Monday, May 29, 2006

Staying Alive

What started with eight is now down to four. Wheaton College, on the strength of their heart-stopping, 5-4 win over Wisconsin-Stevens Point, is left standing with three others, in the 2006 College World Series, held in Appleton, Wisconsin.

With mid-summer temperatures hovering near 90 degrees, sophomore right-hander, Louis Bernadini, pitched into the ninth, leaving with a 5-1 lead. With the lead and one of the nation’s top closers in Division III, Jamie Baker, brought in to drive the final two nails in the Pointers’ coffin, it looked like the Lyons’ faithful could collectively take a cleansing breath and stop gripping. As happens so often in tournament play, Wisconsin-Stevens Point refused to go quietly. Senior Chuck Brehm blasted a two-run homer over the wall in left center to make it a two-run margin. A walk and an RBI single made it 5-4 and the partisan crowd was whooping it up for their home state team. With hearts in throats, the Lyons’ contingent of parents, friends and assorted family members screamed and hollered support, as Baker flung a 2-2 slider by the lunging WSP hitter and the Lyons lived to play for another day.

Wheaton has a chance to test its mettle again, this time against Montclair State College, of New Jersey. The Red Hawks advanced in an improbable fashion, with their dramatic 5-4 win over Eastern Connecticut State.

With runners at seoncs and third, in the bottom of the 11th inning, Eastern Connecticut State head coach Bill Holowaty brought in senior pitcher Alex Narus - the seventh Warrior pitcher used in the game - to face Brian Butler. On his first pitch of an intentional-walk attempt, the high lob ricocheted off of the top of catcher Matt Cooney's glove and slowly went back to the wall. Michael Nunes sprinted to the plate with the game-winning run. I can only imagine the anguish experienced by the fans from Connecticut.

Today, Wheaton will play at noon. If they can get by the Red Hawks, they will have the opportunity for a rematch against Chapman University, which fell to the undefeated Marietta College Pioneers, 10-4, in Sunday night action.

Both Mary and I are enjoying ourselves, along with the other members of the Wheaton entourage. The Appleton area has rolled out the red carpet to the teams and their fans and the weather, save for a few showers on Saturday, has been gorgeous.

I hope to be back to report on two victories with my next post.


Sunday, May 28, 2006

Elimination Game

Baseball, more than any other sport, can make for an unforgiving place to reside, at times. The good and very good are measured more by how they deal with adversity and failure, than how they relate to their times of success.

The Wheaton College Lyons, have come to their defining moment of the 2006 season, facing elimination, for the first time all year. Last night’s tough loss to Chapman University and their All-American pitcher, Devin Drag, was one of those moments when adversity blocks out all the other accomplishments in this spring’s high water mark of a season. Take away the 39 wins up to this point, a school record, the remarkable 24 game winning streak, their first regional title and their first appearance in the College World Series here in Appleton. Without a win today against a tough Wisconsin-Stevens Point club and the accolades and awards of 2006 will ring hollow. Granted, time will help all the players, coaches and fans place it in the proper perspective, but for the short-term, today’s game is the biggest one to date and the biggest one in the Lyons’ brief nine year history. Without a win and all will seem for naught.

As a former player, now relegated to the role of parent and spectator, it breaks your heart to see your son and his teammates looking so crushed and dejected, streaming through the Fox Cities Stadium concourse, last night. At a loss for words and just wanting to get on the bus, they obviously didn’t come here thinking about losing. Even parents and supporters, used to gregarious mingling and basking in the vicarious post-game rush of victory seemed ill-prepared for losing.

This morning, the sun came up and it’s a new day. Elimination games are what the latter stages of double-elimination tournaments are about. While Wisconsin Stevens-Point is 10-0 in their history of playing in elimination games, Wheaton as a program has never been here. Will history run true to form, or will the Lyons begin writing their own script of post-season miracles, with backs to the wall.

We’ll have to wait until early afternoon (1:15 CST) to know how things will shake out.


Friday, May 26, 2006

Travel is hell

Travel is hell, at least when you’re tall and fly coach. Seeing that I didn’t win the lottery at birth and was born of working-class folk, I imagine that I’ll always end up subjected to having my knees pressed into the back of the seat in front of me, whenever I have to fly.

