The Portland Sea Dogs’ 2016 home opener is scheduled for Thursday against the Hartford Yard Goats.
Portland has already been named by the publication Baseball America as the best place in the country to catch a minor league game, and by sports television giant ESPN as one of the best places in the U.S. to watch top prospects. And many of today’s Boston Red Sox stars first made names for themselves on the professional scene playing in Maine’s largest city.
But if all that and the thought of professional baseball coming back to Maine isn’t enough to get you excited, maybe these videos will do the trick.
1. Hanley puts the nation on notice
Hanley Ramirez — now a Boston Red Sox slugger, but then still a Sea Dog — shined when the Eastern League All-Star Game came to Portland in 2005. Jon Lester, who would go on to win two World Series titles with the Red Sox, also represented the Sea Dogs in that game.
2. Mookie flashes the leather
Mookie Betts is considered by some to be the Red Sox best player today, but it was just two years ago at this time he was starting his season with the Sea Dogs. Will somebody on the 2016 Sea Dogs be the Mookie Betts of 2017 or 2018?
3. Swihart scores the winning run to end a marathon 15-inning game
Blake Swihart, who now starts at catcher for the big league team, was the second man to cross home plate in a dramatic, game-ending two-run single back in April of 2014. The walk-off hit gave Portland a 9-8 victory after an exhausting 15 innings.
4. The Dogs clutch victory from the jaws of defeat with an unlikely double play
Not every Sea Dogs highlight over the years has been a showcase for a current Red Sox star — sometimes, it’s just darn good baseball by hard-working guys who haven’t yet gone on to hoist a major league trophy. This hit down the left-field line in the ninth inning looked like real trouble, but then the Portland defense made an unlikely play…
5. Sea Dogs swing a triple play
Speaking of unlikely plays, how often do you see a triple play? It took 20 years for the Sea Dogs to record their first, which took place on April 21, 2014, in a 7-4 victory over the Binghamton Mets.
6. A home run actually goes through that tire in left field
Infielder Sean Coyle — currently ranked the No. 17 prospect in the Red Sox organization — actually smacked a round tripper through that Sullivan Tire ad hole over the left field wall. The well-placed dinger meant that Coyle and a Sea Dogs fan in attendance got to split a prize of $10,000.
7. Rijo gives us something to look forward to in 2016
At No. 15, infielder Wendell Rijo is the highest ranked Red Sox prospect on the Sea Dogs’ season-opening roster. Here’s Rijo showing off his bat and his foot speed in a triple for the Single-A Greenville (South Carolina) Drive.
8. Wait, what’s a football play doing on this list?
The Sea Dogs are known for inviting other sports stars and celebrities to meet with fans and sign autographs. This year, dynamic New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis is scheduled to come to Portland’s Hadlock Field on May 3. In the play below, Lewis makes a one-handed catch and then makes four Dallas Cowboy defenders look silly on the way into the end zone.
9. Underdog pitcher Wilkerson’s back
Righthander Aaron Wilkerson went undrafted and joined the Sox organization only after Boston bought his contract from an independent league team. But now that he’s gotten a shot, he’s making the most of it. He blew through the lower levels of the minor league system before finishing the 2015 season in Portland, where he went 4-1 with a 2.66 ERA. He got the ball for the Sea Dogs season opener on the road on April 7 and didn’t miss a beat. Wilkerson struck out a career-high 11 batters in a 3-1 win.
10. Oh, and don’t be deterred if it’s chilly at the ballpark