PORTLAND — Rob Gronkowski reared back and fired a high, hard strike that popped in the mitt of Portland Sea Dogs catcher Ryan Lavarnway. Then he approached home plate and gave Lavarnway a chest bump.

“A touchdown celebration,” said Gronkowski.

It might be the only one he has for a while.

Gronkowski, who splashed onto the pro football scene as a rookie tight end with the New England Patriots last fall, is biding his time these days, just like every other NFL player.

With the owners and players again staring each other down, and the players locked out of their facilities, Gronkowski is simply waiting to see what happens.

He was in town Tuesday, signing autographs at Hadlock Field before and during the Sea Dogs’ game with the Trenton Thunder.

He also threw out the first pitch, something he said was as nerve-racking as waiting for a Tom Brady pass to settle into his hands in the end zone.

“I was a little nervous going out there to throw that pitch,” said Gronkowski, a first baseman in high school. “I wasn’t going to bounce it.”

His presence in the Portland Room at Hadlock energized the many fans who came to get his signature, pose for photos with him or simply shake his hand.

Some fans, like Lisa Green of Portland, came back several times. She scored a hug the first time through the line and kept coming back until he eventually signed the brim of her Patriots cap.

“He is so amazing,” said Green, who was wearing a Tedy Bruschi Patriots jersey and carrying a Patriot blanket. “I bought tickets to come see him. And now I’m going to stay for the game. It’s a perfect night.”

Gronkowski, selected in the second round (42nd overall) in last year’s draft, was available for about 90 minutes and graciously accepted the compliments and congratulations his fans gave him, stumbling only when one elderly man asked what happened in the Patriots’ season-ending 28-21 upset loss to the New York Jets in the playoffs.

“We don’t talk about that,” said Gronkowski, who caught 42 passes for 546 yards (13.0 average) and 10 touchdowns, which set a Patriots record for tight ends.

For now he’s not sure when he’ll have new football games to talk about.

A sculpted 6-foot-6, 265 pounds, he continues to work out with his Patriots teammates, both in Massachusetts and Florida. He lifts, runs, and works on running routes and catching balls.

He said he gets most of his news on the lockout and labor situation from television reports. He talks with his teammates about it but wouldn’t divulge what they say: “We’ll keep it secret between us.”

Ah, the Patriot way.

Whatever happens, Gronkowski plans to be ready.

“It is what it is,” he said of the labor situation. “When I get the call to go back, I’ll be ready.”

And that, he said, is the most important thing he can do right now. Since no one knows when or if this stalemate will end, the players have to push themselves.

“It’s basically worry about yourself right now, make sure you’re ready to go,” said Gronkowski.

“That’s where I am, worrying about myself, worrying about my family. I know my brothers (Dan, who plays for Denver and Chris, who plays for Dallas) are working hard.

“I know other players are working hard, but you don’t know if everyone is. You’ve just got to worry about yourself at this moment because everyone is on their own right now.”

But for one night, Gronkowski wasn’t alone. He made a lot of people in Portland happy by simply being here and signing his name.

Robin Reinhold of South Portland has a half-season ticket plan with the Sea Dogs. Tuesday’s game wasn’t included, but she made sure she was at the game.

“I had to be here,” she said. “This is Rob Gronkowski. Who wouldn’t want to see him?”

 

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:  [email protected]

 


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