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Baseball nights in Portland: A Sea Dog sampler

May 8, 2021
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PORTLAND – Minor league baseball is back for the summer of 2021!

The Portland Sea Dogs began their season – the team’s 28th as an organization in Maine’s largest city (though only the 27th on the field, due to 2020’s cancellation in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic) – on May 4 and are off to a hot start.

As a way of celebrating the return of minor league baseball to the Pine Tree State after a season away, we thought it might be nice to find some ways to celebrate our beloved AA team – a Sea Dogs sampler, if you will.

We’ve got a couple of Q&As here – one with the team’s President and General Manager Geoff Iacuessa, another with Director of Broadcasting and play-by-play voice Emma Tiedemann. Both were generous with their time and insight, offering up their thoughts about the upcoming season and what it means to be a part of the Portland Sea Dogs organization.

I figured I’d also offer up a quick rundown of some of the best players to ever wear the Sea Dogs uniform – there are a LOT of great players, so paring down the list wasn’t particularly easy – in an effort to celebrate the storied past of the franchise. It’s been over a quarter-century, after all; that’s a hell of a run.

Before we get into the other stuff, let’s take a moment to look at some of what fans can expect when they make their way to Hadlock Field in the coming weeks.

First of all, there have been a number of improvements to the facility since the end of 2019. The big one is the lighting, with the team having upgraded all of the lighting fixtures and integrating some dynamic lighting that will enhance player introductions, celebrate home runs or add another fun element to the seventh inning stretch.

The team has also upgraded their Red Sox Update Board, allowing fans in attendance at Hadlock to also keep track of what’s happening with the parent club in real time. Game data such as pitcher-hitter matchups will be there, as will score, inning, outs, count and all the rest. As for in-game Sea Dogs data, there’s plenty of that too, with an updated display that will provide both pitch speed for pitchers and exit velocity for batters.

In terms of attendance, the Sea Dogs are currently operating at a 28% capacity, though that number will change as the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 continue to shift. That means that just over 2,000 fans – 2,087, to be precise – will be allowed to attend a given game. It also means that the team will be selling tickets month-by-month, with sales for a given month beginning the month prior in order to maximize the team’s flexibility with regard to numbers.

Social distancing and other protocols are being met through the creation of seating pods of two to eight seats, each with a distance of at least six feet from any other pod. Masks will be required at all times, save for actively eating and drinking. Said food and drink will be ordered via mobile app or from service staff and will be delivered directly to the fan’s seat.

(It should be noted that among those concession options will be the beloved Sea Dog Biscuit, a personal favorite of mine now produced by iconic Maine ice cream company Gifford’s.)

Portland has a reputation as one of the country’s best minor league cities and the Sea Dogs are considered one of the top-tier organizations in all of MiLB. And even in the face of these many obstacles, we can rest assured that the folks in charge will do everything that they can to ensure an exceptional baseball experience for all. So head on out to Hadlock – it’s going to be a heck of a time.

Play ball!

{gallery}Iacuessa SD{/gallery}

A Q&A with Sea Dogs President & General Manager Geoff Iacuessa

What are some of the changes that fans can expect when attending games in 2021? In what ways will the experience be different?

There are many changes to make sure the experience is safe for all our employees, fans, and on-field personnel. Some of the biggest adjustments are seats will be in pods which will be at least six feet from the next pod, fans will need face masks unless actively eating or drinking, and concessions will be done through online ordering with seat delivery.

Promotions have long been a staple of the minor league baseball experience. How has the team adjusted in order to maintain that level of fan engagement while dealing with COVID-related restrictions?

We’ve made many adjustments to make sure we can still do promotions to entertain our fans but in a socially distance format.

The scheduling shift to weekly six-game series against a given appointment looks like a brilliant way to manage the realities of COVID protocols and maintain safety. How was that plan reached? And how do you think the shift might impact play on the field and rivalries off it?

