PORTLAND — In the middle of January. Georgia native Josh Reddick will leave his southern comfort and take a plane to Portland, Maine.
“I’m searching through my closet right now for (winter clothes),” Reddick said earlier this week by phone.
But Reddick, 25, is unlike other former Portland Sea Dogs. He has visited Maine before in the winter.
“I’ve met a lot of great people there,” Reddick said,
And that is why Reddick is returning as one of the featured guest at the annual Sea Dogs Hot Stove Banquet tonight at the Sable Oaks Marriott in South Portland.
Reddick joins a guest list that includes former Red Sox fan favorite Trot Nixon. The event is sold out, but will be streamed live on www.pressherald.com, www.kjonline.com and www.onlinesentinel.com.
When Reddick visits Maine, he knows he does not need a hotel reservation. Like he did in his playing days with the Sea Dogs (2008-09), Reddick will stay with his host family, Matt and Stacey Rogers, and their children Nate and Liza, in Falmouth.
Host families are a valuable resource for minor league and amateur sports teams with athletes on a budget. And the benefit to the players often goes beyond financial relief. A relationship forms.
“We’re very close,” Reddick said.
Matt Rogers, 44, who grew up the youngest of seven children, called Reddick “the younger brother I never had.”
Which, of course, makes Reddick sort of an uncle to Rogers’ children. Rogers said Reddick was surprised when his children first hugged him. Now the affection is mutual.
Reddick has joined the Rogers’ on family vacations, in Maine, and in Orlando, Fla. — when Reddick took advantage of a few days off in spring training, driving up from the Red Sox facility in Fort Myers.
But there cannot be any more spring training visits in Florida. That stopped last year when Boston traded Reddick to the Oakland A’s, who train in Phoenix.
Reddick’s reaction to the trade was similar to the Rogers’ reaction: bittersweet.
“I was shocked at first,” Reddick said. “Then I realized the opportunity. I focused on getting my name out there, get playing time, become an everyday guy.”
Reddick did that, hitting 32 home runs for Oakland, which surprisingly reached the playoffs. Reddick also collected a Gold Glove for his play in right field.
“I’m proud of him,” Matt Rogers said.
And Rogers can report something else that is nice to know. Josh Reddick the major league star is no different from Josh Reddick, the minor leaguer.
“He’s pretty genuine, pretty grounded,” Rogers said.
Reddick laughed about the possibility of his celebrity status changing him.
“I don’t feel any different,” he said.
But there are benefits to being a major leaguer — Reddick was able to afford his first house purchase, in his beloved Georgia. And he no longer has to prove himself capable of playing in the big leagues.
When Reddick moved up the Red Sox system, there was praise for his power, but concern about his pitch selection. Reddick was a free swinger, but Boston wanted him to take pitches out of the strike zone.
Reddick said his time in Portland was one of growth.
“I improved my skills under (hitting coach) Dave Joppie and (manager) Arnie (Beyeler). I learned a lot and I had a lot of fun,” said Reddick, who had nothing but kind words for the Red Sox organization.
“I am honored and grateful for my time there. I learned how to adapt my skills.”
But even as Reddick improved, it seemed the Red Sox were never completely sold on his abilities. With J.D. Drew and Ryan Kalish hurt most of 2011, Reddick performed well, but was still platooned often. He played 87 games (278 at-bats), batting .280 with seven home runs.
Then came the trade to Oakland just over a year go, that brought reliever Andrew Bailey to Boston. Bailey was injured much of last year, while Reddick shined. There is still room for improvement. Reddick batted .242 last year and his OPS (combined on-base percentage and slugging average) was .768, which was the lowest of all sluggers with 30 or more home runs.
But Reddick feels that he will continue fulfilling his potential.
“I just have to stay focused,” Reddick said.
Reddick can take a break from that focus this weekend. He will visit with Sea Dogs fans tonight. And when he leaves the banquet, Reddick won’t need a hotel key. His Maine family has his room all ready.