Fun day at WooSox with Advocates despite rain complications

The WooSox were set to play two games on Sunday, July 18. Saturday night’s game had been postponed after just over an inning, and was scheduled to resume at 12:05 on Sunday followed by Sunday’s regularly scheduled game, which would be reduced a to 7 inning game.

Sunday was also Advocates Day as a group from Advocates, a non-profit organization that supports people with disabilities like me, was in attendance. The game was originally set to start at 1PM but with two games being played, the start time was moved up an hour.

Despite the change of plans, Advocates Day went forward. I was invited to join Advocates, and they collaborated with the WooSox so I could have special press credentials to report on the happenings of the day around most areas of the ballpark.

I started out on Polar Park’s Hanover Deck, a great viewing area high up in right field with views of the field and the city of Worcester. I spoke with Diane Gould, President of Advocates:

Advocates, like the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism, continues to help individuals like me. Meeting with Diane, a big sports fan, was a great start to the day despite the overcast skies and expected rain. I was given the opportunity to report on all the action so I watched the continuation of the first game from the Hanover Deck, and did some play by play of my own with my dad serving as my personal cameraman:

Rain began to fall during the 5th inning, so after 5 scoreless innings combined for the first game carried over from Saturday, the WooSox grounds crew brought the tarp out for another rain delay.

Despite the rain delay, there was plenty to enjoy at this brand new ballpark. Behind home plate in the upper level is where the press box and broadcast booth are located. The WooSox provided me special access to the DCU Club which is adjacent to both. It’s a huge premium area with couches and other special seating areas where you can avoid the elements outside but still watch the game.

In the DCU Club, I ran into WooSox broadcaster Mike Antonellis, who I had met at the open house on July 10. He was very generous with his time and gave me the chance to speak with him for a spontaneous rain delay report:

I also had the chance to stop by the press box, which was full during the game but had space during the delay. In the press box I met Cassandra Riley, a graduate of my current high school (Algonquin Regional High School) who is now a WooSox photographer. She had always been interested in photography and baseball, so this was a dream job for her. It turns out that Cassandra’s mom, Patricia Riley, is a teacher at Algonquin who has been a big supporter of my career aspirations and has gone above and beyond for me during my time at Algonquin. It was a pleasant surprise to meet Cassandra because I did not know she worked at the WooSox and we had a lot in common to discuss:

The day was also the first Bark in the Park day at Polar Park, where fans were allowed to bring their dogs to the stadium. The remainder of the games scheduled for the day were eventually called off due to the on and off rain (game 2 was rescheduled to August 19 as another Bark in the Park day), but the WooSox did an excellent job keeping fans (employees too) and their dogs engaged, allowing them onto the field to walk the warning track after the game was called:

Despite weather complications, it was a fun day at the ballpark thanks to Advocates and the WooSox staff. While I wish I could have watched more baseball, the rain delay opened the door for opportunities I may not have had at a typical WooSox game. In addition, even though there wasn’t much action on the field, it’s really exciting watching players like Jeter Downs and Marcus Wilson who could be playing for the Red Sox at Fenway some day, maybe even in September when major league roster sizes are expanded. I’ve been invited to return to Polar Park again as a reporter on July 31 for Autism Acceptance Night and I can’t wait.

Fans can come again to Polar Park with their dogs on August 19 and August 22 (the make-up date for the July 18 game)
I hope to catch up again with Cassandra at future WooSox games at Polar Park, including July 31, Autism Acceptance Night

Red Sox Second Half Preview and Midseason MLB Power Rankings

We’re coming off a quiet, yet also busy week in baseball, both for the Red Sox and the rest of the league. The week started off with the MLB draft, in which the Red Sox landed top shortstop prospect Marcelo Mayer. Pete Alonso took home his second straight Home Run Derby, despite impressive performances by two-way star Shohei Ohtani, Coors Field hometown hero Trevor Story, and cancer survivor Trey Mancini among others. Five Red Sox players contributed to the AL’s All Star Game victory, with Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers each knocking in a run, Nathan Eovaldi and Matt Barnes each pitching a shutout inning, and J.D. Martinez also batting in the game. Additionally, after strong performances in Worcester, the Red Sox announced that Jarren Duran and Tanner Houck would get the call to the majors. They had been set to join the team in this weekend’s series against the Yankees. With Yankee COVID problems postponing the first game, everything’s up in the air, but when the Red Sox play again, Duran and Houck will be able to make their mark. This is all happening while Chris Sale begins his rehab assignment with the FCL Red Sox.

