The Sea Dogs officially became an affiliate of the Boston Red Sox before the 2003 season, but their ties go back further.
Dave McHugh, a retired mail carrier from South Portland, has been a fixture with both clubs for more than two decades.
While vacationing in Winter Haven, Fla., at the old Red Sox spring training facility, he got to know the folks working concessions. One day they were short on staff, and sought his help. Afterward, they asked him to come back the following year.
A few years later, when they shifted operations to the Gulf Coast and Fort Myers in 1993, the Red Sox offered McHugh a position in security, overseeing the lot where players and coaches park.
He’s been there since. When spring training ends, McHugh, now 76, loads his pickup truck and returns to Maine, where he keeps an eye on the Sea Dogs’ clubhouse and the aspiring players.
Through it all, he sports an infectious smile and is always ready with an encouraging word or an upraised thumb. He’s a people person, eternally optimistic.
“Obviously, I like baseball,” he said. “I like to see the kids grow, too. You can see the ones you think will make it and you can see the ones who you won’t think make it, and it usually comes out that way.”
Not always, though. As much as he liked Dustin Pedroia personally, McHugh wondered if the one player – among all these grand physical specimens – whose height matched that of McHugh could survive in such an unforgiving sport.
“Boy, he showed me wrong,” McHugh said. “He’s always had that label – Too Small. I know I was always Too Small. But I never knew he’d be anywhere near as good as he’s turned out.”
McHugh was only 10 when his father took him to Fenway Park for the first time. It was 1946. Ted Williams hit a home run to win the game. He was hooked.
In 1974, he was among a small group that walked from South Portland to Fenway to help raise more than $8,000 for the Jimmy Fund. Years later, after having befriended Williams in Winter Haven, McHugh was invited to be an extra in a Nissen bread television commercial featuring Yogi Berra and Williams, filmed at the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame in Hernando, Fla.
“One of the greatest days of my life,” McHugh said.
Another came in spring training of 1997, when a Marlins squad filled with former Sea Dogs traveled across Florida to play the Sox in Fort Myers, and McHugh’s worlds converged.
“I feel,” he said, “like I’m in heaven.”
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: