Before a game the other day at Hadlock Field, a group of Little Leaguers gathered in front of the Portland Sea Dogs’ dugout for a promotion. Soon a baseball appeared and they found themselves playing catch with Sea Dogs infielder Ryan Court.

Same thing happened before a game last week, when a boy stood behind the fence near the dugout, his glove in hand. Court appeared and the two began tossing a ball back and forth.

It is a kid’s game, after all, and Court always remembers that.

“I know, as a kid, if you can play catch with a professional ballplayer, that’s a lasting memory,” Court said.

You might call Court, 28, a true professional. He and first baseman Nate Freiman, 29, were signed by the Red Sox last month and sent to Portland, providing experience and leadership.

“These guys have been a blast for the club,” said Manager Carlos Febles. “Outgoing guys, willing to help the young guys. They’re great in the clubhouse and they work their butts off, leading by example.

“They just go about it the right way.”

The right way for Court includes engaging fans.

“I just know that I remember going to the Kane County (Illinois) Cougars games, which was an affiliate of the Marlins at the time,” he said. “I remember the times when a guy would throw me a ball. You don’t remember the player but you keep the memory.”

The only player Court remembers from watching the Cougars was catcher Charles Johnson, who would be Portland’s catcher in the Sea Dogs’ first season in 1994.

Sea Dogs fans likely don’t know much about Court, who came up through the Arizona Diamondbacks’ organization and toiled last year for the Sioux City (Iowa) Explorers of the independent American Association.

Court thought he was headed back to Sioux City this year when the Red Sox called, signing him May 2.

“The dream is still alive,” he said. “I get to come out here and play the game that I love.”

Court is from Sleepy Hollow, Illinois, an hour’s drive from Chicago. Court, like his dad, John, is a Cubs fan.

“But my mom (Anita) is from the south side (White Sox territory), so we kind of have a split family,” he said with a grin.

Out of high school, Court had a couple of Division III teams looking at him, but he opted to walk on at Division I Illinois State.

“My dad went to Illinois State and they were an educational school,” said Court.

His parents were both educators – which may explain Court’s 3.77 GPA in college – and Court thought he might become a teacher.

Play pro baseball? Why would Court think that would happen? He was a redshirt his freshman year and sat the bench his whole sophomore season. Finally given a chance to play his last two years, Court earned a scholarship and impressed enough to be drafted by the Diamondbacks in the 23rd round in 2011.

Court moved through the system steadily. In 2013 he batted a combined .315/.918 OPS in Class A and Double-A. But those numbers dropped to .259/.762 in Class A and Double-A in 2014. And just like that, the Diamondbacks cut ties with Court at age 26.

“Getting released is tough. It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “At first you’re in shock. You don’t expect it to happen and it happens.

“You go through the phase of ‘Is the dream dead? What’s going to happen next?’ Then you say goodbye to the guys you’ve played with. I grew up with the D-Backs. I played with them for four years. These guys were some of my best friends.

“Then you don’t know what’s next. You don’t know if you’re moving on to the next chapter in life or if you’re going to keep playing.

“It’s a tough time. You need to have good people around you. I had a great support system – I can’t say enough about my parents. I didn’t give up.”

Court then hooked up with Sioux City.

“The independent leagues are much better competition than what you’d expect,” said Court, who adjusted well enough to bat .331/.874.

Those numbers got noticed by the Red Sox. He not only brings an upbeat attitude and defensive versatility, but is also batting .302/.830

“The big thing for me is getting the chance to play again,” Court said.

And it means more chances to play catch before the games, and make memories.

 


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