Tagged: Portland Sea Dogs 2015

Return to the Road: The Road Ends in Portland

For the last two and a half months, when time has allowed, I’ve written “Return to the Road” posts detailing my non-ballpark traveling experiences during the 2015 season. Today, that series of posts ends with this, a brief account of my time in Portland, Maine.

I arrived in Maine’s most populous city on the evening of September 3, and the next afternoon I had a couple of hours to spare before heading on over to the Sea Dogs’ home of Hadlock Field. Given that this would be my only full day in Maine, I felt like I almost had no choice but to get some lobster. After a thorough research effort (okay, an overwhelming Yelp consensus might have had something to do with it), I chose to visit Fishermen’s Grill.

IMG_0417In the above photograph, the Fishermen’s Grill looks impossibly tiny, kind of like the restaurant version of floor 7 1/2 in Being John Malkovich. But I made it inside, all 68 inches of me, and ordered a “lobstah” roll. Given my gluten-free obligations, I chose the option in which the lobster was served separate from the bread. There was a specific term for this option, but it now eludes me. I’ll call it the “Celiac Compromise.”

The lobster — tender, generously portioned, dipped in butter — was fantastic.

IMG_0415Afterwards I went for a brief stroll in Mayor Baxter Woods. When I came to a fork in the road, I took it.

IMG_0418I then took a short drive to Portland’s downtown, where parking was an ordeal. Finally finding a space for my (rented) Dodge Charger represented a moment of triumph so profound that I documented it for posterity.

IMG_0421The statue in the below photo is reads “PORTLAND: To Her Sons Who Died for the Union.” I like that the dude on the right accidentally snuck into the shot, representing Bob Marley to the fullest on this late summer afternoon.

IMG_0422While parking was tough in Portland’s downtown, the flip side was that it was good for pedestrians.

IMG_0423I’m a big fan of Little Lad’s popcorn, whose “herbal” variety is available here in New York City. Therefore, I was happy to have stumbled upon the Little Lad’s Cafe, which had a plethora of Little Lad’s flavors I had not previously enjoyed. (That said, the original “Herbal” flavor remains my favorite.)

IMG_0426Time was running out (time always seems to be running out while I’m on the road), but I was able to squeeze in one last record store visit. In addition to LPs, Electric Buddha had a variety of old video games as well as a nicely-curated selection of pop culture detritus.

IMG_0425I focused my energy on the records, per usual, and among those I walked away with was “Early Steppenwolf.” This 1967 live LP has since blown my mind to an extent I wasn’t expecting.

And, hey, that’s all I’ve got, as my 2015 road trip posts are now 100% complete. I ended the season looking like this; expect a leaner, meaner and cleaner Ben’s Biz in 2016.

IMG_04132016 ballpark trip schedule coming soon. Hope to see you on the road!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Father, son and lobster in Portland

To see all posts from my September 4, 2015 visit to the Portland Sea Dogs (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

Embden, a small town in central Maine, is surrounded by the Kennebec and Carrabassett Rivers. The town’s website declares that its current population is an estimated 939 people, who are “proud of our history and optimistic about our future.”

I met two of those proud and optimistic people at the Sept. 4 Portland Sea Dogs game: Erik Carey and his 11-year-old son, Luke.

047Embden is over 100 miles north of Portland; one would think that would be a prohibitive distance for Erik and Luke to travel on a regular basis. But if one would think that, then one would think wrong.

Erik and Luke are Sea Dogs season-ticket holders, who regularly make the long drive to Hadlock Field together.

“My wife has been to one game, my daughter has been to one. I think Luke and I have been to about 30,” said Erik, an eighth-grade teacher with 20 years of experience in the education field.

On these frequent father and son excursions to Hadlock Field, Dad drives while his son reads. These trips are so long and so frequent that Luke was able to read the bulk of the entire Harry Potter series while riding alongside his dad on trips to and from the ballpark.

On this particular evening, Erik and Luke varied up their Sea Dogs routine by serving as my designated eaters (you know, the individuals recruited to consume the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

We began at the Shipyard Brew Pen, located at the far end of the third-base line.

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Shortly after we arrived in the area, there was a commotion behind us — shouts, squeals, nervous glances toward the sky and the sound of uncertain footsteps.

A foul ball was headed our way!