We left Logan at noon and flew two hours to Detroit. After a three hour layover at Detroit Metro , the rudeness (to go along with murder) capital of the U.S., our second leg of the journey to Green Bay was short and sweet—47 minutes.

The Austin Straubel International Airport in Green Bay is small, similar in size to the Portland Jetport. What you notice immediately when you touch down in the Midwest, is both the flatness of the terrain and the genuine friendliness of the airport staff. Unlike Detroit, where I think airport staff are trained to exhibit rudeness, regardless of what kiosk you stop at, the folks at Austin Straubel ask about your trip, where you are headed, is this your first time here, etc.

The drive from Green Bay to Appleton is about 30 miles and couldn’t have been easier to navigate. Much of the drive took place via U.S. 41 where we passed mile after mile of farms and pastures. In fact, flying into Green Bay revealed that this area is still farming country, as the grid work of farms flanking the metro area was especially evident from the air.

Once we checked in at the hotel, where we freshened up and unpacked our luggage, we then headed next door to the Texas Roadhouse, for dinner. After a piece of dry toast for breakfast, a lousy burrito at the Detroit airport and some stale pretzels on the plane, I was ready for a few beers and some Texas barbeque.

When you are on the road, you are always at the mercy of recommendations, whims and a few online recommendations, or the word of locals about eating establishments. We were not disappointed with our dinner. Not only was the food wonderful, but our waitress, Sam, went out of her way to be accommodating and added to the enjoyment of our ample portions of great-tasting, stick-to-your-ribs type of fare. After a couple of beers and a great meal, we made the short walk back to the hotel where we made it an early night.

Today is the beginning of the tournament and we’ll be headed out to Fox Cities Stadium to catch the Wheaton/North Carolina Wesleyan game.


Monday, May 22, 2006

A remarkable season that still has legs

In America (and countries like the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Cuba and other baseball-playing nations), little boys learn the game from their fathers. Most begin acquiring the knowledge and a working understanding of it at an early age.

My son, Mark, was introduced to baseball around the age of three, via a plastic Wiffle ball bat. With the care common with dads passing on their love of something, we spent many an evening in the backyard of our rented duplex in Indiana (we'd be moving back to the Pine Tree State the next year), bonding around a plastic bat and ball.

It might be naïve on my part, but I swear that Mark exhibited precocity towards hitting a ball. Even at three, he’d swing so hard that he’d fall down, trying to hit the ball. He probably only made contact three out of ten times I pitched the ball his way, but when he did hit it, it would sail over my head and I’d think, “maybe I’ve got a ballplayer for a son.”

As soon as he was eight (the earliest Mark could enter any organized aspect of baseball), my wife and I signed him up for t-ball. While this is usually a good first introduction to baseball, with youngster hitting the ball off a stationary, rubber tube, affixed to home plate, for Mark, it was not “real” baseball because they didn’t keep score. He has always been a competitor and the excessive nods to “fairness” of t-ball drained this youthful version of baseball of any meaning for Mark.

His four years playing Little League were very enjoyable and he began to show his considerable talent. I coached and our teams began to dominate the league. I spent many hours teaching the game and the proper way to play it, to Mark, as well as the other 14 or 15 young men (and occasionally, young ladies) on the team. By his 12-year-old year, we had an undefeated team and I began to receive some of the ire commonly directed at coaches by overbearing parents of Little Leaguers. Most often this would be coming from people that knew next to nothing about sports and the proper way to coach them.

While I had a one year stint coaching my son in middle school, I no longer coached Mark as he began to mature and exhibit an ability to launch baseballs up and out towards outfield fences. We still spent many hours on deserted ball fields, emptying buckets of baseballs, with me throwing batting practice until my arm was jelly, or hitting countless fungoed ground balls to a budding young first baseman.

