Welcome to Worcester, Ken Ryan!
Former Red Sox pitcher and Pawtucket-native reminisced during PawSox Heritage Day at Polar Park.
By Kevin Saleeba- Chamber Correspondent
WORCESTER – From 1970 to 2020, diehard baseball fans from Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts grew up watching the top minor league team of the Boston Red Sox, the Pawtucket Red Sox. They were thrilled to watch eventual baseball legends like Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk, Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs, Mo Vaughn, and Fred Lynn get their start in the little bandbox called McCoy Stadium. When the PawSox vacated McCoy for the greener pastures of Polar Park in 2021, they took decades of Pawtucket baseball history and memories with them to the city of the Seven Hills. It still can leave a knot in the throat of longtime PawSox fans to now call them the WooSox. To some, they will always be the PawSox. “All those memories will stay with me forever. Growing up there, I watched games there as a kid,” said former Pawtucket and Boston Red Sox pitcher Ken Ryan at the recent PawSox Heritage Day at Polar Park held last month. Ryan is unique, because he has not only played at McCoy for the PawSox, he was born in Pawtucket and lived there and in neighboring Seekonk, Massachusetts for most of his life.
Ryan was invited by the Worcester Red Sox as part of their Pawtucket Red Sox history and Rhode Island roots tribute. The WooSox wore their PawSox hats and jerseys for the first time since 2019 against the New York Yankees’ minor league affiliate, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. Ryan said he was initially apprehensive to take his first trip up Route 146 to Polar Park. “It’s kind of mixed emotions,” said the 1986 Seekonk High School graduate, who signed with the Red Sox by legendary scout, Bill Enos as an undrafted free agent out of high school. “Growing up there, I watched many games. I was able to play there. I came and broadcasted games on NESN there. So, I did a little bit of everything there, but, yeah! It is what it is … People keep asking me, ‘how do you feel?’ I tell ‘em, I wish we had this in Providence or in Pawtucket, but what are you gonna do?” Ryan’s connection to Pawtucket and the Red Sox runs deep. As an 8-year-old, he played Little League in Pawtucket. After his family moved to Seekonk when he was 11, he became a standout pitcher in Babe Ruth, American Legion, and at Seekonk High School. At the same time, he went to plenty of PawSox games at McCoy.
Ryan caught the eye of pro scouts as a high school senior after striking out 21 batters in a game against Old Rochester High School. The performance was notable because, coincidentally, it occurred on the same day Roger Clemens struck out 20 batters in a game against the Seattle Mariners on April 29, 1986. “Yeah, I struck out 21 that day,” Ryan said smiling. “That same day. I had a high school game that afternoon. I struck out 21 guys and Clemens pitched that night for the Red Sox and struck out 20. I came to school the next day and guys said, ‘Clemens struck out 20!’ I said, ‘no I struck out 21.’ They were like, ‘no, Clemens struck out 20 last night!’ I didn’t know,” Ryan said with a chuckle. “I didn’t watch the game, but it’s pretty cool it happened on the same day.” Incidentally, Ryan pitched a no-hitter in his next game. He planned on attending the University of Maine after graduating high school. Maine was one of the top New England collegiate baseball programs at the time, but his destiny changed at McCoy while watching the Maine Black Bears play in a regional baseball tournament in Pawtucket.
“Bill Enos would come out to my games, watchin’ me play and I already told him I was going to school,” Ryan said. “I was going to college … and then one thing led to another. He was there sitting in the stands at McCoy with me and he said ‘I’ll sign you right now. I’ll sign you right now!” I said I don’t know. I’ll talk to my folks,” Ryan said laughing. “The next day I signed and I was off and running.” After moving through the Red Sox minor league system, he made it to triple-A and the PawSox in 1991 where he played the next two seasons with a 3-0 record, a 2.37 ERA and eight saves in more than sixty innings pitched. He made his major league debut with the Boston Red Sox in Seattle on August 31, 1992. “And then I end up playing with Clemens. Which was awesome. It was great,” Ryan said. He played with Clemens and the Red Sox from 1992 to 1995 before being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Heathcliff Slocumb. In Boston, he compiled a 9-9 record with 22 saves, a 3.66 ERA, and 120 strikeouts in 137.2 innings pitched.
