April 18, 2013

Covering the team: 2002-present

Press Herald staff writer Kevin Thomas has covered the Sea Dogs since 2002. Follow him in on Twitter at @ClearTheBases

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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SPECIAL TO THE PORTLAND PRESS HERALD: Portland Sea Dogs Jay Johnson, right, is congratulated by teammates after knocking in the game winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning during the Futures at Fenway baseball game against the Harrisburg Senators, Saturday, Aug. 11, 2007 at Fenway park in Boston. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)


Before the 2004 season ended, Boston’s prized prospect arrived. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez brought a wide smile, a determination to grant every child’s autograph request, and obvious talent.

The start of the 2005 season saw Red Sox GM Theo Epstein’s player development machine getting in gear. Jon Lester and Jonathan Papelbon headed the starting rotation. Manny Delcarmen fired fastballs and his wicked curve in the bullpen. Ramirez played shortstop, and new a second baseman arrived, named Dustin Pedroia. The outfield featured David Murphy and Brandon Moss.

After several prospects were promoted, Lester stayed and became the Eastern League pitcher of the year. Ramirez batted a disappointing .271, then was traded in the offseason.

Devern Hansack symbolized the 2006 Eastern League championship team. A minor league free agent, he won the clinching game and later walked out of the manager’s office, arms raised with Epstein smiling beside him. Hansack was being called up to the majors.

Best scene of the title celebration: A group of champagne-soaked ballplayers gathering respectfully around team owner Dan Burke as he congratulated them.

Jacoby Ellsbury played on that 2006 team and at the start of 2007. There was nothing more thrilling than watching Ellsbury hit a line drive to right-center and fly around the bases for a triple.

The 2006 season also introduced a couple popular players, infielder Iggy Suarez, who would be nicknamed “The Mayor,” and outfielder Jay Johnson.

Johnson experienced highs and lows with Portland. He had the winning hit for the Sea Dogs’ 2007 game at Fenway Park. He also pitched in an extra-inning game, recording the victory, as well as the winning RBI on April 16, 2008. Five days later, Johnson ruptured his Achilles tendon on the base paths, marking the start of the end of his career.

Clay Buchholz arrived in 2007, and his most memorable matchup was in Trenton, N.J., against a rehabbing Roger Clemens. Buchholz allowed two runs over seven innings. Clemens pitched five-plus innings, allowing three runs on six hits (including a Suarez triple).

When Buchholz was promoted, Justin Masterson arrived. The pitching prospects kept coming.

Watching the stadium radar gun became a habit when Daniel Bard arrived in the 2008 season. Triple digits? Sometimes.

Of all the major leaguers who rehabbed in Portland, none created a buzz like Big Papi in 2008. David Ortiz made admission to Hadlock a tough ticket to find.

Taz arrived in 2009. Junichi Tazawa was an unknown from Japan (coming two years after Dice-K). Tazawa showed he had quality stuff.

Blake Maxwell was not a prospect, but he pitched in every role Portland needed. And he was entertaining, especially with his all-out sprints from the mound to the bullpen, even when he was starting.

Tommy Hottovy pitched in six different seasons for Portland, and finally reached the majors in 2011.

Other players have followed – unknowns like Daniel Nava who made it to the majors, and prospects like Will Middlebrooks, Ryan Lavarnway, Jackie Bradley Jr., Jose Iglesias and Xander Bogaerts.

Other memories flood in. Vendor Danielle Jendrasko tossing Sea Dog Biscuits, long lines forming early for bobbleheads (especially Ellsbury’s), Dean Rogers’ homey voice on the public address system, the continued antics of Slugger the mascot, and guest comics such as the Zooperstars (you’ve got to love Clammy Sosa).

And, of course, there is the annual Field of Dreams day, an aptly-named celebration for a gem of a ballpark.


Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:
Twitter: ClearTheBases

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