This was a MLB decision and it makes a lot of sense to cut down on travel. I think it is a benefit for the players and operations and am looking forward to seeing how it plays out over the season from a baseball perspective.

How has the restructuring of minor league baseball impacted the Sea Dogs organization? On paper, the change from the Eastern League to Double-A Northeast appears largely confined to the name alone – are there any differences going forward that might not be as obvious to an outside observer?

From a fan perspective nothing should change too much. We are excited to be a part of the new system and think it will strengthen our already strong ties with the Red Sox and MLB.

Have the MiLB changes altered any aspects of the organization’s relationship with the Red Sox?

We’ve enjoyed a very strong relationship with them since the fall of 2002 and this new system solidifies it for a very long term which is great for everyone involved.

MLB is instituting assorted rule changes at the various minor league levels in 2021. Can you tell me a little about the defensive positioning rules that are coming for Double-A this season?

For the first half of the season infielders will need to have both feet in front of the outfield grass, so no shifts into short outfield areas.

Last summer, the organization found ways to keep Hadlock happening even without games being played (I’ll note here that I made the trip from Bangor for one of the Hadlinks events and had a hell of a good time). With the gaps in the schedule, will you be presenting similar events when the team is away?

That is our plan, yes. Some similar events to what we did in 2020 and maybe some new ones.

How has the relationship between the organization and the community held up over the course of the past year-plus? 

We have always been so incredibly lucky to call Portland and Maine our home. The community has supported us so much since 1994 and this past year was no exception. The outpouring of support has been tremendous and we’ve done our best to reciprocate through our community efforts as well.

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A Q&A with Sea Dogs broadcaster Emma Tiedemann

What drew you to the idea of becoming a broadcaster?

My grandfather was a play-by-play broadcaster so growing up, so I heard all of his stories in the booth and what it was like to travel across the country calling games. At the same time, sports were a huge part of my life and I was playing anything and everything. It wasn’t until I was 15 years old when my grandfather had an extra headset for a broadcast and invited me to join him. I immediately fell in love with it.

Did you study broadcasting? Or was it more of a learning-by-doing situation? Both?

I went to the University of Missouri and was in the Journalism School for two years, but the most I ever learned was in the booth doing play-by-play. I’ve learned exponentially more by calling a game every night of the week and then being critiqued by broadcasters at higher levels than I am. Then the next night, I take their suggestions and try to improve.

What led you to land in Portland with the Sea Dogs?

My ultimate goal is to be a Major League Baseball broadcaster so when I was in Single-A with the Lexington Legends, I was keeping an eye on Double-A jobs to continue to move up. The Sea Dogs have an exceptional reputation in our industry so when the job was available, I knew I had to apply.

Baseball on the radio is a beloved tradition, one that has long been a vital part of fans’ enjoyment of the game? What are some of the qualities that you think are most important for good baseball play-by-play?

The broadcaster needs to paint a picture for the listener and that’s what I try to do every night. I think the best broadcasts are the perfect balance of description, knowledge of the game and fun. I don’t think it needs to be serious 100% of the time and broadcasters that let their personality show on air make the broadcast easier to listen to.

You’re one of just a handful of women doing play by play in professional baseball. What has it been like making your way as a woman in a discipline that is largely dominated by male voices?

It has definitely been difficult at times, but once I broke into Minor League Baseball, I’ve been welcomed at every stop I’ve made. It’s very encouraging that since I started in MiLB in 2018, three more women have become voices of MiLB teams so things are continuing to change for women in the booth.

Any memorable moments from your broadcasting career you’d like to share? Favorite calls? Exciting and/or unexpected incidents that stand out in your memory?

My favorite and most memorable call so far was a walk off two-run home run in the bottom of the 13th inning on Friday, the 13th for a South Atlantic League Championship when I was with the Lexington Legends. An incredible game and an incredible ending to a season. That happened to be the last game of 2019 and after not calling games in 2020, it made it even more special. When I was in Alaska, there was a moose beyond the left field wall which I never thought I would see!