After playing the next five years in the Phillies, Pirates, Royals, and Yankees organizations, Ryan retired from professional baseball in 2000. He now runs the KR Baseball Academy in Lincoln, RI, and is the lead instructor for all pitching classes. Regardless of his personal connection to the Sox and his hometown, Ryan was happy he was invited to Worcester for the Pawtucket tribute. “I’m glad I’m here because before, I was like ‘I don’t know if I wanted to go because of the whole growin’ up (in Pawtucket) and playing there, but now it kind of broke the ice and I’ll be back more and more now,” he said as he signed autographs for fans in the Sherwood Diner, located in the right field spectator’s area in Polar Park. “First of all, it’s an unbelievable stadium. They did such a great job. It’s state-of-the-art. It’s fan-friendly. You can’t get a better stadium than this.”
As part of the tribute to the City of Pawtucket, the WooSox recognized the Boys & Girls Club of Pawtucket, whom the PawSox Foundation teamed up with for nearly 30 years to annually provide two children with a pair of tickets to attend Major League Baseball’s World Series. The tradition was started in 1950 by Pawtucket native son and American League Umpire Hank Soar, and the WooSox plan to continue the 72-year tradition. The WooSox also recognized the Rhode Island Foundation, represented by President and CEO Neil Steinberg, as their “Hometown Hero.” As part of this honor, Steinberg delivered a ceremonial first pitch. Representatives of the Tomorrow Fund, a longtime community partner of the PawSox in the fight against childhood cancer, presented the game ball to the mound. Also, during the ‘In Debt to a Vet’ program, after the fourth inning, the WooSox honored Victor Butler, Rhode Island’s last surviving Tuskegee Airman, who turned 100 years old on May 21. Finally, the Triple Decker Garden in right field was reserved for PawSox season ticket holders, McCoy Stadium ushers, and other longtime PawSox employees. As guests of the WooSox, the club provided free round-trip transportation from McCoy Stadium to Polar Park.
Ryan said he felt welcomed. “I saw a lot PawSox people today. It seemed like a lot of people are wearing PawSox things. It seems to be a really good turnout,” he said as he noticed Paws, the old PawSox mascot walking into the diner with the current mascot, Smiley, a large yellow smiling ball with a WooSox hat. He pointed and said, “look, Paws is here, right? What’s up buddy! Smiley looks great, but you got to go with Paws! Right? He is a bear and this is Polar Park.” Many current WooSox employees are also deeply rooted in Pawtucket, said WooSox President Dr. Charles Steinberg, who shared an office at McCoy with Vice Chairman Mike Tamburro, a member of the organization for well over 40 years. “Mike T’s stories range from touching to hilarious, as do the reminiscences of Michael ‘Gwynnie’ Gwynn, Mike Lyons, Bill Wanless, Sammy Saccoia-Beggs, and of course, Rick Medeiros. All are eager to welcome these friends, fans, and colleagues.”
Ryan said no tribute can be complete without recognizing Ben Mondor, who owned the PawSox from 1977 to until he died in 2010. “I think he helped make the PawSox the best minor league baseball team in all of baseball. It was as good a minor league organization that you could find anywhere and the players loved playing for Ben. Ben was as good an owner as you could find. He cared about his players. We would go have lunch and he would say lunch is on the team today. The owner bought dinner for everybody; you know? He did things that he just didn’t have to do. And that was from Ben. That wasn’t the Red Sox, that was Ben Mondor and that’s what I remember. That! That whole era!” All in all, Ryan said he has learned to accept the PawSox move and he is happy for the baseball fans in Worcester.
“I think like many people, we wanted the PawSox to stay in Pawtucket or in Rhode Island forever,” he said. “I think everyone in that area was hoping the same thing. We were hoping it was going to happen. I think it was an inner struggle that happened within the state and the team and eventually, this is the result. I will say this, though, they did it right! They did a great job. This here in Rhode Island would have been awesome. If it was in Providence or in Pawtucket … it would have been incredible. But it didn’t work out. It is what it is and we got to get over it. We got to come out to Worcester and watch some good baseball. I know I’ll be back.” Following the game, Dunkin’ sponsored a gentle sunset catch on the field for fans. The WooSox also hosted their third Scout Sleepover of the season, a tradition that started at McCoy Stadium. More than 200 Boy Scouts from the Narragansett Council of Rhode Island camped out on the Polar Park grass.
To contact Ken Ryan about his baseball clinics, camps, and academy, visit the KR Baseball Academy website at www.krbaseball.com.