On Tuesday, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred announced that he is canceling the first two series of MLB’s regular season after owners and players couldn’t come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement and end a league-imposed lockout.
It was a move that has cast a shadow over the game just when it was supposed to make a triumphant return to normalcy after two seasons of COVID impacting attendance in ballparks. Now, it’s anyone’s guess when games will return.
That uncertainty is impacting businesses and people in Boston and beyond who make up the ecosystem of baseball.
Natalie Greening works for Aramark at Fenway Park as a beer vendor and a is member of UNITE HERE Local 26, which she said represents over 1000 workers. This season — if or when it gets going — will be her 17th season working at Fenway.
She was looking forward to a more normal year, especially since the Local 26 members at Fenway ratified a new union contract at the end of September.
“So we were very excited to start this season on time, especially because concessions workers were granted the right to accept credit card gratuities,” she said. “So it was gonna be a large improvement, economically, for a lot of people.”
Now, they’ll be missing the scheduled home opener of March 31 on what was supposed to be MLB’s Opening Day. Greening said mostly everyone working at the ballpark tries to be there for the annual grand opening.
“It’s usually the season ticket holders who have had tickets for forever and they visit the same beer seller and the same hot dog vendor and you kind of catch up and really reminesce about the offseason and what you’re excited about for the new season coming up,” she said. “And that’s gonna be hard, especially because it looks like as of right now we’re just gonna be starting on a Friday, a regular 7 o’clock game instead of more of a special opening day.”
At this point, it’s coming down to counting homestands for Fenway’s workers. And while missing the first six games is bad enough, the lockout going further would take out another big day for the ballpark.
“But I would think if we get into the week of Marathon Monday, that’s another huge week for Red Sox employees because Marathon Monday is such a big day at Fenway,” Greening said. “So one more week won’t be as bad because they are on the road. But another whole week missed at home is gonna be economically really hard.”
Greening said that for some workers, working games at Fenway and TD Garden is their main source of income, making every missed game crucial. But businesses around Fenway will suffer from the lockout as well.
Harry Pateras is the owner of Sausage Connection, a food stand that sits outside Fenway on gamedays. He told GBH News that every game matters to his business.
“It’s a major impact for us ’cause we support our family doing this,” he said, speaking about the loss of games. “Especially after COVID, hopefully [the lockout] will be resolved soon.”
Jamie McGrail is a server and bartender at Cheeky Monkey Brewing Co., located on Lansdowne Street. She said the games bring a lot of business to the brewery.
“[During] the offseason, we’re only open Thursday through Sunday. And during Red Sox season, we’re open anytime there’s a game,” she said. “And it’s just a great, great experience. But unfortunately now, knowing that that’s going to be pushed back, we’re not the happiest about it.”
Amid all of the struggle the lockout brings to workers and businesses, though, there’s at least one community who may benefit. While the Boston Red Sox won’t be starting their season on time, the Worcester Red Sox are scheduled to play their home opener as promised on April 12.
We kind of all want to just get back to normal and have the fun of the game again.
That means, at least for a little while, the so-called “WooSox” will be the biggest baseball ticket in the Commonwealth. It’s something that isn’t lost on Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tim Murray.
“You know, to have the focus of the opening of the baseball season being on Worcester in April prior to the opener at Fenway I think is just gonna bring more attention and cause more people to want to come and experience Polar Park and the other things that the city has to offer,” he said.
Still, Murray is hopeful MLB owners and players can come to an agreement quickly, pointing out the synergy between the Red Sox and their Triple-A affiliate.
Greening said that she and the rest of Local 26 are supportive of the players in their push for a new contract. But beyond any talks of collective bargaining agreements and owners vs. players, she just wants to see baseball return to Fenway.
“As a worker, I’m looking for the money, but as a die hard Red Sox fan, I’m also very much just wanting to see baseball back, especially after COVID,” she said. “We kind of all want to just get back to normal and have the fun of the game again.”