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slides: Two Central MA Entrepreneurs Bet On New Baseball League

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Can two passionate entrepreneurs, John Creedon Jr. (left) of Worcester Baseball (posing with team General Manager Dave Peterson) and John Morrison of the Wachusett Dirt Dawgs (not shown), get pro-level baseball back into the black in Central Mass.? It's a toss up.

"Curse" is not too strong a word to use regarding Worcester’s experience with pro-level sports teams. The Worcester Sharks hockey team, which first took to the ice in 2006 at the DCU Center, finally seem ready to break that curse. And now, the new Worcester Baseball team – it’s conducting a name-the-team contest that ends October 25 – seeks to follow in those fine steps.

To see more about the history of Central Mass. baseball, see the slides, below.

Following one summer off, pro-level baseball is headed back to Worcester. The newest team in town will take the field in the summer of 2014. Worcester becomes the second Central Massachusetts community to field a team in the three-year-old, nine-team Futures Collegiate Baseball League, based in Chelmsford. The Wachusett Dirt Dawgs, who play at historic, and newly renovated, Doyle Field in Leominster, are a 2012 expansion franchise.

The Dirt Dawgs’ 2013 season swung into action on June 5 with big expectations, but ended on August 8 with those hopes being dashed. They finished in the basement, with a record of 20-31 - 14 games behind first-place the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks (38-18).

Local baseball fans can only hope and pray that the Worcester and Leominster teams fare much better than their immediate predecessor. More than a than a year ago, the Worcester Tornadoes pro baseball team, who had won the Can-Am League championship in their very first season in 2005, went bankrupt. Two other former Can-Am teams – the Brockton Rox and the Pittsfield Suns - are now part of the Futures League, leaving the Can-Am League with only five teams.

That hasn’t been the only Central Mass. failure at hosting a pro sports team. In 2005, around the time the Tornadoes played their first-ever home at Fitton Field, the Worcester IceCats hockey team fired their last-ever shots on home ice at the DCU Center - five years after placing first for the regular season in the American Hockey League.

And while we're at it, there's the Worcester Worcesters baseball team, for whom J. Lee Richmond pitched the first perfect game in Major League Baseball history in 1880 - the first of only three seasons for the team. Because of poor attendance, the National League booted the Worcesters – also known at various times as the Brown Stockings and the Ruby Legs - following the 1882 season.

During the 1916-17 seasons, the legendary Babe Ruth was a regular at the Hotel Vernon, located at Kelley Square, when the Red Sox played exhibition games here. Perhaps as a result, the Curse of the Bambino– which haunted Red Sox Nation for 86 years after the Sox traded Ruth to the hated Yankees  – also looms large over Central Mass.

Making a profit is not the first priority

The two local business entrepreneurs behind the Central Mass. entries in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League sound like they’re joined at the hip. One, is John Morrison, of the Wachusett Dirt Dawgs.who has decades of business experience in Central Mass. manufacturing. The other, is John Creedon Jr., of Worcester Baseball, a local lawyer whose family has long owned and operated a prominent Worcester catering service.

While Morrison and Creedon won’t say exactly how much each ownership group pays for an FCBL franchise, they acknowledge that it is “less than $100,000.” They’re equally close-mouthed about their annual budgets, although League Commissioner Chris Hall reports that team budgets range somewhere between $175,000 and $350,000 a year.

What Morrison and Creedon are more than willing to discuss, is the fact that FCBL teams have much smaller budgets than Can-Am teams – such as the Tornadoes - because they are comprised of college students, who are prohibited by the National Collegiate Athletic Association from receiving salaries. Largely as a result, Commissioner Hall reports that most FCBL teams either made a profit or broke even during the 2013 season.

Morrison, Creedon and Hall all sing from the same business hymnal about the real product and service provided by FCBL teams. And it’s not baseball, which they regard as a medium. Instead, it is as the FCBL mission statement puts it: to provide “a family-friendly, affordable and fun experience.”

Commissioner Hall stresses the importance of franchise owners – pardon the pun – keeping their eye on the ball during the league’s start-up years by focusing on building franchise value. “For the most part, everyone [in the league] is projecting in the right direction,” he says, “and [they] are very happy with their business plan and where they are, at this point. … Two to three years, is the goal [for a typical FCBL team] to break even.”

Morrison shares this long-term approach. “Every ownership team is [presently] doing it more for the civic engagement and the passion for the league and summer collegiate [baseball],” he says “Making a profit, is always something that may come, down the road, but it’s not the first priority.”

Commissioner Hall shares this long-term approach. “For the most part, everyone [in the league] is projecting in the right direction, and [they] are very happy with their business plan and where they are, at this point.”