It is in high school when fathers of talented youngsters begin to receive some validation for their efforts. After successful junior and senior years of high school, as well as his final summer American Legion campaign where it seemed like he hit a homer most nights, my son had grown to a lanky 6’3” and was off to play baseball at Wheaton College, a Division III baseball program on the move. The year before Mark arrived, the Lyons had their first player taken in the Major League baseball draft. Chris Denorfia, an immensely talented outfielder was drafted in the 19th round by the Cincinnati Reds. In three years, Denorfia would make his major league debut in September and hit his first home run. His time at Wheaton saw the Lyons become one of the top Division III programs in New England, often attracting players who were talented and should have been given a shot at much larger, Division I schools. Instead, these blue chip players opted for the more rigorous academic opportunities, the smaller school size and still had an opportunity to have a rigorous college baseball experience.

My wife and I got used to three hour drives each weekend to watch our son mostly ride the pine during his freshman year. While it’s hard to watch your son not play, especially when you’ve had high hopes for him since three and spend hours teaching him the finer points of the game, my wife Mary also struggled with Mark’s lack of playing time.

It’s a good thing for parents to learn to let go of their children and allow them the space they need to mature. Mark continued to work hard and his sophomore year yielded his first significant playing time.

By his junior year, Mark had become a hulking 6’3” and 225 pounds of lean muscle. He put up phenomenal numbers over the 2005 campaign and was selected to the all-New England team, as their first-team designated hitter. He had the third best offensive season in school history. With a strong showing in the 2005 Northeast Regional, where they bowed out to a strong Trinity club in the regional finals, the team seemed poised for bigger and better things in 2006.

While baseball is a game that focuses on individual statistics and more than any other major sport, it truly is a game driven by numbers, it is first and foremost, a team game. Regardless of how well individuals do, the performance of the club, as far as winning or losing goes, is dependent on the efforts of nine or more players. A player can hit home runs, or pitch brilliantly and still come out on the losing end if everyone isn’t hitting on all cylinders.

The 2006 Wheaton season was a wonderful illustration of this to me and I don’t think it was lost on Mark. While the team didn’t get off to the kind of start that would indicate a season of historic proportions, there were obviously signs of tremendous talent. On the annual southern trip to Florida, to play 10 days of baseball in conditions more conducive to pitching and batting a ball, the team came back north with a mark of six wins and three losses, after having played some of the top Division III teams in the country. The pitching appeared especially strong and abundantly deep, but the bats showed inconsistency and the infield defense was porous. Mark, after hitting well in the first two games began to scuffle at the plate. In a pattern that would befuddle him much of the season, with games that seemed to indicate he had found the stroke that made him one of the most-feared players in the blue-and-white lineup in 2005, he inevitably would find himself back in the funk of a slump. As a father, I had stopped offering unsolicited advice to my son. While I had the privilege of coaching him for the past three summers, as well as other talented college players, I knew better than to be the overbearing dad of my earlier years.

After suffering a loss to Bridewater State College, the Lyons proceeded to win one and lose two during the first week back playing on the barren and brown fields of northern New England.

On Tuesday, March 28, Wheaton bussed over to Waltham for an afternoon game at Brandies. Once again, the Lyons were having trouble catching the ball. Finding themselves down by a 4-2 count, going into the ninth, the club rallied for three in their half of the ninth to go up, 5-4. With their closer, Jamie Baker shutting down the Judges’ bats, Wheaton ended up with a win and the beginning of an unbelievable streak of wins.

Over the next five weeks, the Lyons would not lose. On April 12th, they erased a 6-0 deficit on route to a 13-7 thrashing of Bridgwater State, tying the school record for consecutive wins, with their 11th consecutive victory. The following day, once again, the Lyons came from behind to against Worcester State, with a hard fought 8-7 win and set a new Wheaton record for wins in a row.

The Blue and White ended up winning 24 consecutive games during this unbelievable run of baseball. During this period, they would come from behind 16 times. Pitching and defense wins baseball games. For the Lyons, their staff became one of the best in the nation and the defense was solidified. The bats hit just enough day after day and the Lyons blew through their conference tournament on route to a top seed in their regional tournament.

While the Lyons had been to the regionals three out of the four years Mark has played, never before had they gone into this five day tournament with such high hopes and expectations. When you’ve been ranked as high as fourth, nationally, as well as being the top ranked team in New England all season, the expectations were high.

Wheaton didn’t disappoint, as they systematically eliminated their opponents. With this year’s field expanded to seven, the top seed was more important than previous years. By winning the opening night, Wheaton could put themselves in the driver’s seat.

