on to San Diego, and of course, the Red Sox. Steinberg enjoyed two stints with the team, which encompassed all three 21st-century World Championships (2004, 2007 and 2013).
Polar Park, designed with input from renowned ballpark architect Janet Marie Smith, is packed with nods to Worcester history, Triple-A franchise history, Boston baseball history and the intersections thereof. Massive replicas of Boston's World Series rings are stationed outside the main entrance, glass-encased mementos from Worcester's 19th-century baseball history are located at the club level and a statue of Casey of "Casey at the Bat" fame is positioned at the top of the stairs. (The poem's author, Ernest Thayer, wrote it while he was living in Worcester.)
Steinberg says that part of his job now is "capturing history as it is happening." This season, it all started with a strikeout.
"Jarren Duran was the first batter for the WooSox in their first game. May 4 in Trenton," said Steinberg, holding a baseball procured from a cabinet cluttered with 2021 memorabilia. "And he signed the ball. Now why is this important? Imagine the first batter in the history of the Boston Red Sox. Imagine if you had that ball. You better have an eye on history if you care about future generations."
But wait, there's more.
"And by the way, see that blue medium-point Bic pen there? That's what Jarren Duran used to sign that ball," added Steinberg. "Now, you can dismiss it. But what if you had that at Fenway? The pen used by the first player to bat in the history of the Red Sox?"
Saving a pen? That's not exactly the sort of thing that most people would think to do, but Steinberg says that's where "the magic" is.
"Your life is filled with 'Oh, if we'd had only known,'" he said. "When you're experienced as Larry is, as Janet Marie is, as I am, it's incumbent upon you to try to recognize history, moments and artifacts at the time they are occurring."
Several minutes later, following enthusiastic digressions regarding the Beatles, Buck O'Neill and "Bull Durham," Steinberg pointedly circled back to the word "moments."
"There are games, there are memories, there are experiences. But if you can capture moments, that's what it's all about," he said. At this point, he stood up in order to retrieve a picture of Chris Sale during his July 31 rehab start with the WooSox at Polar Park.
"Great picture. We're in Worcester. Full house. Now that's not a moment, because you don't know what that pitch was. It's just reflective of the day," he said, before moving on to a photograph of a WooSox outfielder making a leaping catch against the outfield wall. It too was taken during the July 31 ballgame.
"We're ahead in the game, 1-0. And this guy makes the catch to preserve the lead. That's a moment. That could only be right then. That could not be any other time. It could not be any other scene. And then you enhance the story. Do you know who that is? Tate Matheny. And do you know who Tate Matheny is? That's Mike Matheny's son. Mike Matheny, who played against [Boston] in the 2004 World Series, who managed against us in the 2013 World Series. Now the story gets better and better and better. All based on a moment. Yeah, moments are really cool."
As for how these moments will eventually be incorporated into the larger Polar Park experience, Steinberg says that's a job for the "Hall of Fame artistry" he associates with Larry Lucchino and Janet Marie Smith.
"I'm a good conduit between the fan, which I still am, and leaders in the sport, who are still fans," he said. "But it's easier for me to be an unabashed 10-year-old. ... I am happy to be thrilled. And this is thrilling. This ballpark has inspired us to go so far beyond what might be typical for a Minor League club, because you want to give this city every ounce of energy you have. There is a special spirit in the air here."