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.

Matt Treanor was a Portland Sea Dogs catcher and thousands of miles from home in the summer of 2001. Twenty-five years old, he was in his seventh minor league season and his future didn’t look bright.

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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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Not known for his hitting, he was batting an absurdly low .141 but wasn’t ready to give up. “This is my life,” he said, sitting in an empty dugout at Hadlock Field. “This is my trade. If I ever get to the big leagues, I’ll walk onto the field and probably start crying my eyes out.”

Treanor was one reason among dozens why Maine baseball fans have embraced their Sea Dogs. For every Josh Beckett or Hanley Ramirez or Dustin Pedroia who oozed confidence, there were many more who exposed their youth while trying to hide their vulnerability. They became your Boys of Summer with the emphasis on boys.

Treanor grew up in Southern California, playing baseball and working part time at the stadium where the then-California Angels played their games. He worked at Disneyland, down the road. Signed by Kansas City out of high school, he was given an airline ticket to his first training camp but wasn’t allowed to board the plane when he reported to the gate.

He was a day early for the first flight of his life.

When he finally reached Portland years later, he was the kid who handled pitchers and people well. Teammates loved him, even if he couldn’t hit his weight of 225.

In 2001 he didn’t even own a car. He borrowed a sister’s 1967 Karman Ghia when he was home. It didn’t have a working speedometer or gas gauge. When we talked that day, he talked about other desires. “I want a family, I want kids but I don’t even have a girlfriend.”

Three years after that, he reached the big leagues with the Florida Marlins. He played nine years with several major league teams, mostly as a back-up catcher. He found the right girl and married her. Misty May-Treanor is recognized the world over for winning three Olympic gold medals in beach volleyball.

You cheered for Matt Treanor when you met him in 2001 and haven’t really stopped.

If Treanor showed us humility, Mark Kotsay showed us accountability. He let a ball go through his legs in center field on opening day in 1997. He had to turn and chase it to the wall. He was 21 and took ownership for the error in the clubhouse afterward.

“Outfielders never want the crowd to see the number on their backs. What happened to me was humiliating. I wanted to find a hole and bury myself.”

Nearby, starting pitcher Gregg Press was answering questions. “Go ahead, Press. Tell the truth,” Kotsay said loudly. “Tell ’em how much you’d like to kill me.”

Press grinned.

Long before Kevin Millar became the Fenway Jester in 2004, he showed Sea Dogs fans how to take the game seriously but have fun at the same time. Before the start of the 1997 season he, team president Charlie Eshbach and pitcher Bryan Ward walked onto the ice between periods at a Portland Pirates game with hockey sticks in their hands. They were celebrity contestants for the popular Score-O game, getting one shot at getting the puck through the very small opening in the board that was placed across the goal net.

Eshbach was unsuccessful. Ward had great form – this wasn’t the first time he’d had a hockey stick in his hands – but his shot was nowhere near the hole.

Millar was last.

“I swung, it went wobble, wobble and it went in. I couldn’t believe it,” said Millar months later. The Pirates crowd roared and Millar did a jig on the ice. That summer he broke the Sea Dogs’ single-season home run record held by Charles Johnson. Just before the season ended with a loss to Harrisburg in the Eastern League playoffs, Millar admitted that hearing his name in the same sentence with Johnson, the Sea Dogs’ first star, meant a lot to him.

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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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