PAWTUCKET, R.I. (AP) — For 40 years, Pawtucket resident Mike Shloul has lived within walking distance of McCoy Stadium, where the PawSox have played home games since 1973.
"I felt like somebody died," Shloul said of hearing the news that the Pawtucket Red Sox are leaving and might be headed to the neighboring capital city of Providence. The team, he said, is "part of the culture in Pawtucket."
The expected departure of the Triple-A baseball club takes away one of few bright spots from an old mill town that has never fully recovered from the Great Depression, officials in the Rhode Island city said Tuesday.
"To take the economic activity out of the city's income stream is a severe blow," said Robert Billington, a local tourism official who said he was shocked to learn the team's new owners want to leave.
Boston Red Sox president Larry Lucchino and a group of Rhode Island businessmen announced Monday they had purchased the franchise for an undisclosed amount from the widow of its longtime owner and are planning to move the team. Investor James Skeffington confirmed the new owners are eyeing a piece of land along the Providence River for a new ballpark but said nothing is final.
The new owners said making improvements to McCoy Stadium would be too expensive. The stadium was built in 1942 and renovated in the late 90s.
But Billington, president of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, said he thinks McCoy Stadium could be maintained the way Fenway Park in Boston has been.
"If they can make it in Fenway, I think they can make it here," he said. "I think there's a desire not to."
Billington said he had hoped the new owners would want to reinvest in Pawtucket. The city was a major manufacturer during the American Industrial Revolution, but has struggled to improve its economy since the 1930s. It's now one of the poorest cities in the state, with a median household income of $40,379.
The team brought fame and fun to the city, he said, along with about 750,000 visitors a year.
"There are a lot of businesses that are supported by the PawSox," Billington said.
That includes the Right Spot Diner, which overlooks the stadium. Owner Julia Tsimikas said Tuesday she is worried about how losing the team will affect the business she and her family opened in 1975.
"It's going to be a loss for the whole city," Tsimikas said.
Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebian said there is both an economic and psychological impact to the departure of the team. He said he tried to keep the team in Pawtucket but the city wasn't "on the radar" of the new owners.
The new owners said if they built a ballpark in Providence they would use their own funds but would ask the city and the state for support.
Billington said any state help should focus on keeping the team in Pawtucket.
"We're not fighting against anyone," Billington said. "It's for Pawtucket. Let's figure out how to do it here."