By Dave Peterson, General Manager
“I’ll be back in an hour,” I yelled to the office. “Just heading to lunch down the street.”
It was the spring of 2009 and I was working for the Worcester Tornadoes. Our office at 303 Main Street was just a few doors down from Mechanics Hall in the Bowditch & Dewey building, and there were a handful of great lunch spots in the vicinity.
But I wasn’t going to lunch. After all, it was 10:30 in the morning.
Instead, I jogged down to Dunkin Donuts on the corner of Main & Front St. I was running a few minutes late for my meeting with Tina Bourassa.
This was no different than any other meeting I had with her. They were always planned over email about two weeks in advance, and the timing had to be just right so that it matched up with the WRTA bus schedule. Dunkin Donuts was her favorite spot.
As I rushed through the entrance, I spotted her over by the window sitting at a small table. Even though I was only 5 minutes late, I knew she had been sitting there at least 15. She circled these meetings in her day planner like she circled her doctors appointments and trips to the nail salon.
It was always the same with Tina. Her face would light up, she’d stand up out of her seat, give me a big hug, and then she’d hand me her Dunkin Donuts gift card and tell me to go get a coffee. I refused, but she insisted. I’d reluctantly take her card, stand in the line for my coffee, and at the register I’d make sure she couldn’t see me. Then I’d take out my debit card and swipe it— all while pretending to pay with the gift card she had handed me.
Tina didn’t have much, but she was generous with what she had. She didn’t have a job. She didn’t have a support system either. As far as I could tell, she had fallen out of favor with her family and only spoke sparingly about her friends and neighbors. That’s why these trips to Dunkin Donuts meant so much.
When she handed me her Dunkin Donuts card — which was probably loaded with about $20 — it was her way of thanking me for the time we spent together. She had been on disability benefits as long as I had known her, which was probably since 2005 (the first year of the Tornadoes). She wasn’t able to move around very well, but every time I saw her she seemed happy and grateful just to be there.
On this spring day in 2009, I was having my semi-annual meeting with her to give her some free tickets before the Tornadoes season began. Not a whole bunch – just a few. After all, it would still cost her money to take the city bus to get to the stadium and she wouldn’t be able to stay for the whole game or she’d miss the bus home. I used to grab a handful of flex vouchers for her. A flex voucher looks like a game ticket, but it doesn’t have a game date on it. It was more of a gift certificate for a free ticket whenever she thought she could make it to a game. On this occasion, I had just grabbed some misprints that were about to be tossed in the trash. The spacing or font size on the text was off, so these vouchers were going to be thrown out. I took five of them and handed them to Tina. The box office would never know, and even if they did, they probably wouldn’t care.
Tina loved coming to a handful of Tornadoes games each season. She sat by herself next to the press box so she wouldn’t have to walk down any stairs. The shadow cast by the wall of the building provided some of the only shade in the park, and Tina scooped it right up. Once the promotional schedule was unveiled, she’d usually choose the games that featured a team photo, baseball card set, or bobblehead giveaway. She was a collector of all things Worcester Tornadoes.
After the 2010 season, I left the Tornadoes and went to work for an advertising agency in Sturbridge. The Dunkin Donuts meet-ups stopped, and neither Tina, nor I, attended any games in the Tornadoes final two seasons before they went belly up. I did send her my new email address though, and every now and then we’d write to each other just to check in. In fact, she used to send me a $10 donation every year to support my fundraising team for the American Diabetes Association. It was one of the most generous donations I received every year, simply because I knew Tina Bourassa did not have $10 to be spending.
Then three years later in 2013, the Bravehearts were born.
It was a rebirth of our friendship. In January, 2014, I reached out to her so that she had my new email address. She replied, “It will be so nice to see you again. Maybe we can get together for coffee if you’re in the downtown area.” Of course, with the new job, I was able to provide Tina with a few free tickets for the inaugural season.
In recent years, she renewed her driver’s license and inherited a car from a friend who couldn’t drive any longer. It gave her a new sense of freedom— one that allowed her to arrive at Bravehearts games early and stay until the end. John Creedon Jr.- owner of the Bravehearts – was so kind to her that he allowed her to park right next to the ambulance and refrigerator truck near the front gate so she didn’t have to walk a long distance to get into the park. We called it “Ambassador Parking,” just for Tina.