You’ve also done college basketball broadcasting as well. What are some of the key differences in how you approach each sport?

Basketball has significantly more action so it’s more play-by-play focused. There’s action all the time so you have to be a little quicker with your analysis. With baseball, there’s plenty of time to weave in stories of the player or organizations between the action. You definitely have to be sure to do tons of research for baseball so you’re ready for anything, including four-hour long games.

Finally – just how excited are you to be back in the booth after such a long hiatus?

I’m ecstatic. It’s been such a crazy year moving to Portland, having our season cancelled then waiting for Opening Day 2021. Broadcasting is such a huge part of my life, I am thrilled to be able to step in the booth again and put on my headset and call a Sea Dogs game.

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Best. Sea Dogs. Ever.

It has been over a quarter of a century since the current iteration of minor league baseball landed in Maine’s largest city.

The team began life in 1994 as the AA affiliate for the then-expansion Florida Marlins. However, they were destined to remain part of the Marlins system only through 2002 – less than a decade. That was when the team switched affiliation and joined the Red Sox farm system, where they have spent the past two decades.

Well over 300 players have worn the Sea Dogs uniform over the years, including a whole lot of future big leaguers. As part of our Sea Dogs sampler, I thought it might be fun to check out some of those who would go on to success at the major league level.

And so - here's a look at some of the best players ever to grace the grass at Hadlock Field.

(Note: This list is intended to include only those players whose stint in Portland preceded their major league successes. Players whose Sea Dogs tenure consisted solely of injury rehab will not be included.)

Dustin Pedroia

I’m not going to say that Dustin Pedroia is the best player to ever grace Hadlock Field, but it’s tough to argue that any Sea Dog has been as huge a part of Red Sox history. He played for Portland in 2005, appearing in 66 games during his meteoric rise to the bigs. Since his 2006 arrival in Boston, all Pedroia did is win Rookie of the Year in 2007 and an MVP award in 2008 while being named to four All-Star teams and winning three Gold Gloves. He was an integral part of Boston’s 2007 and 2013 World Series title teams.

Pedroia finally called it quits in 2019 after two straight injury-plagued seasons where he played in just nine games total. His career line includes 1,805 hits, 140 homers and 138 steals, as well as 922 runs scored and 725 RBI. He led the league in runs twice, leading in hits and doubles as well in his MVP season. His slash line is .299/.365/.439 – exceptional for a second baseman and particularly impressive given Pedroia’s relatively diminutive stature. He is without a doubt one of the most beloved players in Red Sox history.

Mookie Betts

Betts showed us the future during his 54 games at Portland in 2014, where he slashed .355/.443/.551 and generally kicked ass. His big-league career began that same season and he hit the ground running. From the moment he arrived in Boston to his departure via trade after the 2019 season, he was one of the best players in the American League. In that six-season stretch, he won an MVP in 2018 along with two other top-10 finishes (including second place in 2016). He made four All-Star teams and won four Gold Gloves. He also won a batting title when he hit .346 in his MVP year (going 30/30 along the way) and twice led the league in runs scored.

Six years in Boston resulted in 1,059 hits, 679 runs scored and 520 RBI to go with 139 homers and 126 steals. His slash line with the Sox was .301/.374/.519. He’s since gone on to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he finished second in MVP voting during the truncated 2020 season and looks to have a long, productive run still ahead of him. Until further notice, he is likely the best MLB player to ever play for Portland.

Jon Lester

Lester also spent the 2005 season in Portland, playing alongside Pedroia and going 11-6 in 26 starts with a 2.61 ERA and 163 strikeouts. His big-league career began the next year; he spent the next eight-plus seasons in Boston, putting up an impressive record of 110-63 with the Red Sox, with 1,386 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.64. He had three All-Star appearances and a pair of top-five Cy Young finishes with Boston as well, not to mention a no-hitter.

