I always associate baseball with my father. I know that’s like the beginning to a bad college essay, or the opening voiceover monologue to a baseball movie released in the 80 or early 90s, but it’s true. And while my story doesn’t feature a slow craning shot from the horizon at sunset down to a rural baseball diamond with the lights just turning on, framed by walls of corn; my story does feature a stadium. This stadium.
PHOTO BY MERRY FARNUM — April 18, 1994 — Opening day at Hadlock Field – SOURCE
Hadlock Field. Portland, Maine. 1994. The year that the Portland Sea Dogs were unveiled in my hometown. I was a little nugget of 5 (80’s baby by six months, baby! Yeah! Oh crap, I repeated “baby” making the whole sentence awkward and suspect. Sorry high school English teachers) but I remember a palpable feeling of excitement around my neighborhood. We were getting a Minor League baseball team, and it was going to be walking distance from my house. My father, the avid baseball fan (his greatest dream was to play first base for the Red Sox), bought season tickets. He could only afford two seats, and so my brother and I would trade off who got to go to every home game. We would walk out the front door of our house on Kenwood street, through our across-the-street neighbor’s backyard onto Woodmont street, up Woodmont and then left on Payson which dropped us on Falmouth, right on Falmouth to St. John’s, turn left, walk straight until you go under the train tracks, bang a left and there it was; the front gate to Hadlock.
Walking in, we’d head immediately to the program guy and buy the scorebook. Dad would hand it to me to hold and I cradled it like a treasured glass sculpture. Here was the bible, the holy shrine into which a game would be inscribed. It held truth well beyond my years, and because we had paid something for it, and it wasn’t consumable, it was to be kept carefully maintained. My father would always laugh, take it from me, break the spine right at the rosters and say “these are meant to be used.” Next we’d stop at the concessions. Two hot dogs, one soft pretzel, a box of Reese’s Pieces, a Shipyard Export for Dad, a Sprite for me, and then up the stairs we’d climb, emerging into the (what I felt was a) massive stadium.
Credit: Joe Shlabotnik – SOURCE
Our seats were in what is now section 110, a couple rows back from the visitor’s dugout, or as he called it, “The Best Seats in the House”. Dad had chosen these seats for three reasons. 1. It was his belief that all the most interesting baserunning happens between second and third bases and he wanted to be close to the action, 2. because most hitters are right-handed and so a pulled swing was more likely to go to Left Field, and we’d be closer to see what was going on, and 3. because if you’re too close to the dugout, then it’s harder to see the third base line. By being a couple rows back, there were no obstructions.
I was in charge of the scorebook.
I took my duties extremely seriously. I watched every hitter, marked the statistics across players, kept the box score carefully tabulated, and spent much of my time checking in with Dad about whether I was doing it right. It was terrifying and exhilarating, because, see, Dad always made me write in pen. People tell me the mark of a true professional is a New York Times Sunday Crossword done in pen, but I’ll take a baseball scorebook any day. I got to know the players, their habits, I began referring to them by nicknames, some common, some just from my own brain. The ones I remember include “Mickey Mills” was Billy McMillon, “Rentro” was Edgar Reteria, and “Pookie” was Pookie Wilson…he didn’t need a moniker.
My Dad moved to Pennsylvania when I was in Middle School. He became a fan of the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, and we attended games whenever I would go visit him. He always let me keep score. We would sit on his back steps with a radio and listen to Red Sox games, debating the finer points of the playcalling, the fielding, and keeping score on any piece of paper that we happened to have nearby. He passed away on February 3rd, 2016, but one of the last things he said to me was, “remember our seats at Hadlock? They were the best.”
Looking back, what’s striking to me is that I never stuck with “America’s Pastime”. I played through Little League but made the transfer to Lacrosse for Middle and High School, yet I still revered baseball. Or more specifically, I revered my Dad. I have fond memories of Slugger the Sea Dog dancing on top of dugouts, I remember T-shirt cannons, and guess your pitch challenges, the secret grill all the way behind the first base dugout, and the bouncing trash monsters who wandered throughout the stadium. I remember the Sea Dog Biscuit, ice cream between two soft chocolate chip cookies (still a staple), and I remember Dad, sitting next to me, watching intently, and checking my work as scorekeeper closer than any test I took through all my years of schooling. What I don’t remember much of, is Baseball.
It wasn’t until later in my life, that I found my love of the actual sport, or even associated it with anything outside of Hadlock Field. Fenway became a Mecca, I cried when the curse was broken, and I still listen to or watch almost every single Red Sox game through MLB.TV. But at the end of the day, Baseball to me is carefully writing a backwards K in the scorebook, sipping a sprite, and watching my father watch the Sea Dogs from The Best Seats in the House.
Hiking in the Appalachian Mountains with Dad, me rocking a vintage Sea Dogs T-Shirt that’s easily 6 sizes too large with far too short shorts.