Yes, Tina Bourassa quickly became the Bravehearts Ambassador. She sat on Jake the Lion’s throne at the main entrance to the park. She joined us for post-game meals and offseason brainstorming sessions. She passed out pocket schedules in her neighborhood. I bought her a Visa gift card each year for Christmas and loaded it with enough money to buy a few tanks of gas. It wasn’t much, but it was something to show our appreciation for all that she did.
Tina embraced the Bravehearts like family. A few times a year, she’d sneak out of her seat in the 7th inning or so, retreat to her car, and drive down to the hospitality tent in left field so that she could set up trays of lasagna, cupcakes, or cookies for the staff and team. Heck, when the Japanese Amateur National Team visited Worcester in 2017, she cooked for them and introduced herself as our “Ambassador.” She was rewarded with a photo taken with the entire Japanese team. Her joy was palpable.
That year, she presented me with a framed certificate. It reads,
Worcester Bravehearts staff & players
I thank you for your kindness, caring, friendship and acceptance.
I have enjoyed my summer with you.
You all have a special place in my heart.
I wish you all good luck in the future.
May God bless you all - thank you so very much
-Tina M. Bourassa
I loved the certificate so much that I hung it in my office above my desk.
Tina was a fixture at Hanover Insurance Park for 5 years, but it always bothered me that she had nothing else. As I mentioned earlier, she had fallen out of touch with her family and had several friendships go south after those same people she thought she could trust ended up taking advantage of her or even stealing from her. I imagined that her life was probably quite lonely, and her holidays were a time of emptiness instead of joy.
On November 21, 2018, those fears were realized. Tina had posted something on Facebook reminding people to remember the less fortunate who had nowhere to go on Thanksgiving. It was evident that she was talking about herself. Our staff saw it and reached out on Facebook, inviting Tina in for lunch that afternoon in our office. She politely declined, saying that she didn’t have money for gas but that she would stop by the following week to deliver Christmas cards to the staff.
The conversation ended with a joke about our mascot, Jake the Lion, and Tina’s classic refrain: LOL! Her reply ended with, “God Bless You All.”
On Tuesday the 27th, we received our first Christmas cards in the mail. Of course, they were from Tina Bourassa. At the time, I had forgotten that she mentioned her intention to drop them off to us. Her cards always arrived early though. That same week, I bought the Christmas card for her that would contain her holiday gift and put it away into my top drawer so that I could hand it to her when she came in.
But we didn’t hear from Tina.
A week went by, and in our haste to attend the league meetings and all of the holiday mascot appearances, it had slipped our minds to reach out to Tina.
Two weeks after Thanksgiving, I remembered to email Tina an invitation to our holiday party, “Christmas in the Cave.” The email bounced back.
I called her cell phone right after that, but the number was disconnected.
Unclear as to why I couldn’t get in touch with our #1 fan, I attempted to reach out to her on Facebook. I visited her page and there it was.
“Don’t know if y’all know, but Tina M. Bourassa passed away. R.I.P. Tina.”
It was a message left by a neighbor. I didn’t believe it until I started reading the other comments.
“They found her in her apartment. She was dead a few days,” said one of them. “None of her family is around and they need someone to ID the body,” said another.
One comment really hit home. It was a comment left in memory of a mutual friend who had also passed away previously. It read, “Tina M. Bourassa just joined you brother! Take care of her because she was lonely in this world.”
Tina Bourassa was lonely in this world. One of the loneliest people I’ve ever met.
There was no obituary in the newspaper, no funeral, no wake, nothing. In a moment, she was gone – and no one even knew it had happened. The official death certificate states that she passed away on November 28th, 2018. I felt terrible that the final time I saw her was when she dropped off a Mylar birthday balloon to me on October 6th, a balloon that is still barely floating over a desk in our office 6 months later.
For her, the Bravehearts provided hope and happiness – something to look forward to for 11 weeks out of the summer. It was all smiles. A chance to cook for people who thanked her and treated her like one of them. A chance to take photos with a giant furry lion that always made her laugh. A chance to talk to other Bravehearts’ fans and share a common love of the smell of popcorn, the thrill of fireworks shows, and the sound of the crack of the bat.
For 11 weeks in the summer, Tina Bourassa was not lonely. She was happy.
Tina Bourassa will always be a Worcester Braveheart.
Tina M. Bourassa
August 19, 1958 – November 28, 2018