When Sean Coyle first walked into the Hadlock Field clubhouse in April, he looked as comfortable as if he’d been there for years. It was not because of the building, but because of the teammates surrounding him.
Coyle, like many of the current Sea Dogs roster, were members of the advanced Class A Salem Red Sox, the team that won the Carolina League last year.
Good players. True, but there is more.
“Beyond the talent, the personality of this team will be the driving force,” said Coyle, who is one of four Sea Dogs scheduled to participate in the Eastern League All-Star game Wednesday.
And just look at these Sea Dogs, with a 63-34 record, the best winning percentage (.649) at the All-Star break in franchise history.
And if you look at the other Sea Dogs teams that were at least at a .590 percentage, you get an idea where Portland is headed. The 1995-97 teams – from the glory days as a Marlins affiliate – and the 2006 team all reached the Eastern League playoffs. And the 2006 team delivered the only league championship in team history.
Like all good minor league teams, the Sea Dogs have lost players to promotions, including infielder/outfielder Mookie Betts, infielder Deven Marrero, first baseman Travis Shaw and reliever Miguel Celestino.
More are expected to move on, including ace Henry Owens and, maybe, catcher Blake Swihart.
But the Sea Dogs still have plenty to contend with, including Coyle and a group of veteran minor leaguers.
The top two teams in the Eastern League East reach the playoffs. Portland leads second-place Binghamton (58-38) by 4½ games. New Britain (47-47) is 14½ games back in third place.
SWIHART IS putting up numbers worthy of promotion, although the Red Sox usually keep their Double-A catchers around for nearly a full season.
Swihart, 22, is batting .296 with a .351 on-base percentage and .485 slugging average (.836 OPS).
He has 10 home runs.
“Good so far,” Swihart said. “Just trying to stay consistent.”
His consistency is apparent in his switch-hitting: .292 with six home runs batting right, .298 with four home runs batting left.
Defensively, Swihart leads all Double-A catchers with a .540 percentage throwing out stealers (27 of 50).
As for a promotion, Swihart answered the question before being asked.
“It’s not up to us which level we play at,” he said. “We just got to go out there and play.”
Swihart has not only seen teammates move up this year, including Betts to the majors, he also saw one of his catching colleagues from spring training, Christian Vazquez, make it to Boston last week.
“It’s a lot of fun seeing a buddy go up and succeeding,” Swihart said.
“Seeing those guys go up there gives everybody hope. You know there are opportunities.”
THE EASTERN LEAGUE All-Star Game is in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Seven Sea Dogs were named All-Stars, although pitchers Owens, Brian Johnson and Noe Ramirez will not participate (likely because the Red Sox said no). The four that are involved are Swihart, Coyle, infielder/outfielder Derrik Gibson and reliever Robby Scott.
Next year’s Eastern League All-Star Game does not have an official location yet. But a larger than normal contingent of Sea Dogs staff is attending the game and festivities in Altoona.
Next year, it will be an East Division team’s turn to be host, and Portland has not hosted the game since 1995.
Sounds like Hadlock will be full of All-Stars next year.
THE TWEET of the week belongs to Coyle, who was flying out of Minnesota Sunday after the All-Star Futures Game. Coyle tweeted a picture of his gate (E-4) at the airport, with the caption: “Not a good gate for a second baseman.”