PAWTUCKET, R.I. (AP) — The Pawtucket Red Sox are going from “Play Ball” to “Bon Appetit.”
With the minor league baseball season on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox has found another use for its home field. Starting next weekend, “Dining on the Diamond” will allow PawSox fans and others just longing for a taste of baseball to sample typical ballpark fare on the McCoy Stadium infield.
“For a baseball romantic, this is the best restaurant in the world,” team President Charles Steinberg said. “It was an emotional, sentimental experience for those who have tried it so far.”
Minor league ballparks have long been a laboratory for some of the wackiest promotions in sports, giving away everything from toilet seat cushions to vasectomies to funerals. During the coronavirus shutdown, other teams have rented out their stadiums on Airbnb or offered them for high school graduations.
PawSox promotions beyond the usual cap and bobblehead nights often involve playfully stoking the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry.
But the team is taking this seriously.
Twenty picnic-style tables have been spread out across the infield dirt, from first base to third, a minimum of 14 feet apart (exceeding the state requirement). Reservations are required and all food must be ordered and paid for in advance. There are two seatings per night, with a half hour in between for trash to be emptied and the tables to be cleaned and disinfected. Diners will be required to wear masks, except when eating.
The seatings scheduled for next Friday and Saturday sold out in 88 minutes; a third date was added for Sunday. With five people per table — limited to families or groups isolating together — the al fresco eatery will serve as many as 200 diners per night.
The ballpark seats 10,031, but it’s a start.
“I think people are just excited to come out to a ballpark. They’re excited to socialize under the correct conditions,” PawSox Vice President Dan Rea said. “As the weather turns good and as people look toward summer, they want to be out and about. This is an opportunity for us to do something a little bit unique, a little bit different, but something special.
“We figured this would be a nice new business to run while we wait for the potential resumption of our season.”
For a media preview Thursday night, reporters were first directed to park in a lot with every other space blocked off. Before entering the ballpark, there was a self-screening to verify that they don't have a fever or any other potential COVID-19 symptoms. After checking in at what could pass for a regular restaurant host stand, they are taken to their table.
The entire full-time staff of the PawSox was participating, from preparing the food to serving. At the media preview, Rea was overseeing the screening, and play-by-play man Josh Maurer helped bring reporters their food.
“It’s really an ‘all hands on deck’ endeavor,” Rea said. “People have just said, ‘Sign me up for whatever. If you need me to cook food, if you need me to distribute food, if you need me to carry drinks.’ I think people are just excited to be back working with fans, talking to people and being here at the ballpark.”
The PawSox also have a takeout option, with curbside pickup so fans don't have to leave their cars. Steinberg said the team is thinking of other ways to improve the experience, like having former Red Sox players who came up through Pawtucket video chat with fans on the center field scoreboard, or perhaps even appear in person.
Still, he'll be happy when baseball returns.
“You’re happy to take a bow and let baseball resume at center stage,” Steinberg said. “But you may have created something that you just may be able to do when the team’s on the road. It has a chance to become a positive innovation in baseball that arises from this difficult time."