The first half has come to a close, and I’ve written about my thoughts on the Red Sox’s first half performance as well as what I expect in the second half, from the rest of this month to the trade deadline to the playoffs. I’ve also included my power rankings from the end of June, and while a couple things have changed since then it seems we have already began to establish which teams have a chance at a playoff run.

Red Sox: First Half in Review

Red Sox: Xander Bogaerts climbs franchise list for shortstops with latest  home run

Heading into the year, I was expecting a middle of the road type of season from the Red Sox, but at the same time, I saw a low floor and a high ceiling. In this first half, this team has played close to their ceiling. Martinez, Bogaerts, and Devers have led the way for one of the best lineups in baseball. The team has come up clutch as they lead the league in 2 out runs. Chaim Bloom has hand crafted the outfield that leads the league in outfield assists, bringing in Alex Verdugo in the Mookie Betts trade and signing Hunter Renfroe and Kike Hernandez this past offseason. The rotation has been inconsistent, but it has definitely had its moments. After a rough patch in May and June, Eduardo Rodriguez has began to rebound. Eovaldi was in that All Star Game for a reason, as a healthy season from him has been exciting to watch. Additionally, Nick Pivetta has been able to completely revitalize his career in Boston after struggling to maintain a starting job in Philadelphia. The question in whether the Red Sox can keep playing at this level to secure the AL East victory and make a playoff run.

Red Sox Outlook for the Second Half

Red Sox ace Chris Sale inches closer to return after rehab start - The  Boston Globe

I think what we’ve seen so far this season is the ceiling of what the current Red Sox roster can do. However, there’s more talent on the way. Jarren Duran has a lot of potential between his power and his speed, and he’s a great addition for the outfield that can allow Kike Hernandez to spend more time at other positions and show off his versatility. Tanner Houck can be another talented arm for this rotation. The Red Sox could be looking for ways to further improve the team at the approaching trade deadline. However, what might be the most significant is the fact that Red Sox ace Chris Sale is working his way back to the majors, and could rejoin the team as soon as August. The rotation is decent right now, but adding Sale to it (assuming he can return to pre-injury form) puts the Red Sox at another level. I think the combo of young talent, trades, and the return of Sale can fix some of the issues the team has had and put them in an even better position to contend this October.

The Red Sox do have some tough competition though. The Astros’ lineup has been unstoppable even after the resolution of the cheating scandal. The White Sox rotation has been near unstoppable. The Dodgers, Padres, and Giants are all battling it out for the NL West and could also end up battling it out for a World Series title. Whether the Red Sox win a title is going to come down to how they handle this elite competition. Will they falter against some of the league’s best talent and end up back in the middle of the pack, or will they stand strong and win a ring in a historic season? Boston’s outlook likely falls somewhere in between, but there are lots of possibilities.

Check out my midseason power rankings below. The Nationals have began to slump and the Reds have began to rise since the end of June, but many of these teams are still in the same spot.

Midseason Power Rankings (as of June 30)

That wraps up the first half this baseball season. During the All Star Break, I also began to look ahead to football season. Check out this podcast my cousin and I put together to begin to preview this year’s AFC.

Appearance on the Master Plan Podcast: Way too early AFC Preview

Football season is quickly approaching, and teams have began to prepare for the upcoming year. The AFC could be a very competitive conference, but which teams have enough talent to be playoff contenders? My cousin Michael Philipkosky and I broke it all down in this episode of his podcast, the Master Plan.

Polar Park, a ballpark experience everyone can enjoy

On Saturday, July 10, I visited Polar Park for the “Saturday at the Park” open house event. With the WooSox on the road, the park was open to the public for a few hours for fans to explore all areas of the the new ballpark in the heart of Massachusetts.

