Lowell Celebrates Their Red Sox Connection
September 2, 2005 - Lowell, Massachusetts
Lowell’s LeLacheur Park is as close to Fenway Park, but as far away from the Major Leagues, as most of the Red Sox minor league players starting their professional careers here will ever get.
Home to the Spinners, Lowell is Boston’s short season rookie league team in the New York Penn League. Most of the players donning the Spinners uniform are in their first year of pro ball, many of them drafted just two weeks before the abbreviated 76-game season begins in June.
The players landing in Lowell are immediately entrenched into the heart of Red Sox Nation at LeLacheur Park. Located just 33 miles north of Yawkey Way, LeLacheur is the ideal ballpark for the young ballplayers to get a taste of the area’s passion for baseball.
After playing for two years in a high school stadium named Alumni Field, the Spinners moved into their present home on the shores of the Merrimack River in 1998. Built on the UMass-Lowell campus, LeLacheur Park exudes touches of Red Sox Nation throughout the ballpark.
The retired numbers of Red Sox players are posted on the right field wall just as they appear at Fenway Park, and below the numbers of Doerr, Cronin, Yaz, Ted and Fisk is a banner dedicated to Tony Conigliaro that simply says “In Memory of 25.”
The same Hood milk bottle that once was atop Fenway’s right field roof was relocated to center field in Lowell. The giant milk bottle sits next to the scrolling message board that displays the score of the Red Sox game and other New York Penn League contests.
The most obvious display of Lowell’s affiliation and affection for the parent club is the Boston Red Sox logo painted into the grass behind home plate, with the words “World Champions” added for the 2005 season.
Much like Fenway Park, the Spinners’ ballpark is quaint and sold out every game. With seats for 4,767 people and another 233 admitted on a standing room only basis, LeLacheur Park has a capacity of 5,000 fans and the team has sold out every game for six consecutive seasons.
At the conclusion of 2005, Lowell has sold out a Minor League record 228 straight games and there is even a waiting list for season tickets, which the Spinners cap at 1,600 each season.
The outpouring of fan support is the combination of connecting with the local Red Sox fan base and the charm of Edward A. LeLacheur Park, named after the state legislature who spearheaded the effort to get the ballpark built.
LeLacheur Park was designed by HOK Sports (the same firm that built Camden Yards in Baltimore) at a cost of $10.4 million. The city of Lowell owns the stadium, which was constructed using $8 million in funding from the state of Massachusetts and $2.4 million from the city.
HOK has made its name creating modern ballparks with a nostalgic charm, often times incorporating aspects of the surrounding neighborhood into the ballpark’s construction. LeLacheur Park fits that description perfectly.
The Spinners got their name from the city’s mill history and their ballpark stands in the middle of the old mill section of Lowell. LeLacheur Park easily blends into its rustic surroundings, which include an old mill factory that is being converted into condos, a few out-of-use smoke stacks, and the truss span Aiken Street Bridge, which was built in 1883.
All located beyond right field but visible throughout the ballpark, the brownish colored mill warehouse, smoke stacks and bridge dominate the landscape and provide the charm for the modern facility.
An open, wrap around concourse rings the ballpark, which lacks any cover for shade since a roof isn’t necessary as all games are played at night – 7:05 during the week and 5:05 on Saturday and Sunday.
A long line of rustic colored brick buildings house the concession stands down the 3rd base concourse, while similar buildings on the 1st base concourse hold the bathrooms. The press box blends in with its brick surroundings and holds a couple of suites, which most fans at the ballpark probably don’t know exists.
On the concourse behind the press box are dry erase boards that display NY-Penn League standings, league and team leaders, and a list of former Spinners playing in the Big Leagues.
LeLacheur Park has a large line scoreboard in left field and video board in left center, where trees provide the backdrop.
The ballpark was built atop a bluff overlooking the Merrimack River but, like the Mass Pike behind Fenway Park, you can't often see it. For the most part you know the river is nearby thanks to the Aiken Street Bridge, but the only place from which the Merrimack is visible is from the concourse all the way down the 3rd base line.
The playing field is unique with many angular dimensions. There is an ample amount of foul territory around the infield, while the bullpens are located down the opposing foul lines. The right field seats are angled in towards the playing field and the right field wall is only 301 feet from home plate, both arrangements a result of the orientation of Aiken Street, which runs parallel to LeLacheur Park.
The ballpark was built into the fabric of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell campus and also serves as the home field for the college team. A high-rise dorm looms in the distance behind home plate and its not uncommon to see sororities or fraternities working the concession stands.
LeLacheur Park was part of a downtown revitalization effort that has energized the city of Lowell. The Tsongas Arena, used for hockey, was built nearby and opened the same year. The area around the ballpark has sprung to life with restaurants and bars opening across the street, including the enormous Lowell Brewery Exchange.
Spinners tickets, although hard to come by, are inexpensive by any standards, as is the team’s $1 oversized program, which features plenty of stats and information on the Lowell roster. Only the parking – at $5 - is overpriced.
Just like all minor league ballparks, expect the usual barrage of unique promotions and oddities. Hence the appearance of Herbie the Love Bug in Lowell. Yes, Herbie is an original Volkswagen beetle that rides around the warning track a couple of times between innings, tossing out t-shirts and taking part in other promotions.
Even without the appearance of Herbie the Love Bug, LeLacheur Park’s crowds are lively. The packed houses add to one of the better atmospheres in minor league baseball, making it no wonder the Spinners have been an overwhelming success since their inception in 1996.
Lowell has successfully blended the city’s mill history with a non-imposing ballpark that capitalizes on the Spinners’ Red Sox connection. Simply ignore the team’s rookie level designation; for fans the Lowell experience is Major League.