In the post-celebration quiet after clinching a playoff berth Wednesday night, Portland Sea Dogs Manager Chad Epperson shared an observation with bench coach Chris Hess.

“These never get old,” said Epperson, whose career in professional baseball began two years before the 27-year-old Hess was born. “You never know when they’re going to come again. Cherish this and hang on to it.”

For the first time in eight years, the Sea Dogs will be playing in the postseason. By winning 16 of 17 games down the stretch, including a 12-7 victory over the Somerset Patriots on Wednesday night, the Sea Dogs locked up the second-half title in the Eastern League’s Northeast Division and will face first-half champion Somerset in a best-of-three series.

Game 1 is scheduled for Hadlock Field at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Games 2 and 3, if necessary, will be played later next week in Bridgewater Township, New Jersey. The league’s championship series – another best-of-three format – is scheduled to begin on Sept. 25 at the Eastern League’s Southwest champion and conclude in either Maine or New Jersey.

The Sea Dogs wrap up the regular season Sunday against Somerset before both teams travel back to Maine.

“It’s going to be exciting to watch,” Sea Dogs outfielder Izzy Wilson said by phone Thursday afternoon. “I’ve been part of winning teams before and I tell you what, this group right here, we don’t give up.”


In 2014, the Sea Dogs lost a best-of-five divisional series to eventual champion Binghamton despite winning two of the first three games. That roster included Mookie Betts at second base … until he was promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket in early June. Betts wound up playing 52 games for the Boston Red Sox that season, only two fewer than he played for Portland.

Similarly, this year’s edition of the Sea Dogs opened the season with five starting pitchers who all earned promotions. One of them, Brayan Bello, tossed a seven-inning no-hitter at Hadlock in early May and has become part of Boston’s starting rotation.

In all, Epperson has penciled in 27 positional players and 41 pitchers on his lineup card this season. Such a high turnover rate is fairly typical in minor league baseball.

“Guys get hurt, guys perform (well),” Epperson said. “You want them to perform so they can move on and get closer to their dreams.”

Several of those who donned a Portland uniform this season were on rehabilitation assignments from the Red Sox, including infielder Trevor Story, outfielders Christian Arroyo and Kiké Hernandez and pitchers Chris Sale, Rich Hill and Michael Wacha.



Christian Koss, a middle infielder who has been with the Sea Dogs all season, said the big leaguers all seemed to come through in the second half, when the team was trying to reboot after a disappointing 30-39 record in the first half.

“We had a lot of big dogs come in during a time when we were fighting for the playoffs,” Koss said. “Every time, they gave us their sense of ‘this is a special thing, this is a special group.’ They kept encouraging us to keep doing what we were doing and make that playoff push.”

The Sea Dogs won their eighth straight Thursday night, 5-2 over Somerset, giving them a 44-22 mark since the second half began on June 28. During that stretch they had three eight-game winning streaks and infielder David Hamilton broke Portland’s record for stolen bases in a season and a career.

Hamilton has 69 steals and has been caught only eight times. Other intriguing aspects to this year’s club? For the first time in franchise history, the coaching staff includes a woman, Katie Krall. One of the bullpen mainstays is a converted outfielder, Michael Gettys, who has seven saves since joining the club in July.

Oh, and center fielder Ceddanne Rafaela is a converted infielder enjoying a breakout season. He leads all Red Sox minor leaguers in extra-base hits (including 10 triples and 21 home runs between Double-A Portland and Class A Greenville) and regularly makes highlight-reel catches and throws. He hit a grand slam in Wednesday night’s clincher.

“I’ve been in (the Red Sox) organization for 20 years,” said Epperson, 50. “He’s the best player I’ve ever seen come through here.”


Playoff games in the minors typically don’t draw as many fans as late-summer games. The decisive Game 5 of the 2014 divisional playoffs, for example, was a Sunday afternoon game attended by 2,813 fans in a ballpark capable of holding more than 7,000.


Geoff Iacuessa, president and general manager of the Sea Dogs, said school being back in session, the game not being on the printed schedule and even the perception that playoff games at the Major League level are often sold out can limit crowd size.

“It’s definitely a tougher sell,” he said, “but it typically ends up being a pretty passionate baseball crowd. It’s a good atmosphere.”

As of Thursday afternoon, ticket sales for Tuesday’s playoff opener had surpassed 2,500. The front office has had a postseason plan in place for a few weeks.

Dawn Stillings, a season-ticket holder from Cumberland, said it has been wonderful to see the Sea Dogs in contention again. She’s been keeping close track of Hamilton’s chase for the stolen base record.

“The past several weeks have been especially fun,” she said. “The whole crowd’s energy has become more electric.”

Whether there’s one more game at Hadlock this season or a few more remains to be seen. Epperson said Wednesday night’s celebration included the popping of champagne corks, but it certainly wasn’t over the top.

“Going through that (handshake) line after the game, these guys knew this wasn’t it,” he said. “This is not something that completes our season. There’s still more to do. That’s what I love about them.”

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