Once the gates opened, the line moved pretty quickly. Dunkin Donuts had a truck parked near the entrance dispensing teensy cups of regular coffee for them as wanted one. They had a mascot, too, a six-foot tall latte cup with arms and feet. Once through the jail cell-like gates there were free refrigerator magnets with the 2006 schedule on them, and complimentary copies of Baseball America to read while on the next line. I grabbed some goodies, and then stood off to the side of the entrance next to the PawSox store to wait for Vee. The store was practically empty, so I slipped inside to see if maybe they had a baseball cap worth buying. They didn't, but they did have a signing table set up in a back corner of the store where a lonely looking author (thinking back, it may have been the ProJo's Steve Krasner) sat waiting for folks to come buy his book amidst the piles of bright red t-shirts and caps.
I managed to avoid eye contact, and not seeing anything else worth spending money on, headed back out to the entrance area for some more standing around. The standing seemed to be getting to the giant Dunkin latte cup. It came over to one of the gates that was still closed, put its hands out, leaned into the bars, seemed to sigh, and looked sadly into the stadium foyer. Well, as sadly as a giant cup o'java with a painted on happy face can look.
Vee arrived shortly after, and we got onto the back of the next line, the one that would take us into the parts of the stadium that mere mortals don't usually get to explore. Mostly it was one very long hallway, but the walls were lined with memorabilia and photos. To our right was a visual history of the team starting with its first season in 1973, each station consisting of a team photo, yearbook cover, and information on where each team finished. Next up were displays of awards given to the PawSox and their owner, Ben Mondor, over the years. Mondor is probably the best liked man in Rhode Island now that Salty Brine has passed on. He bought the bankrupt franchise in 1977, and turned it into one of the most financially successful minor league teams by putting the fans first. In the old days, he'd be there at the gate taking tickets and welcoming you as you entered the park.
Eventually we made it up the hall to one of the stadium lobbies where there were hot dogs to be had. But it was crowded, and there was a hand-written sign on the wall stating "More hot dogs in next lobby," so we decided to press on. It was worth it as the second lobby was far less crowded. We ate, then ducked into the home locker room for one of the panels. Since we weren't planning on getting autographs, we were able to escape the line and grab seats for the Q&A session with Ben Cherington (briefly Red Sox co-GM while Pitiless Theo was on walkabout), Paw Sox manager Ron Jackson, and outfielders Justin Sherrod and Dave Murphy. I felt kind of bad for Sherrod, who at age 28 has very little hope left of making it to the majors. His numbers last year were good, but not outstanding, and he strikes out a LOT. He seems a likable fellow, and it had to hurt a little to hear Cherrington hedgingly explain, in answer to a question of why Sherrod is still in AAA, that it's much harder to give minor leaguers a shot in a place like Boston where expectations for the team are so high. The session was short, only a few questions asked and answered, and then it was back to autographs, so Vee and I headed over to the other panel.
That one was held in the batting practice room across the hall, a space carpeted with astroturf, but not much larger than the locker room. It was well attended, so we stood over next to a pile of boxes that was handy both for Vee to use as a makeshift desk for her notes, and for me to lean on. The panel featured Mike Griffin, the PawSox pitching coach, plus pitchers Manny Delcarmen, Craig Breslow, and Dave Pauley, the latter two newly acquired from San Diego. Delcarmen had to be the happiest man in Pawtucket after finding out the day before that he was not going to Cleveland in the Coco Crisp trade. Speculation on just who would be going in the trade had been running rampant over the last week or so. Red Sox pitcher Guillermo Mota had failed his physical with the Indians, so it was widely rumored that they wanted rising prospect Delcarmen instead. In the end Cleveland took Mota, along with Paw Sox favorite, catcher Kelly Shoppach, and several others in a three way deal with the Red Sox, and Phillies.
The session was a lot longer than the other, and although most of the questions weren't quite as thoughtful (way more kids in this audience) they were a lot of fun. Pauley went for the rich white boy rapper look, but was funny and self-effacing. Breslow (who made 14 appearances for the Padres last season) was soft-spoken to the point of distraction. I could barely hear anything he said. Delcarmen, as I've noted, was happy.
