Back in June 1992, 13 applicants submitted paperwork, hoping to land one of the two expansion baseball franchises in the Double-A Eastern League. Dan Burke, president and CEO of Capital Cities/ABC, was one of them. Burke and his family owned a vacation home in Kennebunkport and he wanted to locate a franchise in Portland.

The next month the Portland City Council voted to support Burke’s quest – an important vote considering the council passed on a chance to obtain an Eastern League team in 1982 when the Bristol, Connecticut, Red Sox were looking to move.

On Oct. 4, 1992, the Eastern League awarded franchises to Portland and New Haven, Connecticut, beginning with the 1994 season. In 1993, the Sea Dogs became affiliated with the Florida Marlins.

Minor league sports teams are never a sure thing – New Haven lost its team after 10 years – but the Sea Dogs have thrived, entering their 25th season in 2018.

Hadlock Field remains home to the Sea Dogs, and a destination to baseball fans – from the stouthearted in the April cold, to the eclectic summer crowds of local fans and visitors from away. Thousands arrive every year. They wait in line for bobblehead giveaways or at the autograph table. They take pictures, especially with the team’s mascot, Slugger, or the Slugger statue out front. They take in a game, one moment applauding, the next moment flagging down a vendor for a Sea Dog Biscuit ice cream sandwich or two.

The promotions are constant, from the reliable fireworks to Zooperstars and the most anticipated of all, when players emerge from the corn stalks in center field on Field of Dreams Day.


The Sea Dogs brought professional baseball to Portland, and much more. They are the most successful pro sports venture in Maine, providing memories every season.

Here are 25 memories to look back on:


The Sea Dogs played their first season opener in Reading, Pennsylvania, on April 7, 1994. Jesus Tavarez slapped a single to center for the franchise’s first hit. Catcher Charles Johnson, the team’s one true star and the first Sea Dog to reach the majors, homered in the 14th inning for a 2-1 victory over the Phillies.


On April 18, 1994, after Kathie Lee Gifford sang the national anthem and Frank Gifford threw out the first pitch, the Sea Dogs played their first game at Hadlock Field. Professional baseball had returned to Portland after an absence of 45 years. A sold-out crowd watched Portland rally late before losing 7-6 to the Yankees of Albany-Colonie, New York, when future Sea Dog Jason Robertson chased down a deep drive to center by Greg O’Halloran to end the game.



In only their second season, in 1995, the Sea Dogs became a juggernaut, winning 86 games (a record that lasted 19 years). Shortstop Edgar Renteria, catcher Mike Redmond, outfielder Billy McMillon and reliever Jay Powell were among more than a dozen future major leaguers on the roster. The season ended prematurely when the New Haven Ravens take a best-of-five divisional series in four games.


In Game 4 of the 1996 Eastern League championship series, it became evident that Harrisburg would win the title, leading Portland 6-1. Hadlock fans rose and remained standing from the last out in the top of the ninth to well after the visiting Senators finished off the Sea Dogs. The sustained ovation left an impression on everyone in the home dugout. “One of the most memorable moments of my life,” Manager Carlos Tosca said. “This place is special.”


On Aug. 15, 1997, the Sea Dogs first staged what has become their most popular promotion. Radio broadcaster Andy Young, dressed as the James Earl Jones character from “Field of Dreams,” recited the “one constant is baseball” monologue before the team, led by Manager Fredi Gonzalez and wearing replica 1926 Portland Eskimos flannel uniforms, emerged from a makeshift cornfield hiding in center field.



In the early years, Hadlock Field surrendered plenty of home runs with its left-field wall 315 feet from home plate and only 16 feet tall (compared to 37 feet today). In 1997 the Sea Dogs became the first minor league team to have five players hit 20 or more home runs – Kevin Millar, Ryan Jackson, John Roskos, Mark Kotsay and Josh Booty. Alex Gonzalez hit three in one game but finished the season at 19.


With seven former Sea Dogs on the roster, the Florida Marlins win the 1997 World Series over Cleveland, which held a lead in all seven games. Pitcher Livan Hernandez was named MVP of the series. In the deciding Game 7, Edgar Renteria delivered a two-out single to score the winning run in the bottom of the 11th. Johnson singled in the ninth to set up the tying run. Powell was the winning pitcher with two hitless innings of relief.


Exhibition games between minor league teams and the parent club used to be common. On June 29, 2000, the Marlins played the Sea Dogs before 6,910 at Hadlock. Portland won 9-2 as Ross Gload hit for a cycle. Among the Marlins brass watching were owner John Henry and General Manager Dave Dombrowski.



Josh Beckett was the second overall draft pick in 1999 and, on June 16, 2001, stepped on the Hadlock Field mound for his Double-A debut, with Henry, the Marlins’ owner, watching. Beckett, only 21, impressed quickly. He struck out eight before the visitors from New Britain put a ball in play. First time through the order, the only batter to reach base did so after being plunked in the hip. Beckett gave up one hit in four innings.


