April 18, 2013

Steve Solloway: Portland’s own Boys of Summer

Those who wear the uniform cultivate a connection with the fans and community that fosters a special relationship.

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Staff Photo by John Ewing, Tue, Apr 16, 2002: Sea Dogs catcher Matt Treanor looks to the umpire for a new ball after starting pitcher Nate Robertson gave up the second of back to back home runs in the second inning against the New Haven Ravens.

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Staff Photo by Herb Swanson, Sun, May 26, 2002: Kevin Millar (L) talks with Dan Burke and his wife Bunny before the start of Sunday's game against the Reading Phillies at Hadlock Field in Portland.

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The intimacy of Hadlock had its effect on big league stars, too. Gary Sheffield, the mercurial outfielder, came in 1994 to rehab an injured left shoulder. He was given explicit instructions by the Marlins to not leave his feet to make a catch. “I guess there will be a big fine if I do,” he said before the game, a smile on his face.

He showed off his major league arm, throwing from the right-field corner across the diamond to third base. But then, he had misplayed two fly balls into triples. “I was jittery,” he said afterward. “There’s a lot of work to be done with my head.”

New York Yankees star Bernie Williams, in Portland with the Trenton Thunder on rehab, fouled off a pitch with the ball hitting a young fan behind the visiting dugout. Williams called time and walked over to check on the youngster and autograph the ball. The gesture earned a loud ovation from a tough crowd of Red Sox fans.

The small confines of Hadlock made David “Big Papi” Ortiz seem even larger when he came to Portland several years ago, but more human at the same time. Last spring, you forgot your frustrations with Daisuke Matsuzaka and welcomed him to the mound. The warmth, he said through his translator, was noticed.

In August of 2007, a capacity crowd of some 7,000 opened its arms to Jon Lester. He wore the Sea Dogs’ colors for a summer before his rise to the Red Sox starting rotation. His career was interrupted by a cancer diagnosis. After beating back the disease he returned to Hadlock on a rehab assignment.

Lester’s walk from the bullpen to the mound to start the game was emotional.

“No one is bigger than the game of baseball,” said Jon Otness, the Sea Dogs catcher that night. “But Jon is a hero. Walking from the bullpen with him is an honor. I’ll never forget tonight.”

The Portland Sea Dogs have allowed you to see and understand the men behind the players in a way you couldn’t at Fenway Park. The experience will always be more personal.

 

Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:
ssolloway@pressherald.com
Twitter: SteveSolloway

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Additional Photos

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STAFF PHOTO BY DAVID MACDONALD -- Sunday, April 13, 1997 -- Mark Kotsay is congratulated by his team-mates after hitting a three run homer in the third inning, his third home run in two days.

  


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