An Air of Nostalgia

Part One



I parked along Park Avenue in Portland (Maine) about a quarter of a mile from Hadlock Field, home of the AA Eastern League Portland Seadogs. My brother Jim and I jumped out and headed toward the park. This area was part of our stomping grounds as children so the entire neighborhood was as familiar to us as our old back yard.

We walked down to the ballpark entrance and got in line. Even though it was only a little before three in the afternoon and the game didn’t start until after seven, there were already about 150 people ahead of us. The crowd was buzzing. There was a magical feeling of nostalgia in the air. It was almost as if we were living out one of those old baseball clips from the 1950’s. The Willie Mays catch, the shot heard round the world and somehow now the 2005 Eastern League All Star Game.

We waited for about fifteen minutes and then the gates opened. We filed in very slowly with the rest of the crowd, wondering why it was taking so long. When we got to the gate, we found out why as the ticket taker punched our tickets and gave them back to us as souvenirs then reached down and handed us both an official Eastern League All Star Game baseball. How cool was that!

Our tickets said General Admission so we made our way out into the stadium and immediately took up residence in the front row directly behind home plate, spreading out to cover four seats. The extra two were for Rene Custeau and Bob Louse. Seemingly we were golden. It paid to arrive 4 hours early. Our view was to be short lived though as an usher apparently late to his station came through checking tickets and basically evicted everyone. These seats were reserved and we didn’t belong in the high rent district.

            We relocated above the reserved seating and scouted out a section of the bleachers just to the left of home plate that seemed to have good sight lines. There we spread out again and settled in on our hard metal seating and began taking turns for food and beer runs to the concourse. Finally around 3:30 pm the grounds crew (including Bob Louse) started bringing the batting cage and pitching screens out onto the field for batting practice. We were ready for some action.

            The South All Stars stepped in first. Many of their guys like Harrisburg Senator Edgar Gonzalez and Altoona Curve’s Rajal Davis put on shows by spraying the ball all over the field but it was Bowie Bay Sox Tripper Johnson and Akron Aero Jonathon Van Every that launched the long balls. One Van Every shot was so deep it landed on the football field which sits far beyond the right center field wall.

            This would all pale in comparison to what happened when the North stepped in for their batting practice. Former top Red Sox prospect Hanley Ramirez flashed some of his power lining bullets all over the outfield. Fellow Sea Dog and former major leaguer Jared Sandberg banged a bunch balls over the Right field walls. Toronto blue chipper Daniel Matienzo was also impressive banging balls off the “Green Monster” replica recently built in Hadlock’s left field. Finally Yankee prospect Shelly Duncan stood in and the crowd grow silent. It was easy to see from any seat in the stadium this kid was huge. He stood in with a Casey like awe at about six foot six and 230 pounds. The ball exploded off his bat with a noise resembling a cherry bomb. The cars on State Highway 295 far beyond the stadium walls in Left and Centerfield were in peril. This kid was hitting Kingmanesque balls headed for the stratosphere. It was almost as if he was pounding golf balls off a tee. Man, what a show this kid put on.

            After everyone had taken their swings, the grounds crew cleared the field of any balls or fungo bats and made ready for the Eastern League All Star Home Run Contest. Part two of the Air of Nostalgia Series, The Eastern League Home Run Derby, should hit newsstands sometime this spring.