As the session proceeded, I noticed the the piece of wood laying atop the box I was leaning on was actually a side piece from a drawer. (The dovetails on the one end were a dead giveaway.) As we were getting ready to move along at the end of the session, I wondered aloud to Vee about it. It just seemed so out of place. She pointed out that the rest of the piece of furniture it was from was right behind me, along with some other furniture, stashed off to the side. She then pointed out that the boxes were leaning on were all marked "Shoppach." This is how I came to know that Kelly Shoppack, late of Pawtucket, and now a member of the Cleveland Indians, owns an ironing board. It turns out I'd been leaning on his microwave. There was a note scrawled on the box saying that we should feel free to use it, but I don't think Shoppach had me in mind when he wrote it.
We wandered back down the long hall, looking at the exhibits on the other wall. These were more random. A lot were memorabilia from significant events in Paw Sox history, like Bronson Arroyo's perfect game. A good chunk of wall was devoted to the longest game ever played. There were also groupings of photos of people who've played or been honored at the stadium at some point. At the end of the hall we toured one of the ground level luxury boxes. We decided that unless you were in the first row (of the three) it wasn't even worth general admission price, because you couldn't really see anything because the ceiling is so low. OTOH, the front row is the approximate location of where I used to watch games when that part of the field was the picnic area, and there is no better place to watch a game except for the dugout.
Since the point of the party was to get the fans to buy some tickets, we did. As we stood in (yet another) line, we discovered that there is a second mascot, Paws' girl friend, Sox. Sox came over to visit with us, and Vee asked her how someone with such large and cumbersome, er, paws, could sign autographs so adroitly, but Paws just shrugged. Vee and I agreed that there was some gender bending going on, because the person inside the Sox suit was clearly a man. We got some great seats (fourth and fifth row off to the left of home plate).
Vee headed off for home, but I decided it was too nice an afternoon to do that just yet, so I went off in search of a hobby shop. Now, I have been a connoisseur of hobby shops since I was old enough to ride my bike into town. Like a lot of restaurants, they tend to be ephemeral things, opened by a guy with a great love for plastic models or model railroads, but little head for business. Most only last a few years. Usually, I do most of my hobby shopping in New Jersey, usually with my buddy, Alex. He's had the bug as long as I have, so when I visit, we go off in search of new places. Usually we're disappointed. The only shop anywhere near where I live is the Apponaug Color Shop in Warwick, which has been there forever. It's primarily a model railroading shop, though, and while I'm an armchair fan, my primary interest has always been planes and ships.
The only other hobby shop in Rhody that's been around for any length of time is Darlington Hobbies in Pawtucket, and although I've been meaning to check it out for years, I'd never been. The reason is mostly inertia, but part of it is that the street system in Pawtucket is a lot like that in Somerville. It's hard to find things if your not used to it. For example, getting to McCoy Stadium is simple. Getting back to 95 from McCoy Stadium when everyone else at the game is trying to do the same is a lot more problematic. 95 winds through the city like a snake, and the side roads leave it pointing in odd directions.
Anyway, since the weather was so nice, I decided to explore a little. I knew the address, and had a vague notion of where it was in relation to McCoy, so off I went. I did a fair amount of wandering, but did eventually find it. Now that I know. it should be easier. I also discovered about eight different ways to get to 95, but that should come in useful some day.
The storefront is tiny, a little hole in the wall maybe 12 feet across and forty feet deep. The aisle the runs down the center of the store is scarcely wide enough to allow two men of my build to pass without getting very friendly with each other. Most of what I saw was railroading stuff, but there were paints and a lot of assorted supplies for building ships and aircraft, so I was hopeful. Since I didn't see any kits, I assumed there must be another floor. I was right. The stairs to the basement were in the back. I nodded to the proprietress, and headed downstairs.
The basement lacks the shelves and the counter, so it's a much more open area. The neat thing was that it's dominated by an enormous eight-lane slot car track, something I didn't even know anyone even did anymore. There were some car kits, and some ship kits, but very few aircraft, which was disappointing. Still, the Color Shop has plenty of kits. What it's always lacked is a lot of the tools and paints and odds and ends for ship and aircraft models. Darlington Hobbies has all that stuff in spades. I've been wishing for place like that locally for years, and all the time it was only a few blocks (or twenty, depending upon the route you take) from McCoy. Nice to know.