Their 5-2 win over a strong Salem State team Wednesday night put them in a place they wanted to be. This gave them a day off and forced the remaining teams to chew up their pitching. On Friday, the Lyons dispensed with Western New England, a club that had beaten them on the final day of the regular season. Senior Chris Martin won his seventh game and shut down the potent bats of the Golden Bears.

Saturday would find Wheaton matched against the University of Southern Maine, a program with two national titles, the last one coming in 1997. Coached by the volatile Ed Flaherty, the Huskies were a club that received a surprising at-large invite. While not expected to do much, the young club surprised the rest of the field and found themselves with an opportunity to knock off the top club and make yet another appearance in the Division III World Series, in Appleton, Wisconsin.

When the Huskies jumped out to a 2-0 lead in their top of the first, it appeared that they had their sights on an upset. Wheaton however, never flustered by a deficit, put up a four spot in their bottom half. Mark, who showed signs of breaking out of a season-long slump, singled in a run during the early outburst.

The Huskies came right back in the top half of the second and loaded the bases with a walk and two hit batsmen. This brought Wheaton’s coach, Eric Podbelski out and sophomore Josh Moore into the game. The lefty managed to strike out the first two hitters he faced and induced a harmless grounder and the Lyons had dodged an early upset bullet. Before all the dust had settled, the club would end up pummeling the Huskies’ over-worked pitching staff for 17 hits and 16 runs—Mark added a double to the barrage, in addition to his first hit. For the first time in program history, the baseball team was advancing to the World Series.

This is an exciting time for the Baumers and many other Wheaton baseball parents. When Coach P was recruiting our son, he told my wife and I that Mark had an opportunity to play for a team that could possibly play for a national title. While it seemed hard to fathom at the time, four years later, we’ve booked our flights and are making our last-minute arrangements to journey westward, to Appleton, Wisconsin.

While this season has been a record-setting one for the team, for Mark, it’s been a struggle. Yet, he rarely, if ever, showed his disappointment, basking in the glow of victory and team and not the limelight of individual success. While we haven’t talked about it, I’m sure there are times that this season has been difficult. Having struggled with my own issues around baseball success at a similar age, I empathize with what he goes through and as a dad, wish there was some way I could save him from the hard lessons that sports and life can teach us. However, knowing that there is always light at the end of the tunnel and that baseball, while fun to play, is merely a game, helps to put it in the proper perspective.

I don’t know where this season will take us and if Wheaton has enough to overcome the other seven teams from their respective regions of the country. Regardless of the outcomes of the game, this has been a fitting finale to Mark’s four years at Wheaton. Not only has he played for a topnotch team and a classy coach, but he also has excelled academically and is well-prepared to go out into the world and hopefully, make his mark. And on top of all of this, we are still playing and my wife and I will get to visit a new area of the country.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The "buzz" continues

I released When Towns Had Teams last September. Many books have a short "window of opportunity," particularly those that are tied to trends and popular culture. Thankfully, a book like mine, with its historical arc, from a time rapidly fading from memory, continues to captivate those with an appreciation for Maine's unique heritage from bygone days.

Harry Gratwick reviewed When Towns Had Teams for The Working Waterfront, one of our state's more interesting and pertinent publications. Gratwick obviously understands what I tried to convey by writing this book. Not only does the baseball captivate this reviewer, but as he writes, "Baumer uses Maine to illustrate the changes that were occurring in American society in the 1950s. 'High school graduates from all over the country,' he writes, 'were now deciding on college as an option to jumpstart their careers.' One result of this influx of manpower was the development of a more competitive brand of college baseball. This in turn improved the level of summer ball played at the semi-pro and town team level in Maine. The result was that spectators of the sport were treated to a high level of baseball from early summer until the last major league team had barnstormed through the state in the fall."

I was aware of putting Maine's unique brand of baseball into the proper context and reviewers like Gratwick obviously appreciate my efforts. As a writer, this is very gratifying.

Thanks to Gratwick for his great review and hopefully, this will bring the book to the attention of many of the former town team players and others, who probably still don't know about the book.


