On opening day 2021, Bravehearts pitcher Jack Choate took to the mound and fired the first pitch to begin a season of possibilities. As life returns to our new version of normal, baseball is still here and still going strong.
Since 2011, the Futures League has experienced a meteoric rise to become one of the top summer collegiate baseball leagues in the country. COVID-19 slowed it, but it sure felt good to be back.
Over the last two years, I have gained a new appreciation for baseball by watching these young players honing their skill against their peers from around the country. How many will make it to the ultimate title of “major leaguer?”
In 2019, the Worcester Braveheart management travelled to Cleveland to witness their first alum, Aaron Civale, make his Major League Baseball debut and earn a win for the Indians. Called up to make a spot start, the 24-year-old pitched six shutout innings, allowing two hits and striking out six, which included all three batters in the first inning.
As the 2014, 2015 and 2018 champions, the Bravehearts are located in Massachusetts’ second-largest market after Boston. The Red Sox noticed and their AAA affiliate is now housed in a brand new stadium in the heart of the city, playing their first game on May 11, 2021. The team joins a baseball history that includes the first Perfect Game in professional baseball history. That event is memorialized on a simple historical marker at the Worcester Agricultural Fairgrounds, which reads:
“On June 12, 1880, the first perfect game in professional baseball history was pitched on this site (the former Worcester Agricultural Fairgrounds) by J. Lee Richmond of Worcester against Cleveland in a National League game.”
So it seems predestined that the first player from the Worcester Bravehearts to reach the bigs would also have a connection to Cleveland.
The Bravehearts fans stand by their team. After last year’s COVID-19 shortened season sent them away from Fitton Field on the campus of the College of the Holy Cross to play their home games with limited fans at Doyle Field in Leominster, MA. Doyle Field, situated in a public park, allowed fans bringing their own lawn chairs and blankets to set up around the field to allow for maximum social distancing. And they did come watch, sometimes with crowds of 200-300 all following the pandemic rules and enjoying baseball.
The 2020 Bravehearts completed the season in New Hampshire’s Historic Holman Stadium, losing the best-of-three series to the Nashua Silver Knights in the 2020 FCBL Championship Series. New Hampshire’s 25 percent capacity in the 1937 stadium with a seating capacity of 2,800 was one of the ways the league got creative during the pandemic, even though the Bravehearts had captured home field advantage.
“The move to New Hampshire allowed us to welcome spectators to the games, which we had not been able to do in Massachusetts all summer,” said Bravehearts General Manager Dave Peterson. “Through all of the challenges, though, Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella and the Doyle Field Commission have gone out of their way to allow us to host a successful Bravehearts season that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.”
Coming out of the pandemic, baseball returned to Fitton Field on a rain-shortened opening night of May 26, 2021, with a few hundred fans scattered around the stadium to meet their new “Boys of Summer.” In defense of the small crowd, meteorologists were warning everyone to stay indoors as dangerous thunderstorms were on their way.
Bravehearts’ super fan Leah Goldstein has followed the team since “the very, very beginning.” A lifelong Worcester resident, she first followed the Worcester Tornadoes from 2005 to 2012, who as part of the independent Can-Am League, marked the return of pro baseball to Worcester after a 71-year absence.
Just a year after the team’s demise, the Worcester Bravehearts were born. She started her 2021 opening day with autographs on her new Bravehearts jersey for this year’s team. She even has the Bravehearts logo tattooed on her wrist.
And she credits it all to one group. The team is owned and operated by the Creedon family, who also own and operate Creedon and Co., Inc., a catering and tent rental company based in Worcester since 1985. Every night of the season, you will find John Creedon, his son, John Jr. and his daughter Julie, somewhere in the stadium.
“I couldn’t wait for baseball to come back after the Tornadoes took an unfortunate turn,” Goldstein said. “I love the fact that the Creedons got on board and really, really pushed and pushed hard to bring baseball back.”
And on this rain-shortened day, baseball is still going strong.
READ MORE about the Worcester Bravehearts
This is sports in the age of COVID-19
July 20, 2020: This is sports in the age of COVID-19. As football and hockey teams prepare for a fanless experience, in New England, something approaching a return to normalcy — socially distanced and face-mask-wearing normalcy, naturally — is happening.
Since July 2, the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, now in its 10th season, has been holding games, with a reduced number of fans in the seats, in six venues from New Britain, Connecticut, to Nashua, New Hampshire. (Only the Pittsfield Suns of Massachusetts are not competing this summer.)
The Boys of Summer come to New England
June 30, 2019: That bond is well known by the players of the Worcester Bravehearts, where elite college athletes hone their skills during the summer months in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL). Vandy’s Pat Demarco hit the game tying homerun and caught the final out in Game 3 of the College World Series win over Michigan. In 2017, he played center field for the Bravehearts, the summer after graduating from high school. Pitcher Makenzie Stills of Vandy went 4-1 with a 1.42 ERA for the Bravehearts during their 2018 FCBL Championship run.