When a blizzard hit Maine last Tuesday, the outlook for early April baseball in Portland looked bleak.
“We measured the snow at home plate Wednesday and it was 11 inches,” said Chris Cameron, the Portland Sea Dogs’ vice president.
But by Monday afternoon, mostly puddles remained at Hadlock, with an occasional streak of snow, as the April 6 season opener approaches in Portland.
Credit the black sand.
The Sea Dogs have incorporated an approach used by others – including the Boston Red Sox – by accelerating the snow-melting process with sand treated with a black dye.
The purpose of the darkened sand is to absorb sunlight, as opposed to lighter colors reflecting the sunlight.
“It’s the first time we’ve used it,” Cameron said. “The field was too soft to get heavy equipment out there, so this was the best course of action.”
The Sea Dogs, who pay for all field maintenance at the city-owned ballpark, contracted Sports Turf Specialties of Wrentham, Massachusetts. The company, which does contract work at Fenway Park, has applied black sand treatment at other facilities, including the New England Patriots’ practice fields, the Lowell Spinners’ ballpark and various college fields.
“This has become a viable resource. It’s less invasive on the turf,” said Ben Leach of Sports Turf Specialties.
“It’s one millimeter of top dressing material. The sand heats up and the dye helps melt the snow.”
The black sand was applied Saturday morning, using a lightweight spreader. On Monday morning, Cameron said there was only a coating of snow left. By the afternoon – with the help of temperatures near 50 degrees – only patches remained.
Granted, the field is still soaked. But “we’ve been in worse shape,” Cameron said.
The Sea Dogs have had four openers postponed by snow at Hadlock – 2001, 2003, 2007 and 2015. All of those featured multiple games being postponed, from two to four games.
The Eastern League, which has teams from Richmond, Virginia, to Portland, is infamous for suffering difficult weather in April and early May.
Each team opens at home every other year.
In 2001, the Sea Dogs tried to use a helicopter to dry the field, to little avail. Three games were postponed.
The 2003 opener was much anticipated because it was the first season affiliated with the Red Sox. But alas, the four-game opening series was snowed out.
In 2007, the first four games again were postponed as the Sea Dogs – including future Red Sox players Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz and Jed Lowrie – worked out at the University of Southern Maine field house.
In 2015, the Sea Dogs “guaranteed” to play their scheduled opener, offering two tickets for one if the game was postponed. It was postponed, as was the next day’s game.
Despite the usually gloomy weather, only 1,400 tickets remain for this year’s season opener at the 7,368-seat ballpark.
“It’s for the love of baseball,” said season-ticket holder Rick Tomazin, 72, of Portland. “It gets us through the winter. You start to look at the calendar, looking forward to it.
“The first few games, we’ll be all bundled up.”
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or: