April 18, 2013

Covering the team: 1994-2001

Press Herald staff writer Glenn Jordan covered the Sea Dogs from 1994-2001.

By Glenn Jordan gjordan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Annette Funicello, an original Mouseketeer who died April 8, was 17 when she dated Paul Anka. She inspired his hit song, Puppy Love.

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Special for Dave Ruff, Springfield Union News Portland Newspapers PHOTO BY MERRY FARNUM -- April 18, 1994 -- Opening day at Hadlock Field in Portland, Maine where the Portland Sea Dogs play. On the left is the Portland Exposition Building; in back is Park Avenue. Most parking is on adjacent streets in the area. A shuttle buse runs from more distant lots in the city.

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STAFF PHOTO BY JOHN EWING -- Thursday, July 17, 1997 -- Slugger, the Portland Sea Dogs mascot, congratulates Alan Meserve, of Ossipee, N.H., for winning a between inning race around the bases at a recent game at Hadlock Field.

 

 

Oh, I guess they’ll never know
How a young heart really feels

 

In 1994, the year the Sea Dogs arrived in Portland, people knew exactly how a young heart feels.

A city bereft of professional baseball for 45 years embraced the young pups. They weren’t very good – not at first – but they exuded hope and determination and the promise of better days.

Their affiliation was with the nascent Florida Marlins, a franchise that had started play only a year earlier, and was far enough away that it may as well have been Saskatoon.

That distance, both geographically and emotionally, meant the Sea Dogs belonged to us. Sure, it’s all well and good that the Dogs are now affiliated with the Red Sox, and alumni can be seen at Fenway or on cable television. It’s a nice connection, beneficial to both sides, but it also makes Portland something of a Boston satellite, a junior partner.

When the Sea Dogs wore teal and black, they were nobody’s business but our own.

The first year’s group included one bona fide prospect – catcher Charles Johnson – amid a collection of castoffs and spare parts from other organizations. You can find the names on Page 12. A few lasted several seasons in the big leagues – Vic Darensbourg, Marc Valdes – but most did not.

It was Johnson’s 14th inning home run that won their inaugural game, on a frigid night in Reading, Pa. The Sea Dogs won two more before stumbling through a 10-game losing streak that included their Hadlock opener, an action-packed 7-6 loss that ended with a Greg O’Halloran bases-loaded drive to center being hauled in by a running, tumbling Jason Robertson, who would later play for the ’96 Sea Dogs.

A retractable lighthouse rose above the center-field fence after every Sea Dogs home run and victory. They won 60 games – one more than last-place New Britain (then a Red Sox affiliate) in the Eastern League’s Northern Division. Even so, Johnson won the EL home run title and Sea Dogs fans – talk about being smitten – surpassed the league attendance record by more than 50,000.

In 1995, as more prospects arrived courtesy of the architects behind the productive Montreal Expos farm system – General Manager David Dombrowski and minor league director John Boles – the Sea Dogs started winning with regularity. They wound up 30 games over .500 to finish atop the EL North for the first of three straight seasons. The infield of Lou Lucca at third, Edgar Renteria at short and Ralph Milliard at second was as good as any that followed.

Baseball wasn’t the sole attraction. The pride of the litter, for an outfit built with family entertainment in mind, was and still is Slugger. Yes, the furry mascot who first appeared in May of ’94 played a leading role in the romance of team and town.

Slugger could have been lame – and actually was, briefly, when good-naturedly mocking an opposing manager who had torn his hamstring the previous day while racing out of the dugout to argue a call – but he wasn’t. A collegiate gymnast (and now a Portland lawyer who still enjoys his anonymity) made sure the original Slugger always had a hop in his step, a twinkle in his eye and mischief in his mind.

He went to mascot camp. He studied from the Phillie Phanatic. He developed routines and used stooges, never so effectively as with his scheme to coerce a seemingly-unsuspecting vendor into dancing atop the visiting dugout so his bag full of ice-cream biscuits could be plundered and dispersed to the delighted crowd.

(Continued on page 2)

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