Mondor: The passion ran deep

My ESPNBoston colleague, Joe McDonald, who knew Ben Mondor far better than I did, will have more later, but here's an excerpt from something I wrote for the Boston Globe from April 2002 that gives you a flavor of the legendary Pawtucket Red Sox owner, who died Sunday night in his home:

Ben Mondor stood in the middle of the Pawtucket clubhouse to address the team the other day, the only time all season, the owner of the Triple A PawSox said, that you'll find him there.

"I told them, 'You're the 26th team I've welcomed here,' " Mondor said. "And then I thought about it: There are players in here who haven't been alive that long."

There aren't many folks in New England who remember what it was like before Mondor and his close friend, team president Mike Tamburro, saved this franchise after it had fallen into bankruptcy. This current golden age of minor league prosperity and record-setting attendance has a way of erasing institutional memory.

There is no nostalgia for the days when the now beautifully remodeled McCoy Stadium wasn't even fit for a second-class dog show, in Mondor's words; when the crowds were intimate gatherings of 300 and 400; and when local firms didn't want to do business with the team's new owners, such was the reputation of the previous owners.

Mondor and Tamburro couldn't buy bats and balls without threatening legal action. They had to plead with stationery firms to sell them pens, pencils, and legal pads to set up their offices. Mondor dug deep in his own pocket to make good on season tickets that already had been sold, advertising space that already had been promised, playoff tickets that had been peddled for a team that wasn't even in the playoffs.


Compelling stuff continues to happen on Columbus Avenue. There's no better time to be had, these baseball lifers say, than to try and predict which of the players on the field today will be in Fenway tomorrow. And many of them do get to the big leagues, eventually.

Of the 586 players in the 29-year history of the franchise, 403 have played at least one game in the big leagues. That's 69 percent.

The PawSox have gone from being a pariah in the community to a paragon of what the city and state find worthy of honoring. At pregame ceremonies Thursday, Mondor received one of the highest awards issued by the state of Rhode Island from the governor.

Maybe the governor has heard stories like this one.

A woman called Mondor, told him about a group of kids she was hoping to bring to the park one day. Mondor told the story to Walpole Joe Morgan, who was then managing the club. He ran it by the players, asked for volunteers to run a clinic for the kids on an off-day. The whole team showed up.

The woman brings a busload of kids. For two hours, the players bring the kids in the clubhouse, show them their helmets and bats and spikes, run the bases with them, slide into home plate together. Everybody's covered with dirt by the end of the afternoon; no one cares. When they're all done playing, they cook up some hot dogs for the kids and players, who sit in the stands together. When it's over, the kids don't want to go home.

"Every one of those kids," Mondor says, "was blind. You know how they knew us? They listened to our games on the radio."

He's crying as he says these words. He's that kind of man, a boss whose employees have shown an amazing loyalty over the years.

"I just turned 77 last week," Mondor said, "and I know one thing: There aren't that many years between here and 100. I've had quadruple bypass, five prostate operations, an eye replaced. I'm beat up.

"I'm old. I worked hard, and I paid the price for it. The Lord has blessed me, the son of poor working people from Canada, but I'm tired now. Very, very tired.

"But I'd like to see this develop like it was, with the players. If we can go anywhere near that, I'll be one happy man going to the grave."

The murals on the stadium walls tell an old story, but there's a new chapter coming. Go to McCoy, and someday you may be able to brag you saw the next Nomar before anyone knew who he was.

And by the way: Say hello to Ben Mondor. Tamburro insists he ain't going anywhere.

"Ben is," Tamburro said, "the youngest 77-year-old in America."