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  • Writer's picturePaul Baker

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

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 the Pawsox’ longtime home, McCoy Stadium, was deemed unfit without major reconstruction. After several proposed plans in Pawtucket and Providence 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 facility 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. Polar Beverages purchased naming rights for the ballpark. The Red Sox, colloquially called the “WooSox,” 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 facilitiesas a way 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).


Concession stands are organized by the types of food sold at each, so you may have to search a little to find 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 weiner 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. Be warned that concessions lines are long, although they do move well.


The cola wars have skipped Polar Park entirely, as the ballpark sponsor, Polar Beverages, provides the drinks here. All sodas are sold in bottles only. If visiting from out of town,

Stadium Journey recommends 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.


The craft beer game is strong at Polar Park, and again, local companies are front and center. Drafts 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.”


If all these choices don’t do it for you, take a walk on Summit Street, open behind the center field stands during games. The Taste of Worcester, featuring local restaurants, and a Wormtown Brewery location are on this stretch of road.



Atmosphere 5


While planning the construction of Polar Park, WooSox management hosted many fan forums to solicit 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 and a lively buzz during games.


The giant, if poorly-placed, 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. Harvey Ball, a Worcester native, designed the famous yellow Smiley Face (think “have a nice day”) in 1963.


Of course, with Worcester located firmly in Red Sox territory, there’s no doubt that this is a Red Sox affiliate. Replicas of Red Sox championship rings stand in the entrance plaza and Polar Park’s version of the Green Monster, the 22-foot tall Worcester Wall, hovers over right field with a seating section on top.


Longtime local baseball fans will recall the strong community connection the Pawsox had in Pawtucket. That connection may be even stronger in Worcester. Fan feedback is not only welcomed, but solicited and utilized. For example, features such as the right field video board and the opening of Summit Street are directly related to fan suggestions.


Neighborhood 3


Polar Park is in the Canal District of Worcester, traditionally considered an area to avoid. However, the neighborhood is experiencing 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. Unfortunately, construction has been slow. For now, the ballpark and a small parking garage are the only pieces in place.


The area a few blocks west of Polar Park contains some spots that may be of interest for 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.


Fans 5


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.


The WooSox are among the leaders in all of Minor League Baseball in attendance. About halfway through the 2023 season the team is averaging over 7,500 fans per game. In a lot of new ballparks, attendance tends to dip once the novelty factor wears off. The bloom still appears to be on the rose in Worcester in Polar Park’s third season.



Access 3


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 bricks and green seats that all the new cookie-cutter ballparks possess, it has met with some derision by fans.


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 becomes extremely crowded. It could be a serious concern during an emergency. The concourse is very narrow and is 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 lap. 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 not a traditional route by any stretch of the imagination.


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. Check the WooSox website for complete seating options.


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-$25 to park and require a walk through often poorly-lit roads in a less than stellar neighborhood. A small parking garage is located right across the street from the ballpark on Madison Street, which charges $21 for a spot. Complete parking information can be found here. There is little to no on-street parking in the area.


Extras 5

There are so many special features 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 as you enter the ballpark is a display of Ted Williams-themed artwork and the Pawtucket Red Sox Hall of Fame. It’s the only recognition of the franchise’s 50 years in Rhode Island.


The many unique vantagepoints from which to watch the game earn another extra point. The numerous social gathering spots, such as the Worcester Wall and The Bridge maximize capacity in this bandbox of a ballpark.


Not content to sit on their laurels, the WooSox continue to add more extra features to Polar Park. One of the Duck Boats used in the Red Sox championship parades sits atop the left field berm. On Summit Street fans will find a bench painted bright yellow honoring Harvey Ball and a giant bobblehead decked out in a uniform of the Major League Worcester Worcesters. New for 2023 is the WooSox reward app, which allows fans to earn points at games and participating businesses to redeem for WooSox merchandise and experiences.



Final Thoughts


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. Like the park’s signature beverages, it may not be to everyone’s taste, but there’s no denying the impact this blue bandbox has had on the Worcester community.


Follow Paul Baker’s stadium journeys on Twitter and Instagram @PuckmanRI.



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