Lucchino tabs familiar face for new ballpark
Janet Marie Smith brought into the fold as PawSox look ahead
PAWTUCKET — For Larry Lucchino, a celebration commemorating the 25th anniversary of Oriole Park at Camden Yards seemed like the perfect occasion to talk shop with a near and dear former colleague.
Turning on the charm in Baltimore – nicknamed the Charm City – shouldn’t have been too difficult a chore. Lucchino had collaborated previously with Janet Marie Smith on two prior ballpark-related ventures that couldn’t have proven to be any more different.
From those casual conversations last month in Baltimore, a reunion was born with Smith, once
again lending her eye for design to a project spearheaded by Lucchino.
Late last week, the Pawtucket Red Sox announced that Smith was coming aboard as an adviser to the club’s planning and development sector. Joining forces once more with Lucchino – chairman of the PawSox – seemed a foregone conclusion as recent as last August, when Smith tossed a ceremonial first pitch at McCoy Stadium. Nearly one year later, a sequel has given way to a trilogy.
“Having worked with Larry twice before, there’s no learning curve,” Smith said in a phone interview. “I feel like I can jump right in and have a dialogue with him and the strong team that’s in Pawtucket about their future.”
Smith’s arrival comes at a time when the PawSox stand at intriguing crossroads, the euphoria of laying forth plans for a new Pawtucket-based ballpark giving way to a questionable future where the club now finds itself in the position to protect itself in the event a deal with Rhode Island cannot be struck.
There’s no mystery when it comes to Smith – a selfdescribed “ballpark junkie” – working with Lucchino. For a portion of the Major League Baseball road race that Lucchino has run in, Smith was right there, stride for stride.
A Mississippi native who presently resides in Baltimore, Smith first collaborated with Lucchino in 1989 in helping to reinvigorate Baltimore’s Inner Harbor with the addition of Camden Yards. She once again joined forces with Lucchino in Boston in 2002, and again served as a valuable ally in the pursuit to preserve and enhance Fenway Park.
Over a 10-year period, features both small in stature and highly noticeable, such as seats atop the Green Monster and placing turnstiles on Yawkey Way, were made. Smith’s fingerprints were all over everything, yet what helped in making sure those aforementioned projects saw the light of day was the cooperation the Red Sox received.
“People often use shorthand to say we renovated Fenway. There were also major additions, but government played a huge role,” Smith said. “We couldn’t have done the things we did without the neighborhood or city saying, ‘In order to keep the Red Sox at Fenway, we’ve got to think differently ourselves.’”
Lucchino’s interest in getting Smith onboard with the PawSox in some capacity was piqued upon learning she had been appointed by Yale University’s School of Architecture as the Edward P. Bass Distinguished Visiting Architecture Fellow for the Fall 2017 semester. Those firm teaching plans for Smith to be in the New England area until Christmas set the wheels in the motion that if need be, she was a mere short train or car ride away from Pawtucket and McCoy Stadium.
“I told Larry about the work I would be doing at Yale and he told me about the trials and tribulations of committing to a new home for Pawtucket,” Smith said. “The geographic proximity from New Haven to Pawtucket makes it much more achievable than if I was trying to work in yet another time zone.
“I’m excited about the chance to learn about the minor leagues,” Smith added. “It’s good just to stay chal- lenged in other worlds.”
The chance to be a professor at Yale and lend a helping hand with the PawSox was made possible due to her work load being lighter in her fulltime role with the Los Angeles Dodgers as the senior vice president of planning and development. She joined the National League club in 2012, and just like in Baltimore and Boston, she’s left an indelible mark. In a career filled with crowning achievements, she counts the renovations last offseason to the Dodgers’ facility in the Dominican Republic as one that gives her a strong sense of satisfaction.
Smith was granted permission to aid the PawSox by Dodgers president/part-owner Stan Kasten.
“No tampering in baseball!” she said with a laugh.
Given Smith’s key intellect for ballpark design, her true role with the PawSox may remain under wraps until the franchise establishes a clearcut direction. She did join several members of the Pawtucket front office that recently took a field trip to a perspective ballpark site in Worcester.
“It was a preliminary look, but serious,” Smith said. “I think Larry’s feeling was that when you get 10,000 postcards and you have no com- mitment, you have to take those other invitations seriously.
“It’s clear to me that Larry has a huge amount of fondness and respect for Pawtucket. The first goal was to make that work, but we’ll see,” Smith continued. “None of us have a crystal ball.”
Looking at the proposal for a PawSox ballpark to be situated on the Apex department store land, Smith said, “I can understand why the PawSox were so excited about being part of Pawtucket’s revitalization and transformation. I think that’s one of Larry’s hallmarks in baseball. Whether you’re looking at Baltimore, Boston, or San Diego, he has always made a commitment not just to the baseball team but to where the baseball team calls home – how the ballpark can be used to lift up a neighborhood or an entire region.
“It’s always controversial whether there should be public dollars used to entice a long-term commitment for a sports team. What the PawSox have tried to show Rhode Island is that their proposal for a ballpark at the Slater Mill site can pay off for Pawtucket and the state. The impact is more than residual. It’s direct.”
Smith has already met the biggest supporter for a new PawSox ballpark in Pawtucket, Mayor Donald Grebien.
“He’s fabulous,” Smith said. “He has great energy and a good spirit. He certainly has his finger on the pulse when it comes to Pawtucket’s interests.”
Aweek before the PawSox made her role with the club official, Smith was in the stands for a midweek day game at McCoy Stadium. Her mind started to race with possibilities as she watched the fans enjoy themselves.
“I think it’s always instructive to get to know the constituency that you’re working with,” Smith said. “I don’t think I have been to a ballpark where I didn’t find something that I loved.”
No question, those observations were relayed to Lucchino, a person who Smith has been known to bounce off an idea or two.
Janet Marie Smith, left, will once again join forces with Larry Lucchino on a ballpark venture, this time in a capacity with the PawSox. Here, Smith gets ready to throw out a ceremonial first pitch prior to a game at McCoy Stadium.
Janet Marie Smith throws out a ceremonial first pitch prior to a game at McCoy Stadium. Smith was brought on as an adviser with the PawSox as the team looks to build a new stadium.