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 Worcester Red Sox

A Series of Emotion: WooSox Bring Baseball to Polar Park for First Homestand of 2024

April 16, 2024 - International League (IL)
Worcester Red Sox News Release

On Tuesday, April 2, the Worcester Red Sox hosted the Buffalo Bisons at Polar Park for the 2024 home opener.

The fourth annual WooSox Opening Day began long before starting pitcher Cooper Criswell delivered his first pitch at 3:11 p.m. in front of a crowd of 8,422 fans. The WooSox staff arrived bright and early Tuesday morning to prepare the ballpark for an exciting and action-packed day. Team photographers began the day capturing the sunrise that was painting the backdrop for the best ballpark in Triple-A baseball, according to 87,000 voters of Ballpark Digest Magazine.

Also visible in Polar Park's backdrop are the rising apartments, which not only bring life to Worcester's Canal District, but are home to many players, allowing them to live, work, and play in downtown Worcester. As the players made their way to the ballpark, a buzz of excitement filled the air, making it obvious that baseball was back in Worcester. After a long, cold, winter, Polar Park returned to its natural state, with music blasting through the speakers, players warming up on the field, and ballpark staff gearing up for the game. The only thing missing? The fans.

At 12 noon, fans were welcomed into the ballpark to the sound of "The Natural" by Randy Newman. A carefully curated playlist persisted as the energy in the park swelled, culminating in an effervescent moment when the Worcester City Seal Banner rose, fittingly during Terry Cashman's "Opening Day." Of course, it wouldn't be a true Opening Day ceremony without the best friends of children at our family ballpark! Smiley Ball, Woofster the Wonderdog, Roberto the Rocket, and many of their mascot friends danced around the warning track, entertaining fans of all ages.

Attention then turned toward the infield as we welcomed the visionaries whose leadership brought us together in the Heart of the Commonwealth. Lining the infield were more than 100 local heroes whose accomplishments we were honored and celebrated. The line began with Mayor Joe Petty, followed by Worcester City Councilors, Worcester School Committee members, Ballpark Commissioners, Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis, State Representatives, State Senators, United States Congressman Jim McGovern, and the Head of United Way of Central Massachusetts Tim Garvin.

These city officials were joined by Peter Freund, the CEO of Diamond Baseball Holdings. Owning more than 30 Minor League Baseball teams, Freund, along with DBH Executive Chairman Pat Battle, are committed to preserving and revitalizing the Minor League Baseball experience for communities that play an essential role in our national pastime. Freund posed for a picture with WooSox President Dr. Charles Steinberg, WooSox Executive Vice President and General Manager Brooke Cooper, and representatives of the 12 WooSox Scholars from the Classes of '21, '22, and '23. Diamond Baseball Holdings also presented a $40,000 check to the WooSox Foundation that will fund the scholarships for the WooSox Scholars Class of 2024.

We were extremely honored to welcome members of Big Brothers Big Sisters, representing the WooSox Foundation's Mentorship Program, as well as our Most Valuable Teachers, who were nominated by students for their outstanding commitment to education in the central Massachusetts area.

Fans then rose for a standing ovation as we highlighted the WooSox Foundation's efforts to conquer cancer. We first showed our support for 5-year-old Ava Blazis from Sutton, who is courageously waging her battle. We welcomed back Jamison Pope--whom we met through his participation in our Home Run for Life program in 2021--and Jameson Laliberte, who is now a member of our WooSox Productions staff. These individuals and their families were joined by the family of Meghan Milanopoulos, the North High Assistant Principal who was celebrating right here with us one year ago.

The WooSox Foundation, in collaboration with the family of Tyler Trudell, a baseball-loving 13-year-old boy who peacefully passed away in his sleep, established "Tyler's Teammates." The program helps buy bats, balls, gloves, and registration fees to spread Tyler's love for baseball around the central Massachusetts community. Tyler's parents, Lynn and Steve Trudell, were given a warm Worcester welcome back to the ballpark when they introduced the fourth pillar of the WooSox Foundation: Diamond sports.

To finish off the growing line of community heroes that wrapped around the entire infield grass, we welcomed some of the most accomplished local diamond sports heroes. Former Major League Baseball player Chris Colabello was followed by Brian Abraham, who lies at the heart of the Boston Red Sox' Player Development Program; the head baseball coach at St. Paul's High School and former PawSox Southpaw Ed Riley; Tom and Teddy Daly, who brought glory to Worcester by reaching the Little League World Series in 2002; the Central Mass Lightning softball team; and the new owners of the Worcester Bravehearts, the Vaccaro Family. As these individuals--who commit so much time to making dreams come true for aspiring diamond sports players in our region--were recognized on the infield, hundreds of players from our Jesse Burkett Little League marched across the warning track, basking in the glory of Opening Day.

With hundreds of friends of the WooSox now occupying Worcester's own Field of Dreams, it was finally time to play baseball! To offer a special welcome to the manager of the Buffalo Bisons, Casey Candaele, the videoboards displayed a recorded message from 97-year-old Maybelle Blair, who played professional baseball with Candaele's mother. After admiring Maybelle's youthful spirit, sense of humor, and love for the game, it was time to introduce Candaele's starting lineup, roster, coaching staff, trainers, and batboy.

