OAKLAND — It’s no secret that Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Jim Rice loves baseball.

That enthusiasm for the game was on display Saturday afternoon at Mini Fenway Park in Oakland, as the eight-time American League All Star and former Most Valuable Player was on hand for the ceremony dedicating a new, nearly $600,000 all-turf field. The field will allow both baseball and softball to be played at the two-thirds-scale replica of Boston’s iconic Fenway Park.

Rice turned a ceremonial first pitch into a game of catch, throwing the ball back and forth five times to catcher Daniel Gaunce of the Maine Freeze AAU baseball team.

Upon arriving, Rice led a brief, impromptu lecture on the art of sliding to an audience of sponsor representatives and local officials before he was introduced as the ceremony’s guest speaker.

“Guys should not head-first slide anyway,” Rice said before settling in. “You’re breaking your momentum. You’re taught to slide and spring up. If you slide on your chest, you can’t spring up. How many times have you seen a guy go into second base head first and they overthrow the shortstop or second baseman, and the runner has to stay there?

“And you should never slide into first base,” Rice added.


About 150 people were on hand to see the baseball great and current NESN Red Sox studio analyst. Waterville Boys & Girls Club and the Alfond Youth Center Chief Executive Officer Ken Walsh introduced several corporate sponsors, including South Portland-based Northeast Turf and its CEO, former NFL linebacker John Huard, and Elizabeth Mainiero, grant coordinator of the MLB Tomorrow Fund, a joint project of Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association.

After being serenaded by those in attendance to the Fenway Park staple “Sweet Caroline,” Rice spoke to the gathering.

“To be able to have a field like this to come on and play, thinking about one day maybe playing in a major league ballpark, cherish it; enjoy it,” Rice said. “Make it your home and take care of it.”

Rice, who was voted into the baseball Hall of Fame in his last year of eligibility, in 2009, played his entire 16-year career for the Boston Red Sox, amassing a .298 batting average, with 382 home runs and 1,451 runs batted in.

Addressing Little League teams from Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont that lined the first and third base lines, Rice, who looks as though he could still hit one over Boston’s Green Monster, told the children to enjoy their time playing baseball and not to get caught up in numbers. He also addressed the parents in the audiences, telling them to encourage their children’s effort, no matter the outcome.

“If they go 0-4, take them out to ice cream,” he said. “That’ll make it better.”

The organization and community involvement needed to build and pay for a field like Mini Fenway was tremendous, Rice said, adding that while growing up, he was no stranger to building baseball fields wherever space permitted.

“You’d go to the sandlot or the neighborhood and make your own field. You’d get a couple guys with you and next thing you know, you have second base, first base, the mound,” Rice said, after he signed dozens of baseballs and baseball cards. “I didn’t have this.”

Mini Fenway is licensed by Major League Baseball and the Boston Red Sox. It opened in 2007. The turf renovation was announced in March. The facility serves hundreds of children a year through baseball and softball games and summer camps.

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