There is a lot of uncertainty and animosity surrounding Minor League Baseball right now.
There are 42 teams facing it directly after being noted by Major League Baseball that they are one of the teams to be cut in a proposed realignment plan. The Clinton LumberKings – along with two other Midwest League teams – are on that list.
For that reason, I felt it was important to start sharing some of our local stories that live and breathe in NelsonCorp Stadium, surrounding one specific topic: What do the minor leagues mean to you.
We need to remember two things. One – we still have a concrete and guaranteed 2020 season that the LumberKings staff is preparing for. Don’t forget that one of the biggest things you can do for the club is buy tickets, go to games, and continue to make memories.
Two – we have a wonderful baseball team and infinite memories and relationships that have been formed because of it. We need to remember the positives, and remember that we have a voice in that we can share those positives.
That’s the goal of the LumberKing Loyals story series is to share those stories from our fans, board members, staff and more. If you have a story, memory or special connection to NelsonCorp Field or to the Clinton LumberKings, please reach out to me at email@example.com so we can find a time to talk and share your story.
Here is Ted Tornow’s story:
Thursday was supposed to be it: Minor League Baseball Opening Day.
The Clinton LumberKings were scheduled to be on the road, taking on the Beloit Snappers to kick off the Class A Midwest League season.
Instead, the office staff was indoors. The gates were closed. The grandstand and clubhouse were quiet. No pitches were thrown.
It was something abnormal for general manager Ted Tornow, and his staff. Baseball, afterall, is just about all he knows.
“I’ve never done anything else,” Tornow says bluntly.
Growing up in Menasha, Wisconsin, Tornow played baseball his entire life. Starting when he was just a 3-year-old, he continued up through high school.
Plus, there was a minor league team just outside his town. The Appleton Foxes played their contests at Goodland Field at the time, and Tornow was a regular.
“My father volunteered there,” Tornow said. “He worked several games, you know ticket taking or beer stand. He was a part of several community groups that back in the days, would work those games. My brother and I would tag along with dad and go to the games.”
He would hang out at the stadium throughout school before transitioning to playing his own high school games at Goodland. He continued his baseball career through college, and even after.
He played semi-pro baseball for a while, just continuing the game as long as he could.
“The semester I graduated, it was a semi-pro league in Wisconsin that I played for,” Tornow said. “We didn’t get paid, we maybe got gas money, we had uniforms and was definitely amateur ball.”
There, he got his first introduction to the Midwest League.
“A couple of the players in Green Bay had played in Cedar Rapids,” Tornow said. “They had signed with the Reds and they had been cut. They were players I had played with that had played in the minor league system.”
When it came down to it, he had to make a choice. He could keep playing the game that he loved for some more time while working in the mill, that was an option. Or he could use his degree and kickstart his career.
“The fall I graduated someone in Green Bay said hey, I need a business manager,” Tornow said. “I had played the game and I kind of wanted to go from inside the white lines and look outside the white lines. He asked me if it was something I was interested in.”
Tornow moved to Green Bay in 1984 to take that job and has never looked back, notching over 35 years of baseball experience along the way. That includes the last two decades in Clinton.
There, he’s seen plenty of success with the ballclub. He’s been involved in multiple stadium re-brands and renovations.
As a general manager, that includes plenty of crazy hours. Tornow talks about how he’s “never punched a clock”, and that’s because he’s often there from early in the morning to well after the gates close and the lights shut off.
He’s dealing with selling sponsorships and signs, working with the Major League affiliate club, ensuring operations of the stadium and anything else you can think of.
In that time, he’s also watched his family grow up. His oldest son wasn’t even walking yet when he first stepped into the role of general manager and is now off at college. His youngest is a senior in high school.
That’s a huge thing for him. He thinks back to an interview he say years ago. A person who worked in baseball was asked a simple questions: “What made it all worth it?”
“The answer was the opportunity to have my family here at work,” Tornow recalled. “That stuck out in my mind. My two rugrats, they grew up here.
“It’s definitely a family affair.”
He’s beginning his 37th year in baseball this season, and hoping that continues. He’s certainly a friendly face around NelsonCorp Field, whether he’s greeting at the front door, running across the concourse or sitting in the stands in a Hawaiian shirt enjoying the final few innings.
If the MLB plans to cut the LumberKings do come to fruition next season, he’ll have to move on from the Clinton LumberKings. That’s not something he’s entirely prepared to do. Baseball is ingrained so deeply in him and his family that it’s something he never really considered.
“I don’t know what I’d do. I’ve never done anything else,” Tornow said. “It’s always been there. It’s been either playing, assisting, running, operating, fill in the blank. Baseball is the one constant.”