Polar Park – Worcester Red Sox
Photos by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.14
Polar Park 122 Madison St Worcester, MA 01610
Worcester Red Sox website Polar Park website
Year Opened: 2021 Capacity: 9,508
Worcester’s Blue Bandbox
In February 2015 a group of investors, including former Boston Red Sox President Larry Lucchino, purchased the Pawtucket Red Sox from the family of the late Ben Mondor. The ownership group immediately began a search for a new ballpark, as their longtime home, McCoy Stadium, was deemed unfit without almost a total reconstruction. After several proposed plans in both Providence and Pawtucket fell through, it was announced on August 17, 2018 that the team would relocate to Worcester (pronounced “Woo-stah”), MA for the 2021 season.
The new ballpark would be a part of a proposed live-work-play development. Cost for the ballpark alone would reach $159.5 million, making this the most expensive minor league stadium ever built. Naming rights for the stadium were purchased by Polar Beverages. The Red Sox, called the “WooSox” for short, played their first game on May 11, 2021.
Worcester was once home to a Major League Baseball team. The Worcester Worcesters (alternately known as the Brown Stockings or Ruby Legs) played in the National League from 1880 to 1882. The first perfect game in Major League history was thrown in Worcester, by Lee Richmond against the Cleveland Blues on June 12, 1880. The Worcester team was dropped by the league to make way for a franchise in Philadelphia that became the Phillies.
Food & Beverage 5
Concessions have become a point of emphasis in all new sports facilities built in recent years to maximize the fan experience. Polar Park is no exception, as there is great quality and variety in the concessions offered. Also, there is a particular emphasis here to use local companies and products (which will be a recurring theme throughout this review).
The cola wars have skipped Polar Park entirely, as the ballpark sponsor, Polar Beverages, provides the drinks here. All sodas are sold in bottles, not fountain. If visiting from out of town, try the orange dry. The best way I can describe this flavor is it tastes like an orange soda and a ginger ale had a delicious soda baby. If you are really feeling adventurous, have a float with orange dry and vanilla ice cream. It’s like drinking a creamsicle.
The craft beer game is strong at Polar Park, and again, local companies are front and center. Draughts from Wachusett, Harpoon, Sam Adams and Greater Good are featured throughout the ballpark. The star of the craft beer show here at Polar Park is Worcester-based Wormtown Brewery, which offers up several of their signature brews, including “Don’t Worry, Be Hoppy,” “Mass Whole,” and a mash-up with Table Talk Pies, “Blueberry Lemon Pie Ale.”
Concession stands are organized by the types of food sold at each, so you may have to search a little for what you want. Again, I am going to emphasize the local flavor here and encourage visiting fans to try a slice from Wonder Bar Pizza, some BBQ from BT’s smokehouse, or a hot dog from George’s Coney Island. If you are looking for a snack, personal-sized Table Talk Pies (their factory is located next door to Polar Park) are sold at all stands for just $2.
New in 2022 is the opening of Summit Street during games. The Taste of Worcester, featuring local restaurants, and a Wormtown Brewery location are on this stretch of road.
While planning the construction of Polar Park, WooSox management hosted many fan meetings to get ideas from the community. A common theme was to give Polar Park a distinctively Worcester feel and not be a carbon copy of Fenway Park. From the moment you see the blue, industrial-looking exterior of the ballpark, it’s clear they took the community’s recommendations to heart.
Instead of Fenway Park’s familiar green coloring, Polar Park is painted “Worcester Blue.” Polar Park is a bandbox, with precious little foul territory and fans right on top of the action. There are numerous social gathering areas throughout the ballpark that all fans can access, giving the park a community feel. The variety of seating and social areas creates a lively buzz in the ballpark.