Erik dove for cover, but Luke kept his eyes on the prize. The ball bounced off of the asphalt and onto the roof of the Brew Pen, whereupon it rolled straight down and into Luke’s waiting hands.

Congratulations to Luke, the first-ever designated eater to snag a foul ball.

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The Shipyard Brew Pen sells lobster rolls, and when in Maine, you’ve gotta get a lobster roll. Right?

The Sea Dogs’ lobster rolls are provided by Beal’s Lobster Pier.

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Now it was Erik’s time to shine.

“This is pretty good…” Erik began.

“But not as good as my catch!” interrupted Luke, still psyched to have snagged an official game-used Eastern League ball. But back to Erik:

“Uh, um, uh, there’s so much pressure,” he said, searching for a way to describe the lobster roll. “Let me take one more bite.”

043“Does it taste like an egg salad?” asked Luke.

“No…” said Erik, still at a loss for words. He and Luke then commiserated briefly, using teamwork to come up with the following lobster roll description:

“The creaminess of the lobster melds well with the crunch of the bread.”

Erik, like the lobster, was now on a roll.

“The best part is that that the meat is not rubbery, and the sauce, there’s just enough,” he continued. “I’m really getting the lobster taste, not the mayonnaise.”

“Hey, you’re doing good!” said Luke.

“Yeah. Thanks, Buddy.”

For dessert, it was my duty to procure Luke and Erik a Muddy Biscuit from a concourse concession stand such as this.

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New for the 2015 season, the Muddy Biscuit is a chocolate-dipped variation of the Hadlock Field treat known as the Sea Dog Biscuit: Shain’s of Maine vanilla ice cream served between two chocolate chip cookies.

Luke, introducing the Muddy Biscuit:

Like father, like son.

046Luke is no stranger to Sea Dog Biscuits and Muddy Biscuits, estimating that he’d had about “40 or 50” of them this season.

“This makes me sound like a bad parent,” said Erik. “Just wait until Mom reads this. … See, it’s not the cost of the travel down here. It’s not the cost of the tickets. I’m getting crushed by him at the concession stand.”

Luke wasn’t phased by his Dad’s accusations. He was lost in a dessert-based reverie.

“Would you say that the cookies and the ice cream complement one another? I’d say they do.”

“I don’t know,” replied Erik, before deciding that Luke’s Muddy Biscuit hypothesis was dead on. “It’s the perfect combination of a baked good and ice cream. Separate they are awesome, but when you put two great things together, you can’t go wrong.”

This sounded like an analogy for the father-and-son relationship — “When you put two great things together, you can’t go wrong.” Seeking to give Erik a rare upper hand in the dialogue, I asked Luke, “On a scale of 1-10, how thankful are you that your Dad takes you to these games?”

After much hemming and hawing, Luke grudgingly replied “10.”

“See, he doesn’t want to say anything nice about me,” said Erik. “Because he knows that I’ll remind him at the most inopportune moment.”

Note: My 2015 “On the Road” blog posts and articles are now finished. Thanks to everyone who followed along, and please feel free to get in touch any time about anything. Now the offseason truly begins. I’m going on vacation.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: The Maine Event in Portland

To see all posts from my September 4, 2015 visit to the Portland Sea Dogs (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

“This place smells good and looks good.”

The above sentence is scrawled in my notebook, on one of the pages dedicated to chronicling my evening at Hadlock Field. So, yeah, I was in a pretty good mood during this Friday evening ballgame against the New Britain Rock Cats. (Yes, the same New Britain Rock Cats who had already played their final home game, and who were now in the midst of their last-ever series.)

029Even the Trash Monster was smelling pretty good on this idyllic late-summer evening.

030Yes, you can actually throw your trash inside the Trash Monster. He is an anthropomorphic garbage can, and his diligent research on my part resulted me in learning that his favorite movie is The Garbage Picking Field Goal Kicking Philadelphia Phenomenon

I was particularly happy to have run into the Trash Monster, as I ended up missing out on some other key elements of the Sea Dogs’ gameday experience. The “Lobster Toss” between-inning contest occurred when I was at the concession stands with my designated eater, so I was unable to document that grand Portland tradition. Furthermore, I never got to see the “Home Run Lighthouse” emerge from beyond the center field wall, as no Sea Dogs players went deep in the ballgame. Spoiler alert! The Sea Dogs failed to score even a single run.

