Silent a second summer, only memories occupy LeLacheur Park in Lowell now – Lowell Sun
LOWELL — It’s eerily quiet along the banks of the Merrimack River these days.
For the second straight summer, LeLacheur Park sits like an abandoned church.
Fans aren’t walking up stairs to enter the stadium. Players aren’t shagging flies in the outfield. Managers aren’t making out lineup cards. Umpires aren’t getting ready to be yelled at for nine innings. Police officers aren’t directing traffic in front of the park.
No baseball. Just boredom.
It wasn’t always like this, of course. The Lowell Spinners entertained crowds from 1996-2020, the final 22 seasons at LeLacheur Park, built on the banks of the mighty Merrimack just steps from the Ouellette Bridge.
The Spinners were an instant box office success at LeLacheur after moving across the city from Stoklosa/Alumni Field.
In 2000, the Spinners set a minor league baseball record when they sold out every home game that season. That started a streak of consecutive home sellouts which would reach 413, a staggering number, before it was snapped on Aug. 30, 2010.
Those days seem long ago. UMass Lowell still plays baseball games at LeLacheur each spring, but for the second straight summer, there’s no crack of the bat, no lines for the bouncy house in the Kids Zone down the left field line, no mouth-watering aroma of sausage, chicken and hot dogs being cooked in the Gator Pit.
The Spinners, members of the New York-Penn League and the Class A short-season affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, did not play any games in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Then Major League Baseball elected to eliminate several minor league teams. When the reorganization ended, the Spinners were left out in the cold, so no baseball this summer either.
What a shame.
Lowell’s minor league baseball future remains unknown. There are rumors. Those rumors will be addressed in time. For now, it’s time for a stroll down memory lane.
As The Sun’s assistant sports editor from 1998-2019, I had a front row seat for several memorable events. Here’s a few.
Not quite fanatics
It was 2001 or so, a beautiful summer day, when a friend asked if I wanted three tickets to a game that night.
I jumped at the chance and brought my two youngest daughters. Lyndsay was 8 or so at the time, Erin was 5.
A local bank was handing out free books to all the kids. Lyndsay, who pored through books like Joey Chestnut goes through hot dogs, promptly dropped her head in the book when the game started. Erin, meanwhile, spent her time with her back to the plate. She was mesmerized by all the activity in the stands.
I’m pretty sure neither saw a single pitch through four innings.
As luck would have it, the fan to my right was Ed LeLacheur, the man for whom the park is named. Craning his neck to watch my daughters, Ed leaned over and said, “Hey, Barry, I see your daughters are big sports fans.”
We both laughed.
Lyndsay, Erin and I still laugh about it. And, no, they’re still not big sports fans.
If you attended a Spinners’ game, you saw Del Christman. And if you didn’t, you certainly heard him. Better known as the “Dogman,” Christman was a unique character. Armed with a booming voice and a lengthy blond mustache, Christman was a fixture at LeLacheur.
He walked up and down the aisles, selling hot dogs by the dozens. That was his public job with the Spinners. Behind the scenes, he doubled as the franchise’s clubhouse manager for many years.
During the game he was the “Dogman.” After the game he was the guy who washed the dirty uniforms and kept the clubhouse clean. One night, on a tight deadline, I was trying to find a player to interview.
The player was nowhere to be found. Finally, with the minutes ticking away, I ran into the “Dogman.” I asked if he knew where the player was. He pointed through some doors. I walked into the room and interviewed the player.
One problem. Christman directed me to the trainer’s room, an area off-limits to the media. No one complained to me, but I heard the “Dogman” was barked at by a Red Sox official.
For a long stretch soon after the Spinners moved into LeLacheur Park, the sun seemed to always shine on game day. The team managed to avoid a home rainout for an extended period of time. I made notice of the lucky streak in a column.
A day or two later, of course, rain began to fall in Lowell. Then it came down harder. That night’s game was rained out.
The general manager of the Spinners, Shawn Smith, laughed at the timing of my column. But Smith wasn’t laughing when, over the next handful of years, the clouds hovered over LeLacheur every time I was assigned to cover a game.
It got so bad that when I walked into the press box, one of the official scorers, Dave Rourke, would groan when he saw me: “Oh, no, Scanlon’s here. Here comes the rain.”
Often it would rain, including one night when a storm arrived above the Merrimack. Minutes after ominous clouds formed, as a downpour was unleashed, ferocious winds pushed the bouncy house over the fence next to the left field line. It then tumbled all the way across the field and into the right field corner. Luckily, the last child was evacuated right before it became airborne.
In an effort to stop the Scanlon jinx, Smith suggested a promotion: I was to walk backwards onto the field — while next to a goat — just prior to a first pitch. Not sure why, but it never happened. One of the great regrets of my career.
The night we ran into manager Jon Deeble at The Old Court in downtown Lowell. Always liked Deeble. Liked him even more after the Australia native tipped back a few beers with a few of us from The Sun. … The time I was on the field prior to a game when boxer Peter McNeeley was to throw out the first pitch. Another night at a minor league ballpark except for one thing: McNeeley was hammered. Fighting Mike Tyson was courageous, but managing to throw the ball to a catcher while being more than half in the bag was impressive. … The kindness of former owners Drew and Joann Weber. Great owners, better people. … The summer I served as the analyst for Spinners’ home games with WCAP play-by-play announcer Ryan Johnston, a true pro. … The 1999 post-game exchange I had with Dominican Republic native Cesar Saba. Walking into the locker room, I noticed Saba looked lonely sitting at his locker. I decided to talk to him in Spanish. “Manos de Piedra,” I said. Saba’s eyes lit up. He had found a friend far from home. Unfortunately, the nickname (Hands of Stone) of boxer Roberto Duran was about all the Spanish I knew. Saba looked at me. I shrugged my shoulders and walked away. Call it a strikeout.