They got a break by starting the 2014 season in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, giving Hadlock Field a chance to thaw and dry out.
After a week on the road, the Portland Sea Dogs will put on the home whites Thursday, starting a seven-game homestand. Opening ceremonies are scheduled for 5:50 p.m., with the game starting at 6:20 p.m.
“I am very excited,” said Sea Dogs General Manager Geoff Iacuessa.
That’s what you would expect a general manager to say on the eve of the home opener. But Iacuessa is especially delighted with the new toys at Hadlock – two new video boards.
The large screen, 17 feet by 53 feet, replaced a message board in left-center field, while a 9-foot-by-18½-foot board replaced a board in right field that was larger but 10 years old.
Among the features planned for the big board is the return of highlights from Boston Red Sox games – a feature that hasn’t been seen in Hadlock in the past two years.
The smaller board will be a baseball fan’s delight. It will show, among other things, the pitcher’s statistics, the pitch count, and the type of pitch he’s thrown – a feature similar to one at Fenway Park.
“I’m especially partial to the pitch-count board,” Iacuessa said. “It’s for the true baseball fan.”
Eventually, the Sea Dogs plan to run replays from their own games on the big board, now that all Sea Dogs home games can be seen online, for a fee at www.milb.com.
Iacuessa is hoping that the video boards, various promotions, a more favorable schedule and, perhaps, a winning team will help attract more fans.
Portland ranked fifth in attendance in the 12-team Eastern League last year, but the Sea Dogs’ average home crowd of 5,129 was the lowest in their 20-year history.
Two problems: miserable weather that postponed games or discouraged fans, and an abundance of home games (31) in April and May, when crowds are the smallest. This year’s schedule includes 28 home games in the first two months.
After last season, Iacuessa promised that his staff would market its product more – and the team opted to keep its ticket prices the same as last year’s.
As of Wednesday, Iacuessa said, preseason ticket sales were 24 percent higher than last year’s, although he would not release the number of tickets sold so far. About 1,800 tickets remain for Thursday’s opener.
This year’s team has many of the players – and the manager – who won a minor league championship last year with the advanced Class A Salem Red Sox. Manager Billy McMillon has replaced Kevin Boles, who was promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket.
McMillon, 42, becomes the first Portland manager to have played for the Sea Dogs, in 1995, when Portland was a Florida Marlins affiliate.
The Sea Dogs have their share of top prospects, including pitcher Henry Owens, who was scheduled to pitch Wednesday night in Trenton, N.J. His first start in Portland is tentatively scheduled for Monday.
Starting on the mound tonight will be Keith Couch, a right-hander who had an 11-3 record with Portland last year.
Among the other players to look for are catcher Blake Swihart, shortstop Deven Marrero, second baseman Mookie Betts and first baseman Travis Shaw. All are considered among the top prospects in the Red Sox organization. Swihart, Marrero and Shaw, along with Owens, took part in Boston’s major league spring training camp.
The opening ceremonies will begin with the sounds of the Bellamy Jazz Band, a staple outside the ballpark on special occasions.
The ceremonies on the field will include a dedication to Bill Troubh, the former Portland mayor and Eastern League president who died in November.
Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: