While the Boston Red Sox were in the midst of their 86-year championship drought, the city of Portland went without professional baseball for a 45-year span from 1949 until 1994, when Maineís largest city was awarded an Eastern League expansion franchise.
After nine seasons of supplying talent to the Florida Marlins, 2003 marked the dawn of a new era when the Red Sox left Trenton, New Jersey to locate their Double-A affiliate in Portland, just 107 miles from Yawkey Way and less than a two hour drive on I-95.
While it is possible to walk into any minor league stadium without knowing which MLB team the host city is affiliated with, itís a safe bet you wonít make that mistake at Hadlock Field.
A scant nine days after the Sea Dogs and Red Sox announced their partnership, Portland began construction on their own Green Monster. Complete with replicas of the Citgo sign and Coke bottle, the Sea Dogs went to great lengths to transform Hadlock into a mini-Fenway Park.
As a result, thereís no doubt youíre in Boston Red Sox country when you enter Portland's ballpark, which was a high school field prior to 1993 and has hosted the likes of former President George Bush, who vacations frequently in nearby Kennebunkport.
Obviously, the "Maine Monster" is the ballparkís signature feature, mimicking its Fenway counterpart in height (37 feet), but not quite in length (240 vs. 160 feet). Upon closer observation, Portlandís shade of green is much darker while the wallís material is made of wood, opposed to Bostonís hard plastic. The Citgo sign (14í x 14í) is ľ the size of the famous landmark in Boston.
Prior to Boston making Hadlock home, the most striking feature was the presence of the Portland Exposition Center, which alters the dimension of the seating arrangement by jutting into where the first base grandstand would normally be. The brick, barn-like structure was built in 1914 and houses the team clubhouses.
Despite its relatively young age, I had a hard time believing that Hadlock Field was constructed within a modern decade. It has the feel of a ballpark thatís been around for a while, fitting in with the Expo next door.
The skyboxes look dated from the outside and the seating bowl above the main concourse is built with aluminum, reminiscent of high school football stadium bleachers. Whenever home fans applaud many also stomp their feet on the aluminum, which sounds like thunder if youíre at the concession stands below. The stomping noise drowns out conversations if you seek shade during the warm summer day games, which may be a necessity as the stadium lacks any roof to protect fans from the sun or rain.
But there are also a number of positives to attending a game at Hadlock Field, named in honor of Edson B. Hadlock Jr., who was Portland High School's baseball coach from 1950 to 1978.
For starters, Sea Dogs fans are a passionate group and large in numbers. The ballpark has been frequently sold out since the team's 1994 inception, and was expanded four times in an 11-year span to keep up with the demand of a fan base that thoroughly enjoys rooting for a Red Sox affiliate. And just like their Fenway brethren, the fans are knowledgeable and get involved in the game.
As a testimony to the popularity of the club, Portlandís radio network expanded from five affiliates to 12 in their first season under the Red Sox umbrella, when the Sea Dogs boasted the second largest radio network in all of Minor League Baseball.
As for the ballpark, the seating itself is comfortable and offers a great view of the playing field, with an almost theatre-style rise. The mini-Monster does a great job of obscuring the railroad tracks and I-295 located directly behind it. If not for an aerial photo shown of Hadlock Field inside the stadium concourse, I would not have known how close the ballpark was situated to those avenues of mass transit.
Another nice touch inside the wide concession area concourse is the picture of each Eastern League ballpark in the 12-team league. Located nearby is a distinct Portland ballpark treat, the popular fried dough stand, where for a low price you can get a large slab of high calorie fried batter sprinkled with your choice of powered sugar or cinnamon.
The Sea Dogs also wax their creative muscle by paying homage to the numerous lighthouses that dot the nearby rocky Maine coastline. After a victory a lighthouse pops up behind center field, reminiscent of Shea Stadiumís big apple.
The ballpark itself is fairly easy to find by following road signs, and is located about a mile off of I-295.
Official ballpark parking is limited to a small lot that swells to capacity by the time the players and front office types have arrived. There are a bevy of $4-5 options nearby, but a short drive down Park Avenue reveals bountiful free parking along the street, with Hadlock Field a 10-minute walk away.
The ballpark is about two miles away from downtown Portland, a charming and quaint New England city of 64,249, where a number of bars, restaurants, and shops rise up the cobblestone roads from the Atlantic Ocean.