It won’t be long now.

In a little more than two weeks, the Portland Sea Dogs will return to town, take part in the annual welcome-back dinner, take off to play a new division rival, then come back for the home opener April 15.

Here are some facts to mull over while you wait:

The dinner to welcome back the Sea Dogs will be April 6 at the Portland Expo. It’s a casual affair with a chance to meet the players. Tickets are $20 and $10 (for kids under 14). Proceeds benefit Youth Alternatives Ingraham, a social service and mental health care support organization. See the Sea Dogs’ Web site (www.seadogs.com) for more information.

The season opener will be April 8 in Reading, Pa. The Reading Phillies are now in the same division as Portland.

With the Richmond Flying Squirrels (got to love that name, right?) replacing the Connecticut Defenders, the Eastern League changed its divisions from Northern and Southern to Eastern and Western.

The Eastern division is basically the old Northern Division with Reading replacing Connecticut – along with Portland, New Hampshire, New Britain, Binghamton and Trenton.

After four games in Reading, the Sea Dogs will play three in New Britain before returning to Hadlock Field for the first of 71 home games.

Tickets remain available for every home game, although this unusual spring weather may increase the April and May crowds.

The only game where all the box seats and reserved seats are sold out is the July 5 game featuring fireworks. General admission tickets are still available.

Promotions remain a popular draw for Sea Dogs games. The first fireworks game is April 30. The first bobblehead giveaway is May 11 (featuring Daisuke Matsuzaka; maybe he will be here on a rehab assignment). The first sighting of the Zooperstars is June 15.

The one change at Hadlock is an expanded batters’ eye – the background in center field. Through the years a few players have complained that it’s hard to pick up the baseball from the pitcher’s hand because of the advertising signs in center.

The Sea Dogs removed one row of signage on either side of the center-field wall (a total of 32 feet), which makes the eye about 92 feet wide. Above the wall is a dark screen, making the eye 40 feet high.

Above the screen is a Maine Medical Center ad, which includes some white – but it should be high enough not to be a problem.

 

THE ROSTER that will be coming to Portland won’t be announced for some time, but some reasonable guesses can be made.

The Sea Dogs could be a team full of prospects.

Using the Baseball America prospect rankings, Portland could have four of the top 10 Red Sox prospects, and eight of the top 30 – No. 2 Casey Kelly, pitcher; No. 4 Lars Anderson, first base; No. 5 Ryan Kalish, outfielder; No. 9 Jose Iglesias, shortstop; No. 12 Yamaico Navarro, shortstop/third baseman; No. 20 Che-Hsuan Lin, outfielder; No. 24 Luis Exposito, catcher; and No. 26 Kyle Weiland, pitcher.

Richie Lentz was expected to be on the Sea Dogs’ roster, but he abruptly retired last week. Lentz, once considered a solid prospect as a reliever, has struggled with injuries and reportedly was having trouble with his shoulder.

Lentz, 25, put up a 6.75 ERA in 29 appearances with Portland last year.

 

JORGE JIMENEZ was with the Sea Dogs the past two seasons but now is trying to make the major-league roster of the Florida Marlins.

Jimenez, 25, was a Rule V draft pick and must make the Marlins’ 25-man major-league roster or be returned to the Red Sox.

He played third base for Portland but also can play first.

Jimenez has been in nine spring-training games, going 3 for 18 (.167) with two doubles.

Already, another Rule V pick – left-hander Armando Zerpa – was returned to Boston from the Dodgers. Zerpa, 23, had 84 strikeouts in 75 innings of relief in Class A last year. He appeared in 16 games with Salem, so he could go back there next month or possibly head to Portland.

 

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]