Besides not having to pay its players, Creedon says, FCBL teams also don’t travel as much and far as the Tornadoes did – and the remaining Can-Am teams still do. “So you can lop off a huge portion on the cost, right there,” he says. And, he adds, because the Creedon family owns both Worcester Baseball and Creedon and Co., which provides catering, tent-rental and event services, “we’re able to handle the [baseball-team] concessions in-house, which should add some revenue to the equation.”  As a result, he says, Worcester Baseball ticket prices, which have yet to be announced, will be “noticeable less” than those charged by the Tornadoes, which ran as high as $18 for seats near home plate.

Fitton Field holds about 3,000 people. While Creedon would like to fill the park for each Worcester Baseball home game next season, he’s setting his sights much lower. He’d like to see his team attract “around 1,000 people per game" – which is what the Tornadoes were seeing at the end of their operation. While that’s not financially successful in an independent, pro-[baseball] business model, it is financially successful in a summer-collegiate model. So, we can run, with those numbers.”

While the Tornadoes left a bitter taste in many local mouths, as GoLocalWorcester reported last January, some of the better Tornadoes spirit lives on. Former Tornadoes emcee Dave “The Peterman” Peterson, now general manager of the Worcester Baseball team, vows to wow businesses and organizations that sponsor Worcester Baseball – whether they shell out only $500 or as much as $50,000.

“You can certainly anticipate that there will be some zany promotions – things that people want to see,” Peterson says. “Maybe we’ll have people parachuting out of a plane, delivering the game ball.”

It looks like Central Mass. is about to break its own version of The Curse of the Bambino. Now, let’s hope that Worcester Baseball’s game-ball parachutist doesn’t accidentally end up landing on I-290, which zips by Fitton Field.

Listen to a 30-minute interview with John Creelman Jr. and Dave Peterson of Worcester Baseball on The Business Beat, on Sunday, October 27 at 10 p.m. (ET) on 90.5 WICN.

Steven Jones-D'Agostino is chief pilot of Best Rate of Climb: Marketing, Public Relations, Social Media and Radio Production. He also produces and hosts The Business Beat on 90.5 WICN, Jazz Plus for New England. Follow him on Twitter @SteveRDAgostino.


Related Slideshow: The History of Baseball in Central Massachusetts

Baseball and Central Mass. go way back - to the 1860s. The local historical landmarks range from  Mudville to Hotel Vernon to Fitton Field. A version of these highlights is posted on the site of the new, yet-to-be-formally-named Worcester Baseballteam of the three-year-old Futures Collegiate Baseball League.

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Casey At The Bat

Casey at the Bat was written on August 14, 1863 on Chatham Street in Worcester by Ernest Thayer under the penname “Phineas.” The 150th anniversary of the poem is being celebrated in 2013.

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First Perfect Game

The first perfect game in the history of Major League Baseball was pitched in Worcester, on June 12, 1880, by J. Lee Richmond for the Worcester Worcesters – also known at various times as the Brown Stockings and the Ruby Legs - versus the Cleveland Blues at the Worcester Driving Park Grounds, located in the Worcester Agricultural Fairgrounds near Elm Park. Worcester joined the National League in 1880, replacing the failed Syracuse Stars.

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Industrial League

In Greater Worcester, there was a deep history of participation in Industrial League Baseball. Locally, teams included Norton Co., Town Talk Baking Co. and Whitin Machine Works (shown here).

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Honorary NL Membership

Worcester’s National League team was suspended in 1882 and replaced by the Philadelphia Quakers, who later became the Philadelphia Phillies. Worcester maintains an honorary lifetime NL membership.

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NE Collegiate Baseball

A New England Collegiate Baseball League team played in Leominster from 1995 to 1999. Called the Central Mass. Collegians, they won the NECBL Championship in both 1995 and 1996, and During the 1995 season, they played a game against the Cuban National Youth Team in Worcester.

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Worcester Tornadoes

The now-defunct Worcester Tornadoes of the Can-Am League played for eight seasons, from 2005 through 2012. Former Tornadoes emcee Dave Peterson is general manager of Worcester’s new team in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League.

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Wachusett Dirt Dawgs

The Wachusett Dirt Dawgs, who play at historic, and newly renovated, Doyle Field in Leominster, are a 2012 expansion franchise in the now-three-year-old Futures Collegiate Baseball League.The Dirt Dawgs’ 2013 season swung into action on June 5 with big expectations, but ended on August 8 with those hopes being dashed. They finished in the basement, with a record of 20-31 - 14 games behind first-place the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks (38-18). The team is owned by prominent Leominster businessman John Morrison, who also founded, owns and operates Fosta-Tek Optics in Leominster.

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Worcester Baseball

Last month, the Futures Collegiate Baseball League announced the formation of the Worcester Baseball franchise, which will play its first season next summer. The team is owned by the family that owns and operates Creedon and Co. The prominent Worcester catering service will be the food-and-beverage vendor at home games at Fitton Field, at the College of the Holy Cross. Through Octobert 25, Worcester Baseball is conducting a name-the-team competition.


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