The giant video scoreboard in left field is put to good use with game stats, replays, and features throughout the game. The sound system is clear and not overly loud. The team’s unique mascot, Smiley Ball, has been the subject of much derision, but even it has a Worcester-related back story. The famous yellow Smiley Face (think “have a nice day”) was designed by Harvey Ball, a Worcester native, in 1963. Despite what you may think about this mascot, judging by the number of Smiley Face stuffed dolls seen throughout the ballpark, the WooSox are on to something here.
Even with Worcester locals calling for a distinct experience, some traditions from the parent Red Sox did make the trip down the Mass Pike. Sweet Caroline is still sung by the fans in the eighth inning, giant replicas of Red Sox championship rings are in the entrance plaza and Polar Park even has its own version of the Green Monster. The Worcester Wall, standing 22 feet tall, hovers over right field with a seating section on top.
The community connection has grown stronger in season two of Polar Park. The team has solicited feedback from fans and has worked to fix issues fans have raised with the ballpark experience. For example, because the left field scoreboard is obstructed for many fans on the third base side of the stadium, an additional video board was installed in the Worcester Wall for 2022. Additional entry points to the ballpark were added in the outfield, and Summit Street was opened up as part of the ballpark during games to alleviate congestion and to add additional concession points.
Polar Park is in the Canal District of Worcester, which has traditionally been considered an area to avoid. However, over recent years the neighborhood has experienced a revival, with several businesses moving in, including the Fidelity Bank Worcester Ice Center. The ballpark is planned to be the first part of a much larger live-work-play development which will include hotels, condominiums, restaurants, and shops. For now, the ballpark and a small parking garage are the only pieces in place.
The area a few blocks west of Polar Park has seen some development in recent years and contains a few spots that may be of interest from visiting baseball fans. The Worcester Public Market contains several locally owned specialty shops, regional foods, and vendors, including Wachusett Brew Works. Other spots to check out in the area include Smokestack Urban Barbeque, The Hangover Pub and El Patron.
Worcester’s famous “Restaurant Row,” located on Shrewsbury Street, is located just over a mile from Polar Park. With more than 40 restaurants ranging from casual to fine dining, diners to brew halls, there is something for all tastes here. With a plethora of shops and eateries, it’s a perfect spot for a leisurely stroll on a beautiful summer day. The DCU Center, home of the ECHL’s Worcester Railers, is located just over a mile away in the Central Business District.
Worcester couldn’t be more excited to be the new home of the Red Sox’ top farm team. With Fenway Park located a mere 44 miles to the east of Polar Park, Worcester lies firmly in Red Sox Nation. The fans here are as knowledgeable and dedicated as any in the nation. Even though the team’s first season-plus has been marked by limited capacity and schedule uncertainty due to Covid restrictions, fans have turned out in strong numbers, and the momentum seems to be growing in season two.
For their inaugural season in Worcester, the Red Sox ranked fourth in the International League in attendance, averaging over 5,600 fans per game. It will be interesting to see what happens going forward as Covid restrictions are lifted and the novelty of the ballpark wears off. Red Sox fans have traditionally shown strong support of their minor league teams, as year of solid attendance at McCoy Stadium will attest.
Located in Worcester’s up and coming Canal District, Polar Park is just a few blocks from Interstate 290 and a few blocks from Worcester’s Union Station. But somehow, it’s not as easy to get to as you might think. Traffic in the area can be busy, and the notorious Kelly Square does not help matters. For those not familiar, Kelly Square is an intersection a couple of blocks from the ballpark where several of Worcester’s busiest streets come together in the most random way possible. In the past this spot has been the site for lengthy backups and countless accidents. As part of the construction of Polar Park the intersection was redesigned, improving flow, but it is still a bottleneck point when a big crowd meets rush hour traffic.
Polar Park is wedged into a small footprint, making for some unique design choices, and space is at a premium. There is a small entry plaza leading to front entrance that screams “warehouse” more than “ballpark.” While this design choice makes Polar Park stand out from the red brick and green seat design that has become the new version of the cookie-cutter ballpark, it has met with some derision by some fans. The team store is located by the main entrance.
