The Mannheim Tornados are the oldest German baseball team and with its eleven titles they are Germany’s recordholders. It is no coincidence, of course, that the team was founded in the Electorate Palatinate region. The US military forces brought the sport into the region many years ago. And made Mannheim the baseball capital of Germany.

Things are going well for the Tornados. The Tübingen Hawks have already changed their pitcher. But to no avail. The home team beats their guests with balls flying past their heads left and right, scoring point after point. Shortly afterwards, the spectators who are seated in the shadowy wooden grandstands of the Roberto-Clemente-Field in Mannheim on this sunny spring Saturday cheer their first home run. The Tornados lead 9:0 according to the scoreboard. The players high five each other, while AC/DC, Eminem and Sophie Ellis-Baxtor boom out of the speakers. Players and spectators alike seem to be relieved, since these double headers—two games on one day that is—against the team from Tübingen do not only signify the first home opener of the season, but maybe even the beginning of a new era.

Off we go! After the batter hits the ball, it flies across the field with up to 200 kilometres per hour.

The Tornados, founded in 1975, are the oldest baseball team in Germany and with its eleven championship titles they have been Germany’s recordholders to this day. Their prime was in the 1980s, though, when they won the trophy a whopping seven times. The last time they were able to win the championship title was in 1997. Thus, time has come for a new start—one that people like Christian Schuler are a byword for. He had to end his career as an active player of the Tornados after several cruciate ligament ruptures. In his position as second chairman, he has been in charge of the baseball and softball team since 2023.

Christian Schuler, second chairman of the Tornados, is spellbound as he watches his team play.

“We want to create something new here,” Christian says, “build a team from within the organisation.” His motto is: home-grown instead of “import players”, as he calls them. The reason for this is that there is a fair amount of players from the strongholds of baseball like the US, Canada or Puerto Rico in the German baseball leagues. Joshua Wyant is such a seasonal player—pitcher for the Tübingen Hawks later in the second game. He plays in Germany in the summer, and in winter he works on a horse ranch in Idaho. 

These guest players can briefly raise the level of a team, as the Tornados have to painfully experience during the second game against the Hawks, yet they cost the organisation a fair amount of money. And money is something the Tornados do not have in huge numbers right now. “Other venues like Regensburg, Heidenheim or Paderborn have already surpassed us by far,” Christian explains. He estimates their seasonal budgets to be a mid six-figure amount. The Tornados have to make do with significantly less. They now want to turn this disadvantage into an asset by building upon their own talents. 

Wenn ich den Harzgeruch vom Schläger in der Nase habe, dann geht für mich der Frühling los

Julian Prade

One of these home-grown talents is just trotting off the field towards the changing room. The so-called “mercy rule” was put into effect, so that the game was prematurely ended by mutual agreement at a score of 17:2 for the Tornados. Like everyone else in the Tornados team, Julian Prade is an amateur player. He works as a communications manager for BASF in real life, but baseball to him is more than just a hobby. “Spring starts for me when I smell the resin of the bat,” Julian says enthusiastically. He started playing baseball when he was a little boy. “It was very normal for little boys and girls in Neuostheim—everyone played baseball there.” The 1993/94 age-group that Julian belongs to was a strong cohort, he recounts. School and youth championships and several junior championship titles—they won them all.    

Home-grown in Mannheim—Julian Prade started playing baseball when he was still a little boy.

By now, Julian, pushing 30 years old, is one of the oldest of his team. “I have been playing with many of the boys for 10 or 15 years,” he reports. Training is twice a week, on top of that, there are frequently games on the weekends. “When you are here you can take a break from your daily routines and free your mind.” The team spirit extends far beyond the training. Newly-married Julian has just recently celebrated his eve-of-the-wedding-party on the Roberto-Clemente-Field.  

It is no coincidence that the oldest baseball team in Germany was founded in Mannheim. The “city of squares”, as Mannheim is called because its streets are laid out in a grid pattern, used to be an important military base of the US army after the war. The Benjamin Franklin Village marked the US armed forces’ largest civilian settlement located in Europe. With the “6th TT Tornados”—the “TT” standing for Transportation Truck Battalion—a successful baseball team had emerged from the garrison that even won the G.I. World Series, the US military championship that is, in 1949. The Americans awakened such an enthusiasm for the sport in Mannheim that Mannheim became Germany’s “baseball capital”. Already in the 1960s, the baseball team that was back then part of the VfR Mannheim won its first German championship titles. Later, in 1975, the Tornados were founded as an independent baseball team. Mannheim-based baseball pioneer Norbert Jäger kept the name of the G.I. team and made it thrive. Back then, many US Americans still played in the team.

A fast-paced game—yet, baseball still is a marginal sport in Germany.

“In Germany, baseball is a marginal sport and will always be so,” Christian says. This is why the Tornados intend to intensify their work with children and young players and additionally put more emphasis on making baseball a family event. Entrance to home games is free. You simply walk through the historic metal gate, and you are already in the midst of it all. “We want to invite people to come here to have a pleasant afternoon,” Christian explains. A baseball game as a family outing—that’s the idea. And indeed, the atmosphere here is more like at a cheerful afternoon barbeque party than at the SV Waldhof home games in the neighbouring Carl Benz stadium with its stirred up, adrenaline-charged vibes. This is not only due to the much smaller number of spectators. Even at the top matches of the professional league in the US, there is a relaxed kind of picknick atmosphere among spectators.

Relaxed vibes at the Roberto-Clemente-Field—you encounter an atmosphere like at a cheerful afternoon barbeque party rather than stirred up vibes.

One thing is of utmost importance to Christian: “In the past, our focus was very much on the first men’s team. We have by now changed this. We want to be perceived as an organisation comprising of all our teams.” And there are plenty of them: the softball team—as a baseball variant for women—still plays in the national league—other than the men’s team. In addition to that, there is a team for schoolchildren as well as the youth and junior teams.   

The second game against the Tübingen Hawks has started in the meantime. And now it is the Tornados that have to suffer. Pitcher Joshua Wyant, who now plays for the Hawks, confronts the Tornado batters with unresolvable tasks. Now and again, they swing and miss or hit a ball, but it lands out-of-bounds. After the fourth inning, the “mercy rule” is invoked again, but this time with the negative outcome for the Tornados—0:11 is the final score. “One game won, one lost,” Christian sums up the day on the field. “We can build up from that. Actually, it should still be possible to achieve a position in the middle of the standings in the end.”


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