The man who became the public face of a plan to move the minor league Pawtucket Red Sox to a proposed riverfront ballpark in Providence has died in the midst of the effort, leading to questions about the next step for the team.
James Skeffington, 73, president of the Pawtucket Red Sox, died Sunday of a heart attack while jogging near his home in Barrington, according to a team spokeswoman and his brother.
Rep. Carlos Tobon, a Democrat from Pawtucket, said Skeffington was the biggest advocate for keeping the team in the state.
"He was the glue of keeping it in Rhode Island," Tobon said. "I don't think the conversation is even about Providence right now. It's about keeping them in Rhode Island."
Skeffington bought the Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox in February with a group of 10 that includes Boston Red Sox President and CEO Larry Lucchino.
When the ownership group announced the purchase of the team from the widow of its longtime owner Ben Mondor, it also revealed a controversial and potentially expensive decision: The team would leave Pawtucket's McCoy Stadium and hoped to build a stadium on state-owned land that was opened up by the relocation of Interstate 195.
Last month, the team proposed a deal under which it would pay $85 million to build a stadium, but it asked for help from taxpayers to the tune of $120 million over 30 years. It also wanted to be exempt from real estate taxes.
The plan landed with a thud. Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo said the plan was not fair to taxpayers, and many lawmakers came out against it. The team's owners said this month that they're working on a new approach, though they have given no details.
Skeffington in recent days had been visiting community groups and others to talk about his vision, making several pitches as recently as last week.
A spokeswoman for the Boston Red Sox did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
In Rhode Island, several elected officials expressed shock and sadness about Skeffington's death and expressed their condolences to his family. They also had their own ideas about what this means for the future of the team.
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello called Skeffington a legend. He was a prominent lawyer who had been involved in high-profile development projects, including the Rhode Island Convention Center and Providence Place mall.
"It is tragic that he did not live long enough to see his vision for the Pawtucket Red Sox come to fruition, but he left a legacy that will live on for generations to come," Mattiello said in a written statement.
Rep. Jean Philippe Barros, D-Pawtucket, said he doesn't think Skeffington's passing will change the ownership group's plans.
"They're going to go ahead with whatever their intentions were originally," he said. "For me, based on the group that we know him to be a part of, I don't see them doing things any differently."
Providence City Council President Luis Aponte said it was time to step back from discussing the project to allow Skeffington's family to grieve.
"If and when there needs to be more conversation about relocating, we'll be prepared to do that, even without his passion and vision," he said.
"It seemed to me this was a project about legacy," Aponte said. "It was something he wanted to give back to the city that had given him so much."