Fans were also encouraged to give their feedback on how to improve the ballpark. The WooSox value fan feedback so much that they had 21 planning meetings with fans that resulted in 877 ideas and suggestions on how to design the ballpark (me with WooSox President Dr. Charles Steinberg holding a book with the 877 fan ideas pictured below).

The event was held on what would have been the 100th birthday of Harvey Ball, the Worcester-born inventor of the smiley face. Much of the design of Polar Park and the WooSox logos were also based on Worcester history. Smiley Ball, the team’s mascot, is a reference to Harvey Ball’s roots in Worcester. Since Worcester is often called the “heart of Massachusetts,” the road signs around Kelley Square, Worcester’s downtown area, contain hearts.

Polar Park is located in a redesigned Kelley Square, so it’s fitting that the team’s logo contains a heart and this theme is incorporated throughout the ballpark including the seats as you can see pictured below.

The sides of the game seats are not only a reference to Worcester being the heart of Massachusetts but also a tribute to the Worcester’s, an 1800s baseball team that played in the city.

The ballpark also took inspiration from both Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium and Boston’s Fenway Park. The WooSox wanted to make sure that they had a lot of unique and good seating options. I caught up with a WooSox employee on the Hanover deck, where there’s a great view of both the city and the ballpark. We spoke about a wide variety of seating options.

I had the chance to visit the seats behind home plate later on, which were in front of NESN’s broadcast booth.

The left field berm is a grassy area that’s just about to open. Berm tickets will be sold to the general public for $9, and kids under 12, college students, and veterans can purchase tickets on the berm for $8.

The Worcester Wall is Polar Park’s version of the Green Monster. The main differences? The Worcester Wall is located in right field and stands at 22 feet high, as opposed to Fenway’s Green Monster which is in left field and stands at 37 feet high. In addition, as opposed to Fenway green, the Worcester Wall was painted with a new color known as “Woo Blue.”

I also had the chance to see some of the private suites.

In addition to good seating options, the WooSox have found ways to accommodate fans that may need a break from typical ballpark noise. The Unum Sensory Friendly Room was designed to make Polar Park welcoming to fans with disabilities like autism who may have sensory overload challenges. The room is located adjacent to Fan Services.

According to WooSox employee Marie Roy, the organization is a very welcoming employer. I spoke with Roy, who shared with me that she is autistic and described her experience working at the ballpark.

This day was also filled with opportunities to explore ballpark areas not normally open to the public. Everyone was welcome to check out areas usually reserved only for members of the media: the press box, the broadcast booth, and the control room.

In the broadcast booth, I had the chance to meet Mike Antonellis, one of the WooSox broadcasters. He was extremely friendly and even provided me advice on my sports broadcasting pursuits.

In the control room I saw a lot of familiar graphics and designs on screens across the room, and caught up with two control room employees.

Just outside the control room, I was able to meet WooSox Chairman of the Board (and former Red Sox owner) Larry Lucchino and WooSox president Dr. Charles Steinberg. Steinberg has been a part of many memorable events with the Red Sox organization. He orchestrated the ceremony at the April 20, 2013 Red Sox game right after the Boston Marathon bombings that I attended and wrote about. I caught up with Steinberg about his thoughts on how Polar Park has done in its first few months as well as plans to improve the ballpark.

After the event, I interviewed some fans to see what they thought about the experience at the ballpark.

Before leaving, we also stopped by the Team Store to pick up inaugural season merchandise.

The Team Store has merchandise containing the main WooSox logos as well as their “Los Wepas de Worcester” logos. The WooSox have worn “Los Wepas de Worcester” uniforms for a couple of their games to honor the Latino community. “Wepa” is Spanish slang for words like “wow” or “amazing”, and the logo contains rockets to honor Worcester-born rocket inventor Robert Goddard.

I had a great time visiting Polar Park on this open Saturday. It’s a really nice ballpark and I’m looking forward to attending some games at the ballpark this season. The team has a lot of exciting players to watch and some of them could be called up to Boston soon. Polar Park is a great venue to see a game.

If you want to see a game this week, the WooSox come home to Worcester on Tuesday, July 13 for a seven game series against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. I’ll be attending on Sunday, July 18, and you can buy tickets for any of these seven games at https://www.milb.com/worcester/tickets.