FORT MYERS, Fla. – After attendance slipped last season, the Portland Sea Dogs went to work and increased their promotions.

But their biggest draw this year could be something other than giveaways, comedy teams or fireworks.

How about a must-see pitcher?

Sea Dogs followers can remember the buzz around Hadlock Field in 2005 when Jonathan Papelbon or Jon Lester pumped in a fastball, or 2007 when Clay Buchholz showed off his arsenal. Both Justin Masterson (2007-08) and Junichi Tazawa (2009) pitched to appreciative crowds.

In 2012, Anthony Ranaudo should be, as they say, worth the price of admission.

Ranaudo, 22, is a polite man from a close family. He sends out profound thoughts on Twitter, and cries every time at the end of his favorite movie.

Plus, Ranaudo delivers an overpowering fastball, a free-falling curveball, and an improved change-up. We’re talking ace material.

“He is throwing the ball really, really well,” Sea Dogs pitching coach Bob Kipper said. “He is probably throwing better than anybody in minor league camp.

“The quality of stuff. His mound presence. His ability to repeat a delivery. His execution. Geez, we could make a list.”

Kipper has not worked directly with Ranaudo, yet, but has watched him.

“He touched 97 (mph) in the outing I saw,” Kipper said. “He threw three innings and there were a lot of swings and misses, and late swings to the fastball. Pretty impressive.”

Ranaudo, who is 6-foot-7, was so impressive in college, at Louisiana State University, it figured that Boston would never get him because it did not have an early draft pick.

But Ranaudo developed a sore elbow his junior year in 2010 and teams shied away.

“It was just an overuse injury,” Ranaudo said. “I took three weeks off and was fine.”

Boston drafted him that year with its third pick, 39th overall.

Before he signed with Boston, Ranaudo demonstrated he was healthy again by dominating in the Cape Cod League. The Red Sox gave him a $2.5 million signing bonus.

In his first pro season in 2011, Ranaudo cruised through low Class A Greenville (4-1, 3.33) and then was up and down in advanced Class A Salem (5-5, 4.33).

“Did well in Greenville and thought ‘Man this five-day routine is a piece of cake.’ Then July rolled around, and you’re starting to feel the effects of five-day routine, compared to college,” said Ranaudo, who pitched every seven days at LSU.

“There were times when my stuff was great and times when I had to really grind through the start. It’s all a great learning lesson.”

The Red Sox have not officially announced Ranaudo is coming to Portland, although General Manager Ben Cherington said two months ago it was Ranaudo’s destination.

There is also the issue of a “tweak” of Ranaudo’s groin muscle, which ended his previous start last week. He said he is day to day, but the Red Sox may be extra cautious and hold him back in Fort Myers, Fla.

When Ranaudo does make it to Portland, his family, headed by parents Angelo and Sharon, will be visiting from their home in Jackson, N.J.

“They are a huge influence,” Ranaudo said. “I hope I can raise my kids the way they raised my sister and I.”

You get a sense of how Ranaudo was raised from his Twitter account. He recently was in a restaurant and spotted a family of four, not conversing.

“They were all looking at their phones, not talking,” said Ranaudo, who tweeted his displeasure. “When I was a kid, I couldn’t bring my Gameboy into the car. The family talked with each other.”

Another tweet read; “Being humble, confident and positive. Tough balance, but the goal is to achieve it.”

Ranaudo made that one up himself. Another tweet simply states “Romans 8:31,” referencing his favorite Bible passage. “Romans 8:31 is also tattooed on his left bicep.

While he has memorized the passage, Ranaudo can also recite much of the movie “For Love of the Game,” a Kevin Costner flick about an aging pitcher and his emotions as he throws a perfect game.

“When he gets the final out for the perfect game, it makes me choke up a little bit,” Ranaudo said. “It’s true. All my friends make fun of me for it. I can’t help it.

“That’s what you strive for as a pitcher, every time you take the ball, to put yourself in that moment.”

Someday, Ranaudo might pitch his perfect game. You can see him try it at Hadlock Field.

Now that’s a promotion.

 

Staff writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at [email protected]

Twitter: ClearTheBases