But life goes on, long after the thrill of blogging about it is gone. After saying goodbye to Trash Monster, I went upstairs to visit the press box.

036The view from the radio booth is a particularly good one.

IMG_0432And it’s probably even better once stuffed Slugger no longer blocks the view.

IMG_0431With this as my vantage point, I spent an inning on the radio with Sea Dogs broadcaster Mike Antonellis. That’s Mike on the left, and on the right is….is…I’m sorry, I can’t read my notes. Please forgive me, sir, and tell me your name one more time as it has slipped just beyond memory’s reach.

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Update: His name’s Mark!

mark

The path from the press box down to the front office is a treacherous one.

033But I didn’t go that route. I took the elevator, under the watchful eye of Slugger.

I was now closer to the ground.

037The ballgame was played with grace and alacrity, moving at a jackrabbit clip throughout. After meeting with my designated eater — this will be documented in the next post — it was already the seventh inning. The scoreboard contained nothing but zeroes and the denizens of the visitor’s bullpen were growing restless.

049I didn’t get a good photo, but here’s Frank the usher leading the crowd in the requisite between-inning version of “Sweet Caroline.”

051Frank, a retired postal worker, used be an usher at Fenway Park. I caught up with him after the game; note that he is singing into a plastic American Idol microphone and that his name tag reads “Neil Diamond.”

064Time was running out, and my opportunities to document new stadium vantage points was running out right along with it. With grace and alacrity, moving at a jackrabbit clip, I set my coordinates for the pavilion seats in right field.

I took this photo en route, simply because right angles are not common within seating bowl curvature.

054 This entire right field section emulates the “Monster Seats” at Fenway Park. Here’s the view from the last row.

055To my right was a giant inflatable L.L. Bean boot.

056The Rock Cats finally broke through with three runs in the eighth inning. As the bottom of the ninth approached, the score remained 3-0. Slugger tried to rev up the crowd with a skit in which he dressed up as Rocky, which is weird because the mascot of the opposing team is actually named Rocky.

The Sea Dogs bullpen was like, “Whatever, dude. Can’t you just get to the end of this post? It’s, like, November now. It’s time to move on.”

061The inimitably-named Forrestt Allday singled to lead off the ninth, but that was followed by a double play and a strikeout.

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The game was over, having taken just two hours and one minute to play.

My last act of the game — and the season — was to record my requisite Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day. (And, yes, it was “Bark in the Park Night.” I just didn’t get any good dog photos.)

I’ve got nothing left to write.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Replica Monsters and Big Boots in Portland

To see all posts from my September 4, 2015 visit to the Portland Sea Dogs (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

There are seven Minor League Baseball teams in New England, distributed with admirable equity on a state-by-state basis. There are two in Connecticut and one each in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. I have already documented my ballpark visits to all of the teams in all of these states, save for one.

Did I save the best for last? You tell me.

Yes, my ballpark travels culminated in Portland, Maine. Not only was Hadlock Field my last stop of the 2015 season, it was also the last Eastern League team I had yet to visit. When I arrived at the ballpark, it was with a sense of satisfaction, exhaustion, anticipation and sadness. It was all going to end here, at a ballpark that opened in 1994 and has hosted the Sea Dogs ever since. (The Sea Dogs were one of two Eastern League expansion teams in 1994; this expansion was a result of the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies joining the MLB ranks.)

004Slugger the Sea Dog has some serious musculature in that left arm of his, as he is able to perpetually hoist up a bulky electronic sign without breaking a sweat.

003If one were to turn around 180 degrees, and look in the same direction that Slugger is looking, one would see a tableau similar to the following. Hadlock Field is located in Portland proper, just off of route 295, west of the heart of downtown.

006Just down the street, on the first-base side of the stadium, stands a statue of a different sort. This, the work of sculptor Rhonda Sherbell, is called “American Baseball Family.” It was installed in 2007, and the source of at least one hilarious and oft-maddening Baseball Think Factory thread.

001

I think the Dad has gotten fed up for some reason, and now trying to sell the tickets to a more baseball-worthy family. The boy is like “Are you kidding me?” while Mom has her hands full to the point where she doesn’t really care one way of the other.

002Mom just can’t seem to shake that Teddy Bear from her palm. That thing must’ve been coated with adhesive.

