If you’re reading this blog, chances are that you are a baseball fan of some measure. If you are, then you might get a little jealous when you hear about this. This week, the PawSox invited their sponsors and advertisers out to McCoy to play baseball. That’s right. The folks were allowed to take the field, throw in the bullpen and take swings in the batting cage. The week before, season ticket holders were given the same opportunity. It’s the way the PawSox thank their loyal supporters.
According to Michael Gwynn, PawSox V.P. of Sales and Marketing, it is a special way to thank the people who support the PawSox. “We probably started this about 9 years ago. We looked for a way to thank our sponsors in a way that was different. Something they might not get to do in an ordinary setting. We decided to open up the stadium, bring them over and give them a feel of what it’s like for a player to come to te ballpark, dress in the locker room and take batting practice like the players do every day. For the sponsors, it was a great opportunity to see what it’s like to be a player. They loved it the first year. We decided we had to do it every year.”
It has snowballed over the years with hundreds signing up to take their hacks against the pitching machine. After humble beginnings, it has picked up momentum over time. “The first year, people didn’t know what to expect. We got a good turn out the first year. They came, got out on the field and found out that there was nothing better than being out on the McCoy Stadium diamond. The green grass, the sun coming down, the sound of the bat hitting the ball. I think it brought back a lot of memories for them. No matter what level they played, Little League, high school, whatever, it took hold immediately.” said Gwynn.
Skill level is unimportant. In the three days of batting practice this year, just one home run was hit. Dan Pettinato of Arbella Insurance launched one into the PawSox bullpen in leftfield. He was pleased. “It felt great. I just wanted to get up there and get hold of one.” Pettinato was impressed with McCoy. “This is such a great facility. Just unbelievable.” When he’s not working for Arbella, he coaches American Legion Baseball. Dan wished that some of his players had been there to witness his dip into the fountain of youth. “Absolutely. It’s always a bragging rights kind of thing with those kids.”
Bill Cardinal of IHOP is a regular at the annual event. Dressed in his Red Sox jersey and PawSox cap, Bill was thoroughly enjoying the day. “For an old guy like me, the little kid is coming out again. The child never leaves you. I’m 48 years old, feeling like I’m 21. I know I’ll feel a little shaky right now and achey tomorrow.” Cardinal, who along with his brother Glenn, operates several Rhode Island restaurants savored the chance to be on the field where many Red Sox stars have played and developed. “I went back out to the bullpen. I thought about just this year. (Josh) Beckett was out there. Daisuke (Matsuzaka)…just being on the same mound, what an experience. That’s something I’ll treasure. I’ll never forget it.” Playing some defense at the park gave him a new-found appreciation for the young Pawtucket outfielders like Bubba Bell and Josh Reddick. “Being in the outfield and shagging balls. It was amazing. Thinking that there are only three players out there that make up that tremendous distance. I was only good for about 15 feet, myself.” Cardinal took in the big picture and reflected on the parallels of his company and the PawSox. “The PawSox are an icon here in Rhode Island. So many fans turn out. With IHOP being family oriented dining, and the PawSox being such a family-type event. For us it’s a no-brainer. Our relationship with the PawSox is a natural. We are both targeting the same type of audience and customer base. It’s all about families and that’s what you guys (The PawSox) do so well.
Gwynn knows that every year, long before the season ends, he’ll get almost daily reminders from people regarding those magic days of September, when they’ll don their brand new PawSox shirt and hat that they’re given, put on their glove, swing the bat and eat a terrific lunch under the red and white striped tent on the first base line. “At least once or twice a game, I’ll run into sponsors at McCoy and they always say the same thing. ‘Don’t forget to invite me to that batting day.”