Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Take LC Out to the Ballgame

I've been to games at 30 major league parks, 19 of which are currently in use by big league clubs. I've also been to a whole lot of minor league parks, but I honestly don't know how many that is. I've tried to figure it out, but it's not as easy to jog your memory when there are so many minor league teams that have come and gone over the years.

In fact, I know I saw one game at Reading, Pennsylvania when I was in Lancaster on a work trip, but I can't remember if I also hit Harrisburg. I also once received a job offer—that I didn't accept—from the Williamsport Cubs, but I believe my only visit to that park was for the interview.

My rough count has it at around 30, including independent leagues, spring training sites and the inaugural home game of the Sun City Rays.* So, that's an approximate total of 60 professional baseball parks I've seen games at. Little Chuck has some serious catching up to do—but, we plan to give him every opportunity—as this past Saturday he got his first live taste of the sport that both his parents revere.

*In case you're wondering, the Rays were a team in the Senior Professional Baseball Association, a league for players 35 and older that began play in 1989 and folded halfway through their second season due to poor attendance.

KJ, LC and I went on a little overnight jaunt this past weekend to Portland, Maine—a two-hour drive up I-95 for us—as one of my birthday presents was to take our son to his first game.

Interestingly enough, Portland happens to be one of the ballparks I couldn't seem to recall whether I'd been there or not. I certainly spent a lot of time in that neck of the woods when, in my previous career, Poland Spring was my client. But, as it turns out, walking up to Hadlock Field was all the evidence I needed to realize it was my first time there.

The Portland Sea Dogs are the AA Eastern League affiliate of the Red Sox, so for some reason they thought it would be a good idea to turn their home into a bit of a replica of Fenway Park. The left field wall, dubbed the Maine Monster, is a wooden version of Fenway's Green Monster, complete with miniature Coke bottle, Citgo sign and WB Mason billboard. However, the scoreboard is electronic rather than manual, probably because there's nowhere for the scoreboard operator to hang out, or for Manny Ramirez to "take a break," had he ever played there while on rehab.

A view of Hadlock Field from our seats

I have mixed emotions about the Maine Monster. I guess it's kind of a cool idea that some young fans might get a big kick out of, and I'm more appreciative of that angle these days. But, I can't help wondering if it was created for player development purposes, and this would seem like a silly idea to me.

Ultimately, there is only one Fenway and it should remain that way. Now, if they decided to tear down the original, then I'd be all for paying tribute to it elsewhere.

At least the amenities at Hadlock Field—most notably the relative spaciousness of the seats—made for a much more comfortable fan experience than at its major league counterpart.

The one important area where Hadlock was hands-down better than any major or minor league park I've visited is in beer selection.**

**I'm kind of embarrassed to say I don't remember what the selection was like at PGE Park, the former home of the Portland Beavers. You know, the superior Portland (no offense to Maine's, but Oregon's is a tough standard), also known as the craft beer capital of the United States.

The park has an entire stand dedicated to microbrews, with about a dozen selections from Maine brewers Geary's, Sebago, Shipyard, Sea Dog and Baxter, one of my new favorites. They also had Harpoon IPA, which I suppose is better than offering Bud Light, but I would have preferred it to be exclusively local beers.

In hindsight, I should have opted for one of the Baxter offerings that I've never tried, but I was in the mood for an IPA and they didn't have Baxter's Stowaway, which is excellent. So, I opted for a Sebago Frye's Leap IPA, which was good, but falls short of my favorites for the style because of its piney rather than citrusy hop characteristics.

There's also a Shipyard Grill concession stand, offering a wider selection of styles from one of Maine's weaker microbreweries—in my opinion—as well as a few interesting food options and...Bud Light. I guess you can't win 'em all.

We missed the first two innings of the game between feeding LC, taking turns in the rest room following a few hours on the road, and getting ourselves fed, but we knew this was par for the course when taking a baby to a ball game. After spending a few innings in our seats, it was fairly obvious the boy needed a respite from the sun, so we headed to the souvenir stand.

