Canseco toils away in obscurity

Even Bruce Springsteen was taunting Jose Canseco.

While The Boss boomed through the ballpark PA system, reminding the sparse crowd of roughly 500 fans trickling into Provident Bank Park of glory days and how they’ll pass you by, the song’s 47-year-old, real-life incarnation completed his final pregame stretches before Friday’s Canadian-American League series opener against the Rockland Boulders.

“Batting fourth for the Worcester Tornadoes, playing designated hitter, Jose Canseco,” the public address announcer said a few minutes later.

One boisterous ticket-holder followed up with a piercing taunt of “Steroids!” It was the first of many heckles Canseco endured throughout the evening, some of which might have been drowned out in the buzz of more spectators. Here, however, the barbs were all clearly audible in the almost vacant stadium an hour north of Manhattan.

The catcalls seemed to be a blow-by-blow of Canseco’s plight since his major-league career flamed out. Starting with his much-publicized history of performance-enhancing drug use, select members of the crowd then mocked the former American League MVP’s foray into reality television. The crowd didn’t pull any punches about his 2009 boxing match with Danny Bonaduce, either, or even his twin brother Ozzie.

For a guy who once earned millions playing 17 seasons in the majors, everything about this scenario should be enough to make him want to take up golf or fishing.

“I love the game, I love everything about it,” Canseco said. “Nobody’s getting rich out here. I’m telling my teammates to have a lot of fun, respect the game and don’t take it too seriously.”

If Canseco has one issue with today’s game, it’s that the players are dull. “In the ‘90s and ‘80s we had a lot more entertainers,” he said. “Today we have a lot of politically correct clones out there who don’t speak their minds.”

The perpetually bronzed Canseco, listed as 6-foot-4, 240 pounds on the Tornadoes website, resembles an aging action hero. While the Can-Am League — the five-team association that includes Worcester and Rockland — doesn’t test for illegal substances, a representative for the Tornadoes said that their new acquisition, who signed with the team earlier this month, has a legal prescription for testosterone.

In batting practice before the game, Canseco blasted several balls high into the left-field bleachers, at times looking the part of the slugger who hit 462 home runs during his big-league career. He looked overmatched in his first at-bat against former Phillies farmhand Julian Sampson, clumsily reaching for several pitches like a suburban dad at the local batting cages before eventually settling for a walk. His second time up, he drilled a pitch down the left-field line for what appeared to be a sure double, but stopped after rounding first, his blistering 40/40 season a distant memory. In eight games this season, Canseco is 7 for 28 with no home runs, two RBI and 11 strikeouts.

“I’m trying to get the rhythm and timing out here,” he said. “I’m seeing how physically my body can adjust and taking it from there.”

Clearly, Canseco isn’t putting down the bat any time soon. Nor is he putting down his smart phone. As any of Canseco’s 472,000 plus Twitter followers can attest, his feed is a constant stream of motivational phrases, paranoid ramblings and paeans to baseball accented with a hearty mix of grammatical errors. He gives “hugs” to his supporters and lashes out at his critics, something he can’t do at a ballpark.

“The haters are gonna hate,” Canseco said. “Slap a hater, like I say, because they deserve to get slapped. No matter what they’re not gonna be behind you or support you. I think it’s a 50-50 split. You’re gonna have both. That’s why we have wars and problems in this world. You have two sets of different opinions.”

It’s hard to determine how much of Canseco’s Twitter persona is publicity-seeking and how much is his real-life personality. While he hasn’t taken the team bus for the first two road trips, Canseco seems to have ingratiated himself quickly with his new teammates. A collection of former minor league or college players mostly in their mid-to-late twenties, the other Tornadoes weren’t quite sure at first what they were getting themselves into.

“Going into it, the realm of possibilities were endless,” Tornadoes outfielder Cameron Monger said. “The positive spin is he’s here to have fun and wants to play baseball and the negative spin from the media is endless of what could happen. I’ve been pretty happy so far with how everything has gone. It’s been a help so far.”

Though his days of being a major leaguer are well behind him, Canseco is never short on opinions. Despite his past criticism of MLB commissioner Bud Selig, Canseco said that he thinks the game is “great right now.”

Not that Canseco wouldn’t mind 15 more minutes of fame. Even though he hasn’t played in the majors in over a decade, Canseco vows to make himself a spectacle if the fans will let him. He has started a Twitter campaign to get the most write-in votes in balloting for the MLB’s All-Star Game on July 10 in Kansas City.

“It was a bit of a joke in the beginning but if I get voted in I will show up there,” Canseco promised. “I’ll sit in the stands with a baseball uniform on and wait for my at-bat.”

Anything for one more glory day.