The 2002 season featured last-minute, wholesale coaching changes when Montreal Expos owner Jeffrey Luria bought the Marlins. The Sea Dogs were bad (63-77) but featured a smooth-swinging 19-year-old first baseman named Adrian Gonzalez. Speculation on an affiliate switch began in May when Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner visited Dan Burke during a game at Hadlock.


The Sea Dogs’ fan base intensified on Sept. 18, 2002, when the team switched affiliations from the Marlins to the Boston Red Sox. Boston interim general manager Mike Port said, “we look for this relationship to be long and prosperous.”



In the most anticipated home opener since the inaugural season, the Red Sox-affiliated Sea Dogs opened their schedule April 3, 2003 with thousands of fans … and snow. The players looked in awe, of the weather and the crowd. “It’s amazing. They love baseball,” catcher Brian Loyd said.


In the first game of a doubleheader in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on July 1, 2003, backup catcher John Nathan played left field. While on base, Nathans separated his shoulder, diving back into second base. Starting catcher Kelly Shoppach later suffered a concussion in the first game, so Nathans had to catch the second. He could only throw the baseball using his wrist. Every Harrisburg runner stole on Nathans but Portland won 5-3, helped by Nathan’s two hits.


Kevin Youkilis, the first true Red Sox prospect to play in Portland, in 2003, was on the World Series roster the next year for Boston’s first championship in 86 years. Youkilis was not the only former Sea Dogs player. Kevin Millar, acquired from the Marlins, played first base for Boston.



Boston’s farm-building efforts showed in the 2005 Sea Dogs, with future major leaguers Hanley Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia, Brandon Moss, David Murphy, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Anibal Sanchez and Manny Delcarmen. Lester was the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year.


The Eastern League All-Star Game was played before a capacity Hadlock crowd of 6,975 on July 13, 2005. Former President George H.W. Bush threw out the first pitch. Sea Dogs infielder Kenny Perez’s two-run double sparked a four-run, eighth-inning rally for the North’s 9-6 win.


On Sept. 17, 2006, the Sea Dogs won their first (and so far only) Eastern League title, beating Akron 8-5 in the deciding fifth game of the series. Moss (five home runs) was the series MVP, and winning pitcher Devern Hansack was promoted to Boston after the game. General Manager Theo Epstein was there to personally give him the news.



Seven former Sea Dogs played on the Red Sox world championship team in 2007. Jacoby Ellsbury, who began the season in Portland, was 7 for 16 in the World Series with four doubles. Beckett and Lester earned wins, and Papelbon recorded three saves.


Major leaguers have played games in Portland, rehabbing injuries, but none attracted the buzz that David Ortiz did in three games from July 21-23, 2008. Recovering from a torn tendon sheath in his left wrist, Ortiz attracted sold-out crowds for all three games. Ortiz showed little power – two singles and a walk in nine plate appearances – but the Hadlock fans kept cheering.


After the 2010 season, Bill Burke took over as chairman from his father, team owner Dan Burke. Geoff Iacuessa was named general manager while former GM Charlie Eshbach retained his role as president. On Oct. 26, 2011, Dan Burke died at age 82.



The Portland-to-Boston pipeline continued to show results with 11 former Sea Dogs suiting up for the world champion Red Sox in 2013, including shortstop Xander Boagerts and pitcher Brandon Workman, who began the season at Hadlock Field. Also, former Portland manager Arnie Beyeler was the first-base coach.


The 2014 team had a powerhouse feel. Mookie Betts (and his 66-game on-base streak) was promoted in June. With players like Travis Shaw, Blake Swihart, Brian Johnson and Henry Owens, the Sea Dogs won a franchise-record 88 games but were upset by Binghamton in the first round of the playoffs.


The Sea Dogs again hosted the Eastern League All-Star Game before a sold-out crowd in 2015 and this one ended with a surprise – a “Home Run Shootout.” With the score 4-4, the league avoided extra innings with a shootout between the West and East. Brian Pointer of Reading homered on the 22nd swing of the shootout to give the East a victory. Marco Hernandez of Portland, who was 2 for 2 with a home run during the actual game, was named the game’s MVP.



Hadlock Field served as a stopover for two of the fastest-moving prospects in Red Sox history. Andrew Benintendi and Yoan Moncada, both 21 and in their first full year of pro ball, began the 2016 season in Class A Salem. Benintendi reached Portland in May, Moncada in June. Benintendi hit .295 with two home runs in 63 games before being promoted to Boston on Aug. 2. Moncada hit .277 with 11 homers in 45 games, reaching Boston on Sept. 2.


In recent years, the Sea Dogs elevated their Hot Stove Dinner (benefiting the Maine Children’s Cancer Program) to a marquee event with a celebrated guest. The 2018 dinner topped them all with Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez. When Martinez was announced as the featured guest, the 500 tickets to the dinner sold out in two hours.

– Staff Writer Glenn Jordan contributed to this story.


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