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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Commentary

Providence for Titletown Jr.

On Monday’s morning installment of Sportscenter, Boston had its turn to state its case in its campaign for ESPN’s “Titletown, USA” moniker derby. It didn’t hurt to have Jonathan Papelbon as the on-air delegate with Fenway Park’s unmistakable lawn and wall perched behind for everyone to see. Nor should Beantown –if voters really keep their heads and hearts in a stable position- have much trouble topping such challengers as Chapel Hill and Gainesville which are only famous for a single collegiate program or Green Bay which is only about the Packers and their attention-addicted quarterback.

But let’s cut to the chase. Imagine if this contest branched out further to a separate pool of notable minor league and amateur sporting hotbeds. Think the Divine City would have a shot? The Free Press thinks so.

Incidentally, the Hub could provide a near-spoil of helpful evidence. For instance, both the Red Sox and Bruins have their Triple-A farm teams in this area and the NBA champion Celtics are overseen by a PC graduate in franchise president Rich Gotham.

More evidence from each of the three aforementioned entities:

Pawtucket Red Sox: Before we go any further, let’s make this plain: If Foxboro counts as Boston, if East Rutherford, N.J. counts as New York, and especially if Anaheim counts as Los Angeles, then Pawtucket may qualify as Providence.

Besides the convenient location from Fenway that has allowed Red Sox Nation to embrace its Ocean State satellite for over 35 years now, McCoy Stadium was immortalized by its hosting of “The Longest Game.” No fundamental explanation should be required for those seasoned, scholarly baseball enthusiasts, but here’s a refresher: A 1981 Easter Eve (April 18) get-together between the Pawsox and Rochester Red Wings, then a feeder club for the Orioles, was knotted 1-1 through the standard nine frames (ironically, Pawtucket had to rally to spot their single run in their final at-bat). The length of another game and then some elapsed before Rochester nudged back ahead, 2-1, in the 21st only to see the Sox knot it back up. Eventually, after 32 total innings and no additional scoring, the game was stashed away in a jar of preservatives and thawed out 66 days later. In a mere inning spaced over 18 minutes (after 8 hours and 7 minutes worth of action didn’t produce a winner in April), Dave Koza hammered a walk-off single.

The Pawsox, who are at least partially defined by their lifelong jolly giant of an owner, Ben Mondor, have given boundless starring gifts to the Old Towne Team. A running poll on the team’s website asks for the fan favorite among the most recent accomplished Pawsox graduates: Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, or Jacoby Ellsbury. They have just as willingly taken stars back when asked for help in their rehab. Look for David Ortiz to mollify Rhode Island families seeking a simple summer night outing later this week.

Providence Bruins: In their first four years of existence (1992-96), the Baby Bs topped the AHL charts in terms of attendance. Not only did that annihilate the fidgeting notion that the market would serve them no better than the old Providence Reds, but it more or less pioneered the NHL’s now sole Triple-A league to a more solid understanding of what the best Triple-A markets are. In the mid-to-late 90s, when it was still in competition with the IHL, the AHL was virtually restricted to New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and the Canadian Maritimes. In one case, three New Brunswick-based teams were all within the same area code. What is this, Hockey East? Since then, the AHL has planted more widespread seeds and found more fertile ice in fairly sized cities that aren’t quite right for the NHL. Perhaps the best example is the Hartford Wolfpack, the Baby Bs chief rival and, according to some sources, a distant reincarnation of the former Reds.

Not enough? Well, not to make Rochester –another fine candidate for the hypothetical contest- turn its other cheek, but the P-Bruins’ defining moment in their first 16 years of existence came at the expense of the Rochester Americans in 1999. On July 13 of that year, Providence stamped the Calder Cup Championship with a 5-1 Game 5 victory before a sold-out still-Civic Center (two years away from the corporate bug bite). To this day, those who partook in that memory, which was also the Hershey’s syrup on a mountainous record-breaking run, deem it the most electric minor league sporting event there ever was.

This past year, though zapped out of the second round by the Portland Pirates, the P-Bruins came within teethmarks of surpassing their ’99 predecessors in some slots of the AHL record book. At the very least, for the second time in franchise history, they had the league’s best 2007-08 regular season transcript at 55-18-3-4. That amounted to 117 points, three shy of what the same franchise mustered in 1998-99.

Now might be a good time to note that, as of this weeks All-Star Break, the Pawsox themselves are tops in the International League at a rigid 61-37.

Providence College: The cheer-worthy moments of the 2007-08 season came to an abrupt halt right after the Friars’ OT win over Boston College at TD Banknorth Garden, arguably returning in spurts for a couple of wins over UConn. But even with the excruciating Tim Welsh saga that ended in his prompt dismissal at season’s end, Friar Fanatics are anything but estranged. They may have gone a tad over the top with their attempts to take managerial matters into their own hands this past season, but they didn’t stop coming to the Dunk. Nor, it seems, have they ever before and nor, it seems, will they ever. As a result, Friar men’s hoops is virtually the only other entity besides Family Guy that guarantees regular national attention for the Ocean State.

And the ever-dense fan base that makes that possible didn’t take horribly long to propitiate in the search to fill the coaching void. Anticipation of the first installment of the Keno Kagers has already been in effect for three months. The only problem now is a lack of the time machine former Friar Marvin Barnes so detests. We're still not exactly sure when opening night will be.

So, what do you think, judges?

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