A soft liner off the bat of Jarren Duran disappeared into the glove of Fisher Cats third baseman Cullen Large on Labor Day of 2019, giving visiting New Hampshire an 8-7 victory in 10 innings over the Portland Sea Dogs.

Ever since, Hadlock Field has been without professional baseball.

A drought of 610 days is scheduled to end Tuesday night when those same Fisher Cats return to Portland for Opening Day of the Double-A Northeast, a 12-team league that replaces the nearly century-old Eastern League.

On Monday afternoon, the familiar sounds were back: baseballs thumping into mitts, fungo bats slapping grounders and pop flies, chatter flowing like birdsong, in Spanish and English. Resplendent in red jerseys and clean white pants, 28 young men frolicked about the emerald grass and khaki-colored dirt of Hadlock in their first workout in Maine as members of the 2021 Sea Dogs.

“Being back in the ballpark, being back in the clubhouse with all the guys, getting the unis on, everybody’s buzzing,” said Thad Ward, Friday’s scheduled starting pitcher, who spent much of last year working out at home instead of playing ball. “Team chemistry is great. We’re all really looking forward to it.”

Ward grew up in Fort Myers, Florida, rooting for the Red Sox. At age 10, he even served as a bat boy for a memorable spring training game. A fellow Floridian, Triston Casas, is a slugging first baseman heralded as the top prospect in Boston’s minor-league system.


“My first impression of the park is that it’s beautiful,” Casas said. “Getting to take ground balls on that surface is really nice … and I’ve got a couple targets in right field to aim for come game time.”

Corey Wimberly, first-year manager of the Sea Dogs, put the team through a lively workout Monday that included outfielders learning to play balls off the wall, infielders plucking grounders and pitchers covering first base. He also included a few moments of fun, such as when he asked a few players to show off how they might greet him (as third base coach) during a home run trot.

“I just like to be prepared,” Wimberly said with a smile. “We’ve got some boppers on our team, guys who can possibly hit a lot of home runs.”

No one surpassed the flourish of outfielder Jeisson Rosario, who spread his arms as if in flight before launching into a cartwheel and backflip after rounding third.

“He’s pretty athletic,” Wimberly said. “Hopefully that’s the last time he does that, though. Scary.”

As for the ballpark itself, the familiar red-white-and-blue bunting will lend an air of pageantry to the occasion. Efforts to limit the spread of coronavirus include new plexiglass barriers around the dugouts and visiting bullpen, meaning player-fan interaction will be infrequent, if not impossible.


“Getting that fan interaction pre-game, getting to sign autographs, getting to talk to the fans, engage with them a little bit, I feel like that’s a part of the game I’m going to miss for a little while,” Casas said. “Hopefully it’s not too much longer.”

Slugger, the Sea Dogs mischievous mascot, will steer clear of the playing field. The same holds true for fans involved in between-innings promotions and nearly everyone other than players, coaches and umpires.

Thousands of seats are closed up with plastic zip ties to ensure six-foot social distancing between pods that range from one to eight in capacity. Fans will be required to wear masks, both to enter the ballpark and at all times except when actively eating or drinking.

As for concessions, prices haven’t changed but procurement has. Fans can order food, drink or souvenirs from their smart phones (or roving concessionaires carrying tablet computers) and have the goods delivered to their seats. Offerings are available on the team website.

The mask mandate is per order of Major League Baseball, while eliminating lines at concession stands comes from the state. To comply with potential requests, the Sea Dogs are staffing Opening Day as if it were a mid-summer sellout, even though only 2,087 seats are currently available for games this month.

More of the park’s 7,368-seat capacity could be available in coming months, should vaccinated sections or a reduction in the six-foot distancing requirements come into play. Tickets for all games in May remain available. June tickets have yet to be put on sale.

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