Monday, May 08, 2006

In Hadlock's Shadow, part III

[This is the final installment of an article I wrote in 2004, on the effects of professional baseball on the city of Portland, Maine]

Impact on the neighborhood

Within walking distance of Hadlock Field are a several businesses that might be of interest to baseball fans coming and going from a Sea Dogs game. Neighborhood markets, restaurants, a gas station—all of these businesses would likely see some benefit with an average of 5 to 6,000 fans attending games at Hadlock and spending money in the neighborhood surrounding the stadium.

Terroni’s Market has been serving the Park Street neighborhood for years. Selling the usual small store fare of soda, chips, candy, and pizza, as well as one of the city’s better Italian sandwiches, the store’s location makes it a convenient and inexpensive place for fans to sate some pre or post-game hunger or thirst.

Ron Hamilton, store manager told me that he hasn’t noticed much of an increase in cash receipts on the day of a Sea Dogs game.

“We don’t get a lot of customers from the Sea Dogs because they can’t bring food into the game,” said Hamilton. “There has been some increase after games this year, but prior to this year, I haven’t noticed a difference.”

Across the street, Mark Gibson of Hamilton’s Service Station told me that the Sea Dogs aren’t a benefit to the station’s business.

“The fans keep us from being able to do our job,” said Gibson. “We can’t road test cars because we can’t get out of the lot due to the traffic being backed up. Also, we lose business as people don’t stop for gas because they know it will be a hassle getting out.” When asked if the Sea Dogs have done anything to compensate the station for their inconvenience. “We get free tickets to one of the games each year,” he said. “We also get some business from the Sea Dogs employees, like Charlie Eshbach (Sea Dogs General Manager); he’s a real nice guy.”

Sonny’s Variety on lower Congress Street has been in the Brichetto family since 1986. Sonny Brichetto has been proprietor of the store for the past six years. When asked his thoughts on the Sea Dogs and whether there are benefits to him, as a business owner, he offered the following.

“They don’t help my business,” said Brichetto. “A lot of people park right in front of the store and my customers can’t pull up. They can’t stop for milk or a six pack of beer. It hurts my business.”

Do fans stop in for food prior to the game or on the way back to their cars?

“A lot of the fans are older and they don’t spend money,” he said. “They leave the game, go to their cars, and drive off. One thing I did notice is the other night, during the high school playoff game; I had my best night in a long time. We did $150 of extra business because it was mostly high school kids and the concessions at the ballpark weren’t open.”

Around the corner from Hadlock, Dave and Alice Emery operate Emery Window Shade Company on St. John Street. Within the past couple of years, they’ve begun operating a small eatery and ice cream stand also out of the same building. When Dave Emery was asked how he viewed the Sea Dogs as a neighbor he had this to say.

“They take up all of your parking and they don’t give you any business,” said Emery. His wife Alice added, “People that live here come home from work and they have no place to park. Fans going to the games take their spaces on the street. We’ve had to call parking control several times because people were parked in one of our few spaces for customers.”

Reaping the benefits

The Sea Dogs are an unqualified business success. During each of the past 10 seasons, the team has made a profit, with obvious benefit to the ownership of the team. Indications are that the new affiliation with the Red Sox is sure to be even more lucrative for the team.

A casual glance around the confines of Hadlock Field illustrates the success of the team’s advertising program. With billboards plastered on the outfield wall, and signage displayed prominently throughout the entire ballpark, it is clear that the team is receiving ample support from the local business community. Businesses also cash in from their affiliation with the Sea Dogs.

For a business like Sullivan Tire, there are obvious benefits from the advertising they do via baseball and the Sea Dogs. Paul Sullivan, owner of Sullivan Tire recognizes that baseball advertising works for his business.

The company advertises with the Sea Dogs, as well as other New England professional teams, including the Boston Red Sox. Sullivan, articulate and possessing a keen understanding of communication and the connection between baseball, tradition, and the role these play in advertising, spoke passionately about why he chooses to advertise with professional teams like the Sea Dogs.

“Sullivan Tire began in a barn in Rockland, Massachusetts in 1955—this is our 49th year in business,” said Sullivan. “In 1978, we decided to use baseball as a stage to reach the New England baseball audience. We recognized that baseball as a vehicle crossed barriers of age, demographics, gender and racial makeup like no other opportunity. We know that New Englanders love baseball and as a result, we’ve committed a good portion of our communications budget towards baseball advertising.”