We had our sights set on an infant ball cap, which would be LC's first and would appropriately commemorate his first game. But, all they had in his size was a girl's cap. The Sea Dogs hat sized for a 2-4 year old was adorable, but I didn't see the point in buying his "first hat" if it wasn't going to fit. So, we purchased a cheap $8 Sea Dogs ball, which will be a decent souvenir we can hang onto until he loses it or decides he's not as nostalgic as we are. But still, we couldn't help feeling a little disappointed (even more so when I discovered the infant cap is not available online).

We weren't sure how long the little guy would last at the game, but our Baby Bjorn sure made it easier for his parents. The wife has more experience carrying him in it, but I quickly learned to make sure everything else I was holding was at least an LC arm's length away. So, in fact we did make it through nine innings, although LC did fall asleep briefly in the 8th, which is right about when all the fireworks were happening (literally).

The Sea Dogs led 1-0 until late in the game when both offenses came to life: the visiting Binghamton Mets scoring five runs in the top of the 8th, the home team answering with three of their own (on two homers) in the bottom of the frame, and one more to tie it up in the last of the 9th.

Portland's outburst introduced us to the lighthouse that rises behind the center field fence, accompanied by fireworks, after a home team player hits a home run. I liked this attribute of the ballpark much more than I did the Maine Monster.

Center Field Lighthouse at Hadlock Field

Now is when I admit we left after the bottom of the 9th, and didn't stick around to see Binghamton win on a solo homer in the 10th. Normally, I'm not a fan of leaving early, but I think you'll cut us some slack considering the circumstances.

Our hotel was in South Portland, only a mile or so away from two brewpubs, or so I thought. My first choice for my birthday dinner was Sebago Brewing Company, but it turned out The Beer Mapping Project needs an update as that brewer's South Portland location is no more.

The other nearby option was Sea Dog Brewing Company. I made the mistake of telling KJ earlier my initial impression of this brewery wasn't a great one, so of course she felt bad we were settling. But, it was getting late, and being a beer snob is much further down my list of priorities than is being a parent. Besides, I didn't have a strong recollection as to why I was so non-plussed about Sea Dog, and I'm always willing to challenge such hazy impressions.

Turns out, my first impression was dead on. Their IPA was basically a Bass Ale clone passed off as brewed in the style of an English IPA. But, if you ask me, while Bass is worthy of being considered the predecessor to considerable improvements in the style, it really shouldn't be mentioned in the same breath as an IPA at all.

The food was nothing to write home about either. I broke a personal rule by ordering an ethnic dish—Chicken Mole—in a region not known for that particular ethnicity. It actually wasn't bad, but the portion was a little light, even after I questioned why it included only one filet and was brought a second. KJ, on the other hand, ordered something you'd think it reasonable to expect would be done well in Maine. But, her Fish 'n' Chips looked more like fish nuggets and were a little on the soggy side.

None of this, of course, detracted from a great little birthday road trip, one I'm sure will remain in the memory bank for however many more years or decades this world has in store for me. I took my only son to his first baseball game, after all. Short of watching him play in his first game (but, let's not rush things), it doesn't get much better than that.


  1. Fun stuff. Happy birthday. Wish I could boast of as many ballparks, I'm not anywhere close. I do have a Maine baseball experience, though. Our group from Camp Marist in NH all went to see the Maine Guides play against the Tidewater Tides in like 1987. We corporately decided to go bonkers when Tidewater's #8 hitter came up (whoever he was), like he was Darryl Strawberry or something. I'm pretty sure he didn't even notice, but we were pretty proud of ourselves. (Here's your #8 hitter )

    Loved the little Fenway link, also.

    1. Thanks Brian. Great story about your experience, which not only involved baseball in Maine, but also a New York Mets farm team. :)