Can-Am League (2005-2012)
Born: 2004 – Can-Am League expansion franchise.
Died: August 31, 2012 – Franchise revoked by Can-Am League
Stadium: Hanover Insurance Park at Fitton Field (3,000)
The Worcester Tornadoes were a professional baseball club that played in Worcester, Massachusetts for eight seasons from 2005 to 2012. The Tornadoes were part of the independent Can-Am League, whose clubs have no affiliation with Major League Baseball. The arrival of the Tornadoes in the spring of 2005 marked the return of pro baseball to Worcester after a 71-year absence.
The team’s original ownership group, headed by Newton, Massachusetts developer Ted Tye, built a modest 3,000-seat baseball stadium on the campus of Holy Cross University over the span of just 10 weeks in the spring of 2005. Just prior to opening day, Hanover Insurance agreed to pay a reported $100,000 per year for stadium naming right from 2005 to 2007, which was one of the largest corporate sponsorship deals in the Can-Am League.
The Tornadoes’ first season in 2005 was a charmed one. The face of the ball club was field manager Rich Gedman, a Worcester native who played eleven seasons for the Boston Red Sox. The Tornadoes got hot at the end of the season and swept the Quebec Capitales 3 games to zero in the Can-Am League Championship Series that September. 124,745 fans came out to watch, giving the Tornadoes an average of 2,599 per game.
Local interest in the Tornadoes peaked at 2,779 per game in 2006 after the club hired veteran independent baseball exec Todd Marlin to run the front office operations. But Marlin’s efforts to reign in the club’s operational budget rankled Gedman and Marlin was dismissed at the end of the season. Attendance began to drop and a star-crossed attempt to get into the concert promotion business crunched the team’s finances. By 2009, attendance dipped to 1,818 per game and the original Tornadoes ownership group ran out of money. Maryland-based investor and former minor league exec Todd Breighner assumed the team’s debt and took over ownership in the fall of 2009. Gedman departed in 2010 after six seasons at the helm.
The Tornadoes’ great success story was the ball club’s discovery of Chris Colabello. The strapping 6′ 4″ 220-pound 1B/3B was an undrafted rookie free agent out of Worcester’s Assumption College during the Tornadoes’ first season in 2005. Colabello played all or parts of seven seasons with the Tornadoes from 2005 to 2011. Overall, Colabello labored in the minors for nine long seasons before making his Major League debut as a 29-year old rookie with the Minnesota Twins in May 2013.
Less inspiring was the Tornadoes’ pursuit of 47-year old steroid casualty Jose Canseco during the team’s final grim season in the summer of 2012. Owner Todd Breighner agreed to pay the former American League MVP $14,000 per month in a personal services contract later published by The Worcester Telegram & Gazette. But fans had little interest and Canseco was washed up, hitting .194 with just one home run in 20 games. Canseco later claimed he was never paid and filed suit against Breighner, issuing personal attacks against the team owner in the Worcester media.
Canseco wasn’t Breighner’s only problem during the summer of 2012. A trio of local creditors, including the hotel that was to provide Canseco’s accommodations, filed suit for unpaid debts during the 2012 season. They quickly attached the team’s few assets and the team was locked out of its Main Street office in August 2012. In the final indignity, the Tornadoes’ uniforms were repossessed during the season’s final week and the team was forced to play in generic loaner uniforms from the league office. By the end of August, the Can-Am League had seen enough and revoked the franchise on August 31, 2012.
Worcester was without baseball in 2013. Groups from several independent pro leagues and collegiate wooden bat leagues have expressed interest in bringing baseball back to Fitton Field in the summer of 2014.
==Tornadoes Matches on Fun While It Lasted==
|2005||8/27/2005||vs. New Haven County Cutters||??||Program||Game Notes|
- Jose Canseco
- Chris Colabello