Reaching a conclusion

Is there economic benefit to the city of Portland from professional baseball? To those residents and businesses in the neighborhood around Hadlock, the benefit is negligible at best and the inconveniences of game days may negate any.

The city benefits from the image that they’ve been able to create by piggy-backing on the Sea Dogs. Many people looking to relocate to Portland obviously find entertainment options like the Sea Dogs attractive. An argument can be made that fans coming to Hadlock spend additional money in Portland, if not in the immediate vicinity of the field, then in other parts of the city. The capital improvements made to Hadlock have certainly improved the overall value of the park.

As far as the Sea Dogs organization is concerned, they are only doing what any profitable business does—maximizing assets while minimizing liabilities—for that, it is impossible to fault them as a business. They also provide some outreach to the community through a variety of service programs.

Yet, there are nagging questions about the entire relationship between the City and the Sea Dogs. There are obvious issues that should be addressed between the Sea Dogs and nearby businesses. While trying to be a good neighbor by offering perks such as complimentary tickets to those in the neighborhood is commendable and an obvious good faith gesture, it is obvious that more could be done to try to deal with some of the problem areas, particularly in regards to parking and the inconveniences caused by game days.

Increasing concerns about property taxes, school funding issues, and the possible loss of needed services throughout the city beg the question whether Portlanders want to continue to subsidize a profitable local business like the Sea Dogs without any hard numbers to indicating actual economic benefits to the people of the city.

The Sea Dogs organization should look for ways to cultivate partnerships with local amateur leagues in the city. Rather than seeking to be the only game in town, the team should recognize that amateur baseball was alive and well in Portland before the team arrived and do more to support and promote the health of those leagues. By encouraging more people to play the game at the local level, the Sea Dogs are investing in their long-term success by creating lifelong fans for the sport of baseball.

Portlanders should also be willing to ask the hard questions and demand that their elected leaders take a look at ways to improve the current financial relationship between the Sea Dogs and the City. One improvement might be a renegotiation of the lease agreement, making it more favorable for all residents of the city.

With the Sea Dogs set to cash in on their lucrative affiliation with the Red Sox, residents who live, work, and pay taxes in Portland should be getting quantifiable benefits from this relationship.

Author's note:

It's been nearly two years since I wrote, "In Hadlock's Shadow," and in that time, not one journalist has bothered to look at any of the issues or concerns that I raised. The assumption continues to be that a professional baseball team, privately owned, but subsidized with public dollars, isn't an area for concern, or worthy of something other than a "rubber-stamped" approval. Professional sports, despite rocketing salaries, franchises that continue to appreciate and sweetheart deals in city after city across the country building ballparks and arenas that benefit private business interests, rather than tax-paying citizens, continues to receive little, if any, journalistic scrutiny.

Our own state of Maine continues to lack a statewide journalistic vehicle that reports on similar issues that affect the citizens of the state. Rarely do the state's daily newspapers tackle investigative journalism any longer, particularly if it must go toe-to-toe with business, or wealthy ownership, like the Sea Dog's owner, Dan Burke. Instead, we are treated to a continual torrent of fluff pieces and news-lite in daily doses.

I have little hope that my article will make much of a difference regarding professional baseball. However, I know that I wrote an honest piece that looked at issues that should matter to the people of Portland and to citizens beyond Maine's largest city. It's a template for other writers who might want to look at other similar issues, particularly at a time when tax dollars are being stretched tightly and often come up short in meeting many essential services in communities across the Pine Tree State.

Lastly, another city in Maine, Lewiston, has invested substantial public monies into the refurbishing of a historic arena. This was done to attract a professional hockey team, the Lewiston Mainiacs, to the city. While the improvements to the building have transformed a former eyesore, I've yet to read one article that questions any aspects of this project. Interestingly, at least one local business seems to have benefitted substantially from the renovations and their relationship with the Mainiacs.

But the issue remains, even if someone wanted to investigate this issue in Lewiston, concerning professional hockey and whether the city's involvement is reaping economic benefits for all citizens, what publication would be willing to stand behind it? I doubt the Lewiston Sun Journal would tackle this. Based on their track record with the Sea Dogs, I have reservations that Mainebiz would print any type of expose.