Lester was traded in the middle of the 2014 season to Oakland; after that season, he signed a free agent deal with the Cubs, where he pitched from 2015 through the 2020 season. He’s currently in his first year with the Washington Nationals. He went 77-44 in his Chicago tenure, with two All-Star nods and a second-place Cy Young finish in 2016. He also led the NL in wins in 2018. He’s got a real shot at reaching a couple of career milestones this year – 200 wins (he has 193) and 2,500 strikeouts (he has 2,403) – to go with his still-strong 3.60 career ERA. A likely Hall of Very Good guy who falls just short of Cooperstown.

Xander Bogaerts

Bogaerts played a combined 79 games in Portland during the 2012 and 2013 seasons as an extremely young prospect rocketing his way through the Boston system. Despite being an average of roughly five years younger than his contemporaries, he dominated, slashing .315/.392/.531 – it was his most productive minor league level – before permanently landing in the bigs in 2013. In the nine seasons since, he has become an integral part of the team – a couple of All-Star nods, two Silver Sluggers and a fifth-place finish in MVP voting in 2019.

All he has done since his arrival is hit – in just over a thousand games, he has well over 1,100 hits (and leads the AL in the category this season as of press time). He’s also got 125 homers and nearly twice that many doubles. He may well have passed 600 runs scored by the time you read this and his RBI total isn’t far behind. Add to that an MLB line of .291/.352/.458 and it’s no wonder that the Sox have been set at shortstop for the past decade.

Adrian Gonzalez

In 2002, 20-year-old Adrian Gonzalez played 138 games for Portland, hitting 17 home runs, just missing driving in 100 and slashing .266/.344/.437. He would be in the big leagues with Texas two years later, having been traded by the Marlins. Over the course of the next 15 years, he would put together an exceptional MLB career with five teams (including 282 games with the Red Sox in 2011-12) before calling it quits after 2018.

Gonzalez would wind up with an impressive resume. He hit some major milestones – 300 homers (317 in all), 2,000 hits (2,050) and 1,200 RBI (1,202) – while just missing a thousand runs scored (997). At various points, he led the league in hits, walks and RBI – all in different seasons. He was named to the All-Star team five times and won three Gold Gloves; Gonzalez appeared on MVP ballots in eight of his 15 years in the bigs.

Anthony Rizzo

Rizzo is probably the best former Sea Dog to never play a game for the Red Sox; even the foremost former Marlins farmhands seemed to find their way to Boston at some point. Rizzo had a solid 2010 with Portland, hitting 20 homers and driving in 80 in 107 games before becoming a key part of the trade that brought the aforementioned Adrian Gonzalez to Boston. After a brief stint with San Diego in 2011, he got shipped to Chicago.

He blossomed into one of the better players in the NL over the next decade. He’s got three All-Star nods, four Gold Gloves and five MVP ballot appearances, including three in the top 10 (two top-five). He’s got nearly 1,300 hits to go along with close to 250 homers, over 700 runs scored and over 750 RBI, with a current career slash line of .269/.371/.484.

(Also, while he doesn’t quite warrant inclusion on this list, I’d be remiss if I didn’t address Hanley Ramirez, who put together an impressive body of work over the course of his 15 seasons in the bigs. While he might not have quite the resume that these other guys sport, I will always have a deep and abiding love for Portland Sea Dog Hanley Ramirez. Here’s the story: during Hanley’s Portland tenure, I attended a game with a buddy of mine and wound up getting roped into participating in an on-field promotion – we held a lobster trap between us and tried to catch rubber lobsters being hurled at us by interns with lacrosse sticks and it was awesome – but I’ll always remember right before, when we were waiting by the Portland dugout to go out onto the field, and Hanley Ramirez was standing there. He remains the most impressive physical specimen I’ve ever seen up close – literally awe-inspiring.)

Honorable mentions: Kevin Youkilis; Jacoby Ellsbury; Josh Beckett; Jonathan Papelbon; Edgar Renteria

(All stats current through May 9, 2021.)

Last modified on Tuesday, 11 May 2021 14:18

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