To reach the concourse and seating area, fans will need to climb two flights of stairs. When leaving the ballpark after the game, this area gets extremely crowded and backed up. It could be a serious concern during an emergency. The concourse is very narrow and has already proven to be tough to navigate when a big crowd is present. Beyond the seating bowl fans will find several group areas where fans can congregate and spread out a bit. Polar Park boasts a great deal of standing room and alternate spots from which to catch the action.
The team has made a big deal out of the fact that fans can navigate the entire ballpark, a luxury that was not possible at McCoy Stadium. However, while you can indeed circle the entire field, it’s not a smooth 360-degree walk around the field. To completely circle the ballpark, fans must navigate a steep set of stairs by the Worcester Wall (or take an elevator), leave the ballpark proper to walk down Summit Street (where the field is no longer visible), duck in behind the party decks (where you again lose sight of the field), and briefly pass through the players’ parking lot. It’s an interesting route, but one that takes away from one’s enjoyment of the game.
Return on Investment 3
Much has been made of the expense of WooSox tickets, and while yes, premium seats are priced at $42, the vast majority of seats are available for less than $25. Box seats behind home plate are priced at $29, with the cheapest seats in the seating bowl sold for $15. Fans looking for bargains can purchase standing room and general admission seats for between $9-12. Again, the team has listened to feedback from fans and have made some of these areas reserved, eliminating confusion over the availability of seats in certain areas of the ballpark. Check the WooSox website for more details.
Parking is another area where Polar Park has received criticism. While the club boasts of 6,000 parking spots within a half mile of Polar Park, most of them hardly seem convenient. These lots charge between $10-$20 to park and require a walk through often poorly-lit roads in a less than stellar neighborhood. A small parking garage has opened for 2022 right across the street from the ballpark on Madison Street, which charges $20 for a spot. Parking details can be found here.
Concessions and merchandise, while not inexpensive, are priced in line with other similarly sized venues in the area.
There are so many touches in the design of Polar Park it would be tempting to give more than the maximum score in this category. As mentioned earlier, the team solicited input from the fans and community in the design of Polar Park, and the results show that they listened. From the inclusion of Worcester native Harvey Ball’s Smiley Face to the artwork produced by local artists and the inclusion of local vendors into the concession menu, this ballpark screams Worcester.
The otherwise nondescript entry tower contains a memorial to the Worcester Six, a group of firefighters that perished fighting a warehouse fire not far from the present ballpark site. Uniform number 6 has been retired by the team in honor of these firefighters. Also notable before you enter the ballpark is a statue of Ted Williams that acts as a centerpiece to a display of the Splendid Splinter, and the Pawtucket Red Sox Hall of Fame. There is not much recognition of the franchise’s 50 years in Rhode Island, but these plaques are a welcome touch.
The many unique vantagepoints from which to watch the game earn another extra point. From the numerous social gathering spots to the Worcester Wall and The Bridge maximize capacity in this bandbox of a ballpark.
Not content to sit on their laurels, the WooSox added many more unique touches for the 2022 season. One of the Duck Boats used in the Red Sox championship parades sits atop the left field berm, and the opening of Summit Street has added many Worcester-centric points of interest, including a bench painted bright yellow in center field that honors Harvey Ball and a giant bobblehead decked out in a uniform of the Major League Worcester Worcesters. There’s much to see and do here at Polar Park.
Polar Park has proven to be a very divisive ballpark over its brief history. From the relocation of the iconic PawSox to the price tag for the new facility to the unique look and design of the ballpark, Polar Park seems to have created as many critics as fans. But a closer look at the ballpark shows an incredible attention to detail and connection to community. Many improvements have been made for season two in Worcester, with more certainly on the way. While, like the park’s signature beverages, it may not be everyone’s taste, but there’s no denying the impact this blue bandbox has had in the Worcester community.