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Updated: April 21, 2021

Polar Park wrapping up construction as first WooSox game nears

Photo | Grant Welker The playing field at Polar Park in Worcester
Photo | Grant Welker Polar Park's main entrance on Madison Street
Photo | Grant Welker Work is continuing on Polar Park's concourse
Photo | Grant Welker Wonder Bar, a pizzeria on Worcester's Shrewsbury Street, is among a few local food vendors that will be featured at Polar Park.
Photo | Grant Welker Polar Park's main seating area from the first base sideline
Photo | Grant Welker The Worcester Red Sox mascot adorns a part of Polar Park's facade.
Photo | Grant Welker Polar Park's DCU Club
Photo | Grant Welker Polar Park's main seating area from the left field foul pole
Photo | Grant Welker A planned seating berm beyond Polar Park's left field won't be completed in time for the start of play May 11. A planned office building that would rise beyond the stadium was due to open at the same time as the ballpark but has been delayed. The foul pole at left is named a "Fair Pole" in a sponsorship with Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp.
Photo | Grant Welker A proposed mixed-use development across Madison Street from Polar Park has been delayed.

The first game at Polar Park for the Worcester Red Sox is three weeks away, and team and city leaders were excited to show off the nearly complete baseball stadium Tuesday.

The 9,508-capacity stadium will host its first WooSox game May 11, and the Boston Red Sox have been using the ballpark in the past few weeks for training and exhibition games while crews finish construction.

Not everything will be ready for the first game, and much of the stadium is still being worked on aside from the playing field. Fencing still rings most of the ballpark, and trees and a grassy area outside the main entrance on Madison Street are being installed now. Four oversized decorative Boston Red Sox championship rings are scattered across the plaza.

"As you can see, there's room for more," Dr. Charles Steinberg, the team's president, said.

Other work will continue after the season starts. A grassy berm for fans to sit in left field and a kids play area will be available later, as will a food and drink area beyond the outfield wall planned to feature a rotating selection of local businesses. The team plans to put in an old diner car, moved from where the DCU Center now stands, as a headquarters for the WooSox Foundation, and a Duck Boat, one used in a few Red Sox championship parades, will be parked next to it.

"A rolling opening," Larry Lucchino, the team's chairman and principal owner, said, putting a positive spin on what has been a slightly delayed finish to construction.

Polar Park will be able to open with a 12% capacity because of coronavirus restrictions, or 1,140 people. The team has yet to put single-game tickets on the market, waiting to see whether that capacity limit changes first.

The project was halted briefly last spring during the first peak of the pandemic, and a delay of more than a month to the minor league season enabled the Worcester to still open Polar Park on time. The project's cost rose from $101 million at its conception to $160 million as recently as January, and the ballpark has been scaled back in size and design features. What was once an elaborate brick facade, for example, has been swapped out for a light blue corrugated metal exterior.

Janet Marie Smith, a noted baseball architect who consulted on the project, said the new exterior look is a nod to Worcester's industrial heritage.

"Corrugated metal was the best expression of the city," and one whose color matches well with the green of the playing field grass, Smith said.

Team and city leaders pointed out other points of pride, including handicapped accessibility and a $9 standing-room ticket to allow a fan to stand behind the section behind home plate, close to the action. More broadly, they spoke of the transformation of the city from a longtime hilly parking lot to the newest stadium in Minor League Baseball.

"If you were here three years ago, this was an abandoned parking lot with weeds growing up to your waist," City Manager Edward Augustus said.

The ballpark's construction costs rose significantly in large part to exactly where it was built: on a hilly site with contaminated soil, a culvert that needed to be removed, and businesses relocated and their buildings demolished. But Augustus said the site on the north side of Madison Street was a better fit than across the street, which offered a flat site and nothing that stood in the way.

Instead, the team preferred a more unique setting. At one point, a freight train slowly rumbled by a few dozen feet beyond the western edge of the ballpark, making an unmissable presence, at least inside the empty and silent ballpark.

"To their credit, they gravitated to this spot," Augustus said of the team's leadership. "I think they were exactly right."

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