007Upon arriving, I was welcomed as a visiting celebrity should be welcomed.

010My logo was designed by Sean Kane. The Sea Dogs logo was designed by cartoonist Guy Gilchrist, who is probably best known for writing and drawing Nancy. It just occurred to me that “Sluggo” is a key character in the Nancy strip, and Slugger is the Sea Dogs mascot. I think some sort of Nancy and Slugger mash-up is in order. How about it, Mr. Gilchrist?

Hadlock Field’s outfield is a colorful cornucopia of props, signage and seats. On the far right in the below photo, mostly obscured, is a pavilion featuring Fenway-emulating “Monster Seats.” There is also an inflatable L.L. Bean boot, installed atop the elevated outfield bullpens.

008Here’s a closer look at the boot. Note that a pitcher is warming up in front of the “SymQuest” sign. There is also a sign for Bangor Savings Bank, and who knows? Maybe that’s where Stephen King keeps his money.

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From 1994 through 2002, the Sea Dogs were a Marlins affiliate. This made sense — the Sea Dogs owe their existence to MLB’s 1993 expansion — but was obviously less than ideal. The team became a Boston affiliate in 2003, however, and this obviously was ideal as Portland is most certainly a part of Red Sox Nation.

Hadlock Field’s “Green Monster” was added prior to the 2003 season in celebration of the affiliation; the Sea Dogs’ Monster is the same height as Fenway (37 feet) and even includes the names of Sea Dogs owners Dan and Bunny Burke in Morse Code on the scoreboard (the Yawkeys are immortalized similarly at Fenway). Dan Burke died in 2011, and his son Bill now serves as team chairman. Former Eastern League president Charlie Eshbach, the 2013 “King of Baseball,” was the Sea Dogs’ first employee and team president.

009

The home dugout looks normal enough…

012 …except that there is a toilet located at the far end (as in the end closest to first base). I don’t think I’d ever seen a toilet in the dugout before. Usually the closest one is in the clubhouse, or in the tunnel leading to the clubhouse.

At first I thought that Slugger was reprimanding me for taking video and photos of the dugout bathroom.

015But it turns out that he was just Voguing.

016

Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it

Before leaving the field for less-greener pastures, I interviewed Sea Dogs pitcher Matt McCarthy about his charity work in general and involvement with Baseball Miracles in particular. It’s a worthwhile story.

Meanwhile, the gates had opened and fans were streaming into the concourse. It was the Friday of Labor Day weekend, and the number of fans wearing shorts and a long-sleeve shirts illustrates summer’s transition into fall.

018The Friday of Labor Day weekend was a pretty good night to attend a game, but, of course and as always, it wasn’t the best game that I could have been in attendance. If I had only come two days later, I would have witnessed the Sea Dogs’ signature “Field of Dreams Game.” The players, wearing 1926 Portland Eskimos uniforms, literally emerge from a cornfield en route to mingling with the fans and thanking them for their support.

field of dreamsNothing of that magnitude was going on this evening, however. Dustin Pedroia was being inducted onto the team’s Wall of Fame, but this was done in absentia as Dustin was otherwise engaged in Boston. Sea Dogs media relations director Chris Cameron, who was very helpful both before and during my visit, can be seen in the plaque’s reflection. Hi, Chris.

011Dustin is one of many Sea Dogs to have made it to the Majors. This list is alphabetical; knuckleballer Charlie Zink is the last one on it.

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And as for Hadlock Field itself? It was named after a local high school baseball coach.

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Meanwhile, back out on the field, the game was rapidly approaching. Patriotic songs were in the process of being sung.

023And then it was time to play ball.

027Hadlock Field is beautiful, and there is still much more to come. My 2015 season in blogging ain’t quite done yet.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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About Last Night: Portland Sea Dogs, September 4, 2015

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing an on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my presumed return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

2015 “On the Road” landing page — including complete itinerary — HERE! 

September 4, 2015:  Hadlock Field, home of the Portland Sea Dogs (Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox)

Opponent: New Britain Red Sox, 7:05 p.m. start time

Hadlock Field, from the outside: 

004Hadlock Field, from within: 

IMG_0431Culinary Creation: Maine Lobster Roll

041Ballpark Character: Slugger the Sea Dog. He was voguing.

016

At Random: Why, yes, that is his real name.

062Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

Up Next: 

The 2016 season

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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