The Tornadoes played the Brockton Rox – and won by a score of 13 to 5. The game was full of thrills for the home town crowd. At one point, the Rox led by a score of 5 to 1, powered in part by a home run that bounced onto the eastbound lanes of the Worcester Expressway (Interstate 290). The Tornadoes came back with six runs in the sixth inning and another six runs in the seventh. Four of the Tornadoes runs came on a grand slam home run in the sixth.
The Tornadoes are one of ten teams that play in the Canadian-American Association of Professional Baseball, known as the “Can-Am League,” which is independent of Major League Baseball. The Can-Am League has three teams in Massachusetts (including the Tornadoes and the Rox), three teams in New Jersey, one team each in Quebec, New Hampshire, and Connecticut, and one traveling team – the “Grays.” This is the Tornadoes’ third season – they were actually league champions in their first season in 2005.
The great virtue of Can-Am League baseball is that it is highly accessible to fans – financially and physically. The most expensive ticket at Hanover Insurance Park costs $18. There is no bad seat in the house – to the point that one needs to be alert for foul balls almost everywhere in the park. Beyond this, the Tornadoes also go to great lengths to make the game enjoyable for children – there is much kid-friendly entertainment particularly between innings.
The desire to be more financially and physically accessible than the Major Leagues has driven a great increase in the number of professional leagues that are similar to the Can-Am League. In addition to the Can-Am League, there are at least nine other similar leagues with at least 60 teams throughout North America. Many of these have been started within the past ten years.
No one would mistake play in the Can-Am League for that in Major League Baseball. The difference between the two is similar to that between a good youth symphony orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Hitting in the Can-Am League is strong – the score in last night’s game was evidence of that. However, the pitching, fielding, and base running was far more uneven – driven to a considerable extent by mistakes and fatigue. Pitchers got into jams early and often. Fielding plays that would be routine in the Major Leagues looked often somewhat wobbly – when they were made at all. At least one base running mistake turned a routine single into an out at second base.
This is not to be critical of the Can-Am players, who are generally very good – instead, it illustrates just how athletically challenging baseball is as a sport. The fact that Major Leaguers make it “look easy” is testament to their greatness as athletes.
This having been said, the Worcester Tornadoes experience is very positive – from the physical and financial accessibility of Hanover Insurance Park - and its atmosphere - to the heart with which the players play the game. This observer is looking forward to future Tornadoes games.