Portland, Maine â€“ More Than Just Lighthouses and Lobsters
When someone mentions the state of Maine what is the first thing that you think about? Moose. Lobsters. Lighthouses. How about baseball? In Portland, Maine resides one of the best places to watch a baseball game at any level. Hadlock Field is tucked away with an outfield lined by evergreens beyond the fences that fits the wilderness feel of Maine perfectly. Located at the northeastern tip of the U.S., Maine is not a state that you can just pass through, so you know the people that come to watch a game are serious fans, and didnâ€™t just stumble across the field.
Portland last had the Pilots back in 1949 in the class B New England League and then had baseball return in 1994 with the Sea Dogs as a member of the Eastern League. The state embraced baseball once again despite an affiliate that geographically could not have been more different â€“ the Florida Marlins. Florida would remain the affiliate over the next nine years but then a move was made that gave the northern most members of Red Sox Nation a reason to celebrate. The Sea Dogs became the AA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox in 2003 and those die hard Sox fans who couldnâ€™t make the trip to Boston responded with tremendous support.
Since the affiliation switch, the Sea Dogs have averaged over 6,200 fans per game each year, and have drawn over 6 million total since the teamâ€™s inception. In 2008 they were second in total attendance and average fans per game to the Reading Phillies in the EL, while the stadium played to 85% of its total capacity each night. The stadium has been expanded four times and has gone from originally seating 6,000 fans to over 7,300 with the last addition in 2006.
The Nation’s members have been rewarded with a top notch team as they have played in the Northern Division Championship each year since 2005, and each time against the Evil Empireâ€™s affiliate the Trenton Thunder no less, winning in 2005 and 2006 and losing the last two years to them. In 2006 the Sea Dogs reached their ultimate goal and won the EL Championship over Akron to redeem themselves after losing in the Championship Series the previous year to them.
Some of the Red Sox’s biggest stars have made their way through Portland and their future stars have done the same. Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon and Jacoby Ellsbury have all worn the popular â€œPâ€ logo with the Sea Dog hanging from it. Players who are just now getting their feet wet with the parent club and who carry high expectations like Jed Lowrie, Michael Bowden, Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard already have come through and hope to be household names in a short time.
First baseman Lars Anderson, whom the Red Sox hope can eventually take the sting out their inability to sign Mark Teixeira, is there now and look for pitching/shortstop phenom Casey Kelly there in the near future. Portland also had stars such as Josh Beckett (as a Marlin) and Hanley Ramirez (as a Red Sox who would be traded for Beckett ironically) play there before they joined the elite in the game. It is safe to say that Portland will continue to see the top prospects within baseball as the Sox have no problem going above slot to sign the players that other teams feel they cannot afford each year in the draft.
I have been to Hadlock Field a number of times over the years as I make it a priority to go to a game each year while up there on vacation. If you want to go to see the prospects that is understandable, but what keeps me going back is the atmosphere and confines of the field itself. I was there just last week and walked in about the 3rd inning (I have an hour and a half drive to get there as an excuse for being late). When you walk in you are standing in a concrete concourse with the stands made of metal right above you. The Sea Dogs were up at bat and had men on base and the stomping of the metal stands went from a low rumble to a deafening stampede of anticipation.
Usually when that happens I am in the stands so I donâ€™t get a full appreciation of the decibel level, but to be underneath and experience it first hand was something I wonâ€™t soon forget. If you go and a rally is taking place slip away to the concourse for a batter or two and enjoy the noise rattling all around you, you can watch the game on closed circuit TV underneath so you wonâ€™t miss a thing.
Another great aspect is the tribute Hadlock pays to Fenway Park, one of the only two true original stadiums left in existence. Upon being associated with the Sox, a â€œMaine Monsterâ€ was constructed out in left field. The â€œMonsterâ€ is like its brethren in Boston just slightly smaller with its length but the same height. It even has the Citgo Sign and Coca-Cola Bottle above to give it that authentic feel. Though the Maine Monster does not have seats above it, the best place to sit is the U.S. Cellular Pavilion in right field with its bar style seating like the Green Monster has in Fenway. The absolute best seats in the house are the very first row in the pavilion with the right fielder just a few feet away and you can be literally right above the outfield wall in fair territory.
Hadlock Field is one of those places that make a game fun to attend regardless of the outcome. To see the local fans so in love with their team (Pedroia shirts were the ones of choice in the crowd) and knowledgeable about what these players could mean to the Major League club in the future was interesting to witness. The huge trees just beyond the outfield help you stay in that relaxed vacation mode that takes over while you are in Maine and seeing the lighthouse rise out over center field flashing and with the foghorn blowing after each Sea Dog home run and Sea Dog win just adds to what the state itself brings to the table for a game. Though off the beaten path, catching a game here is well worth it for those seeking that unique baseball experience.