Fans were able to appreciate our personalized message from "All The Way May" but were holding their breaths for the most anticipated part of the pre-game ceremony-the presentation of the WooSox '24 roster, live and in person. The crowd applauded as we introduced manager Chad Tracy, who has returned for his third season, and his starting lineup. The lineup was led off by base-stealing champion David Hamilton and boasted future Red Sox stars Nathan Hickey and Chase Meidroth, amongst others. We, of course, introduced the rest of the Red Sox roster; coaches Jose Flores, Rich Gedman, Doug Clark, Dan Delucia, Noah Junis, Brendan Connolly, Joe Hudson, and Connor Ryder; trainers Scott Gallon and Nick Kuchwara; team physician Dr. Brian Busconi; Head of Baseball Operations Mario Oliveira; Home Clubhouse Manager Patrick Hughes; and of course, our batboy, the one and only Aaron Buckley.

With baseball players and fans alike gathered to celebrate America's national pastime, all were asked to remember those whom we have lost - both in the Red Sox family and Worcester community - while the voice of the Boston Bruins, Todd Angilly, paid tribute to our nation with his rendition of the National Anthem. At the conclusion of his heartfelt performance, we remained united in our support for the family of Carl-Hens Beliard, whose life was taken in a tragedy at Salem State University. His family was joined by the North High Basketball team, who won back-to-back state titles in memory of their beloved teammate. Another point of pride in our Worcester Public Schools is the first women's basketball team from the city to ever reach the state finals. The South High Lady Colonels joined the North High Polar Bears in their triumphant yet bittersweet recognition.

To personally congratulate our honorees, we welcomed a friend who Red Sox Nation has loved for over 20 years now: Trot Nixon. The original "Dirt Dawg," who could be seen playing right field in the 2004 World Series, greeted everyone on his way to the mound, where he shared a message with WooSox Nation and delivered a ceremonial first pitch to Rich Gedman.

At this point, fans had almost made it to the start of the game. Obviously, though, no baseball game can begin until the famous final two words of the ceremony are spoken. For that, we welcomed on our videoboard an old friend who inaugurated each of our previous three seasons. We thank 95-year-old, Basketball Hall of Famer Bob Cousy for saying "play ball" and kicking off our fourth season in Worcester, the home of his alma mater.

This action-packed pregame ceremony was juxtaposed by the pitchers' duel that followed, which eventually resulted in a 2-0 Buffalo victory. Despite fans having to wait until the eighth inning to see the first WooSox hit, there was much to ooh and ahh about on the defensive side of the game. In his remarkable WooSox debut, Criswell threw 74 pitches, 48 of which were strikes, over five scoreless innings. He elicited ten swings and misses while collecting five strikeouts and giving up just one walk. The bullpen put up an equally valiant effort, which resulted in four more shutout innings by Joe Jacques (1 IP, 1 H, 1 K), Zack Kelly (1 IP, 0 H), and Jorge Benitez (2 IP, 0 H, 3 K). Unfortunately, Bisons' hitters Steward Berroa, Addison Barger, and Payton Henry got the best of right-hander Chase Shugart in the 10th inning, despite strong efforts to give the WooSox a chance at a walk-off. In addition, two double plays carried out by Eddy Alvarez, David Hamilton, and Romy Gonzalez in the third and fifth innings gave fans a glimpse of what look for in WooSox '24.

Wednesday's matchup against the Buffalo Bisons was postponed due to sleet and rain that persisted throughout the day and evening. This game was made up as a part of a doubleheader on Friday. And what was supposed to be the teams' third game of the series was also postponed due to about three inches of snow covering the field. Our incredible grounds crew, with the help of clubhouse attendants and front office members, worked endlessly to clear the snow off the field, bullpens, and the park's seats, getting them ready for Friday's games. Thursday's snowed-out game will be made up in either May or June when the WooSox play in Buffalo, facing the Bisons as the home team in one game of a doubleheader. The exact date is TBA.

The first seven inning game of the twin bill began at 3:35 with action starting right away. The Bisons took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning, which the Red Sox countered by retaking a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the second. Worcester expanded their lead with a string of hits, followed by a grand slam by Gonzalez in the bottom of the fourth inning. They held onto this lead through the seventh inning, despite Buffalo scoring six more runs, four of which came from a grand slam that capped off a combined 16-run game. The final score was 9-7 Worcester as reliever Cam Booser earned his second win of the season, advancing his record to 2-0.

Just 40 minutes later, the second game got underway, but ended far less successfully for the Red Sox. Starter Grant Gambrell had a tough outing, giving up the only five runs to be scored by either team. While there wasn't much for fans to celebrate after a 5-0 loss, the crowd certainly got rowdy for the UniBank Fireworks show, set to Modern Millennial Classics, that followed the game.

Saturday's 4:05 game was another eventful game, though the WooSox eventually lost 10-6 as Buffalo's offense outshined Worcester's pitching. Worcester was able to string together a series of hits in the bottom of the third inning, which ended up scoring them all 6 runs. Sunday's 1:05 game followed a similar story, resulting in a 10-5 loss despite Red Sox start Cooper Criswell throwing 5 scoreless innings.

The Red Sox now travel to Syracuse to play 6 games against the triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets.

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