Ever since we lost the PawSox, there have been half-baked schemes to replace them, recently from a deep-pockets guy who said he wants to save McCoy Stadium, even though the wrecking ball is poised.
God bless the gentleman, but that dog won’t likely hunt, with Pawtucket voters last year having approved funds for a new high school consolidating Shea and Tolman.
Yet there’s now a compelling proposal to bring high-level baseball back to Rhode Island elsewhere.
And it’s the real deal.
It’s the idea of a battle-tested baseball visionary – Art Solomon, who lives in Providence and has been a force behind three minor league teams and the building of a few stadiums.
Specifically, as first reported in GoLocalProv, Art wants to build a 3,500-seat ballpark at Rhode Island College that would double as the school’s stadium and also be home to a team in a new venture called the Draft League.
What – the Draft League? Is that a thing?
Yes, it is. It was launched in 2021 by Major League Baseball with six Northeast squads including those in Trenton, New Jersey, and University Park, Pennsylvania. Each team plays, get this, 80 games a year, the first 35 with high-level amateur prospects, the last 45 after the early July baseball draft, with players turned pro and given housing and pay.
In the short time since the Draft League was born, around 200 players have made it into major league organizations. That’s not small potatoes.
Personally, I would bet on this proposal.
Who is Art Solomon, and what does he know about baseball?
Art Solomon is a bit of a hidden Rhode Island treasure who knows minor league baseball as well as anyone – right up there with the legendary Ben Mondor, who owned the PawSox for decades. Art ranks in that company.
He has owned the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats in Manchester for 18 years, and for a half-dozen years, his three adult children have owned Hartford’s Yard Goats, which have the highest attendance in Double-A ball. From 2008 until 2013, Art also owned the Single-A Bowling Green (Kentucky) Hot Rods.
He has long been a Rhode Island guy, living on the East Side with his wife, Sally Lapides, head of Residential Properties, the state’s biggest real estate firm.
Art is a successful developer who graduated from Brown University, taught at MIT and, among other things, converted North Smithfield’s Slatersville Mill to residences and built the $600-million Novartis BioMedical Research campus in Cambridge.
But he’s one of those business achievers who, beyond that, wants to do something for the community. Part of what makes life worth living for Art is baseball, and he likes the way teams become part of a city or state’s fabric.
Could Art Solomon have kept the PawSox in Rhode Island?
In 2004, Art made a bid to buy the PawSox, but it went to the group that ultimately took it to Worcester. Art once told me that if he had owned the team, he wouldn’t have let it leave.
That may seem glib, since the PawSox were forced away by ex-Speaker Nick Mattiello and House reps who stupidly refused to give a state guarantee to the stadium bonds, killing the deal. But I believe Art Solomon would have found a way to navigate the nexus of politics and public opinion and bring everyone to their senses. The current owners - who are in the process of selling the team - didn’t know how to do that and just ran away.
But now that the dust has long settled, Art wants Providence, and Rhode Island, to get back in the game, seizing on the new Draft League as an opportunity.
Not long ago, with six teams off and running in the Northeast, people in the MLB began to talk to Art about seeing two more expansion teams in New England.
While another group is reportedly looking at Lowell, Art has focused on what, to me, would be a huge win-win for the state in general and Rhode Island College in particular.
Art told me several other Draft League teams put ballparks at colleges, and he wants to do the same.
RIC now has a good baseball field, but only hundreds of outdoor seats. Art’s vision is to build an $18-million stadium around it with 3,500 seats and plenty of amenities.
It would be owned by RIC, which would use the park for its team from March to June. From June through August, it would be the home of a new Providence Draft League team. For the rest of the year, RIC could program the stadium any way it wants. Since it would instantly be the biggest ballpark in the state, Art sees it as a great venue for high school championships and other events.
What would it take to get a minor-league ballpark built at RIC?
To get it built, Art is hoping the governor will put the $18-million cost in an upcoming education bond which, if approved by the legislature, would appear on next November’s ballot. If it went through, Art feels it’s possible the ballpark would be ready for play by summer of 2025.
Art told me he’d commit $6 million himself to launch the team and would oversee it with a full-time staff of a dozen or so, paying the players, as well as paying RIC for dorm rooms to host them, food services to feed them and ballpark costs during the 40 games that would be played at home.
Personally – memo to the governor and legislature – I think this should be a slam-dunk, bringing baseball back for a price less than, say, the Providence River pedestrian bridge.
Art says it would cost the state about $1.6 million a year for 20 years to pay off the bond. The team would annually steer a few hundred thousand dollars to share the burden.
Art has long been about involving his teams in the community – for example, giving a dozen $2,000 scholarships a year to New Hampshire students. He also works with elementary and high schools there, offering any student free tickets if they read four books beyond the curriculum.
You could count on him doing things like that here. Plus he knows how to get fans into a park – for example, the Fisher Cats for a long while had a beloved golden retriever as bat boy.
It's outta here: So long, McCoy Stadium – you'll forever live in the hearts of fans
Art also notes that RIC has a new sports management program, and he feels a resident Draft League team’s staff and players would be a natural to participate in classes and would offer a training ground for interns.
What's in it for Art Solomon?
Art is technically retired, so I asked why he wants to take this on – especially since a team like this won’t make you rich.
“I love baseball, and I love Rhode Island,” he said.
But it’s more than just about the sport.
“We’re not just in the baseball business,” says Art, “we’re in the family entertainment business. This will be kid-friendly, affordable family fun.”
Like I said, the project would have to be put in the state budget and, gulp, get through the legislature. Having dropped the ball with the PawSox, one hopes they will see the value in this idea.
Rhode Island has an incredible tradition with high-level baseball, including such lore as Babe Ruth playing for the Providence Grays in 1914.
It would be great to see the pro game return.
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Draft League baseball stadium proposed at RIC by Art Solomon: Patinkin