In the iconic movie about minor league baseball, Bull Durham, the hotcha Susan Sarandon plays Annie Savoy, a diehard fan who worships at the “Church of Baseball,” the home park of a low minors team, the Durham Bulls. She is in essence a sophisticated baseball groupie.
Every year Annie welcomes the new roster of the Bulls. And through the course of the season gives the ballplayers her full-hearted devotion, affection, the finer points of the game and, in some cases, her body. Sarandon immortalized the nickname for her place in the pantheon, “Baseball Annie,” in a wonderful way. All Annie asked from the Bull players in return every year was respect and loving kindness. At the end of the year, it was all good-bye hugs and kisses, and no regrets to the boys of summer, with a new group due in for the same warm embrace in the spring.
At McCoy Stadium, it has never really been about the constantly changing players on the field, but the warmth, family atmosphere and affordable prices that allow folks to get more than their money’s worth. And if that is the future Jim Rice or Fred Lynn or Wade Boggs out there, it is a bonus that will be realized down the road with a boastful, “I saw him when he was at Pawtucket!”
Pawtucket Red Sox fans have become our own version of Baseball Annie, currently at a rift between the adoration of the PawSox in our hearts, and their ill-considered moment of straying from the emotional commitment of their loyal lovers. This was the much-vilified attempt by the new owners of the PawSox to abandon their age-old home of McCoy Stadium in the heart of The Bucket to more glamorous riverside digs in Providence. It left all the Little Rhody Baseball Annies stunned, hurt and more than a little pissed off.
Fortunately, that pie-in-the-sky attempt to drop Baseball Annie in favor of a more upscale relationship in the Capital City blew up in the team’s face. For a number of appallingly obvious reasons, the plan to relocate went down faster than Jeb Bush’s presidential hopes.
Time to make nice
Fortunately, the two new members of the front office management team, President Dr. Charles Steinberg and Sr. V.P./General Manager Dan Rea, seem to understand the Baseball Annie love affair the public has with their franchise. They inherited the mess from last year’s aborted move, which cost the club a big hit in attendance, and after a worthwhile chat with them, seem to fully understand the unspoken dynamic between team and fans.
Even more pleasingly, Vice Chairman Mike Tamburro, he of the perpetual smile and good humor, is still on hand from the legendary troika of he, late owner Ben Mondor, and top executive Lou Schwechheimer, who turned a moribund franchise into one that such New England lifestyle mags as Yankee magazine would recommend as a must-see Biggest Little attraction. And Dr. Steinberg so strongly relies upon Tamburro’s intimate knowledge of the needs and desires to succeed that he adamantly makes the point that he has moved himself into Tamburro’s office to make sure the acquired wisdom can rub off. Even to the point of pledging that he and Rea will be with Tamburro out in the parking lot greeting fans arriving for the game, even if they draw the slightly shocked and bemused reaction Tamburro is used to; most fans not realizing they have been given a personal thank you and warm welcome from the team’s top dog, who is more comfortable on the macadam than in a luxury box.
Steinberg and Rea both emphasize that the PawSox are here to stay in McCoy on a multi-year lease. This is almost a necessity if they want to woo their Annies back, and not seen to be looking over their devoted’s shoulder for yet another field of greener grass. They are making the critical financial commitment to the franchise with subtle improvements all around the 74-year old ballpark, the exception being the large banner atop a building outside the center field fence that shouts outs “Welcome to Pawtucket.” For residents of the city and essentially all Rhode Islanders, that is as good as sending two dozen red roses to their affronted lovers.
Unless my bullshit detector is badly damaged, I believe Steinberg, with Rea nodding in assent, when he says that the word for what they are trying to accomplish to bring their sweethearts back is simply, “Class. Doing things right and treating people well. It’s a two-way street.” And it is a road he, Rea and Tamburro are planning to take to win back the Baseball Annies.
Lover come back, all is forgiven. But don’t you ever, ever do that again. (Please.)
On The Ball And Off The Wall is an occasional sports column by Chip Young, a Rhode Island journalist who was a sportswriter and broadcaster for 25 years. Best known as Phillipe, of Phillipe and Jorge’s Cool, Cool World, Young was also an All-America soccer player in college, and he is in the Brown Athletic Hall of Fame. He has attended PawSox games since before the Mondor rehabilitation of the franchise, and once threw out the first pitch. He still has that ceremonial ball.