As I've written before, without a statewide publication the likes of the former Maine Times, there is no publication that is willing, or courageous enough, to publish the kind of articles that true journalism calls for. As a result, the light of truth is diminished and Mainers are poorer because of this.


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

In Hadlock's Shadow, part II

[This is part two of an article I wrote in 2004, on the economic benefits and local impact of professional baseball on the city of Portland, Maine]

Cost vs. Benefit

The consensus of many people in Portland is that the Sea Dogs bring multiple benefits to the community, particularly economic perks. While some advantages to the community seem obvious, these are difficult to quantify. Several studies have examined the impact of professional sports teams on the economic health of their communities. Much of the data indicates that public support of professional sports franchises can actually be a detriment to communities. Money spent on building and renovating sports stadiums could be used for local residents and programs that benefit a greater number of people. Also, money spent on sporting events takes money away from other forms of entertainment, some of it community-based.

A study conducted by Dennis C. Coates and Brad R. Humphreys of the University of Maryland demonstrated that publicly financed stadiums actually drag down local economies. In 37 cities between 1969 and 1996, minor and major league baseball franchises with new ballparks reduced overall income in the cities where they were built. The study concluded that “while bringing a new team to a town does have some economic benefits, the net value is usually negative if a new stadium must be built with public money.”

Hadlock Field is certainly a jewel of a ballpark. A ten-minute walk around the neighborhood bordering the ballpark however, lends evidence that not a lot of money leaves the comfortable confines of Hadlock Field. Most of the businesses that exist within ¼ mile of Hadlock Field were there prior to the arrival of the Sea Dogs. There are few if any new businesses nearby that are directly attributable to the Sea Dogs presence in the neighborhood.

When asked how many dollars the Sea Dogs pump into the local economy, Liz Darling, marketing director for the City of Portland was unable to provide specific statistics quantifying the benefits.

“We don’t track that information,” said Darling. “If you come to a game however, you’ll see the benefits to the local businesses. The Sea Dogs are one of the leading teams in the Eastern League and provide great family entertainment,” she said.

John Rague is currently the Customer Service and Programs Manager for Portland Public Works. When the Hadlock construction project began in 1993, Rague was Director of Engineering. Rague said, “The project broke ground in March of 1993. The city was the general contractor, doing as much of the work as we could and then subcontracting the work out that we couldn’t handle. We completed this ambitious project in one year and one month to have it ready for opening day, 1994.”

When asked about costs, Rague said, “That’s a long time ago. I believe the costs were somewhere around $1.5 -$2 million. I know we had a major soils issue that added numbers to the project.” Did he think the money spent on Hadlock has been beneficial to the city of Portland? “Definitely,” he said. “I don’t personally go to many games—I spent every day there during the project for a year and a half—but I believe that the stadium benefits the city. The Sea Dogs provide family entertainment, and the benefits far exceed the money spent on it. When we were in the planning stage, several city officials visited the various cities of the Eastern League [the league the Sea Dogs play in] and city officials in places like Reading, Pennsylvania, told us that having a team in your city can easily bring in $5 million or more to the local economy.”

Ellen Sanborn, assistant finance director for the City, confirmed that the city is actually losing money on the lease agreement in excess of $170,000 per annum. The annual revenue received from Hadlock totals $252,000. Annual facility expenses are $275,000 (of which $100,000 is yearly capital improvements) and another $150,000 is required for field maintenance each year. Sanborn also put the total cost of the project at somewhere between $2 and $2.5 million dollars, with funding coming from a combination of city issued bonds, some capital improvement funds solicited, and some surplus money that the city had. These numbers indicate that the City has spent and continues to spend considerable funds to subsidize a private enterprise, namely, a professional baseball team.

When asked where the annual shortfall is being made up, Sanborn said, “Basically, the taxpayer is footing the bill. To be fair however, other city teams use the field, such as local high school baseball teams,” she said.

Chris Cameron is the director of media relations for the Portland Sea Dogs. He was asked what activities the Sea Dogs are involved in beyond the games to benefit the community and to be a good neighbor.

“Once per year we promote ‘Good Neighbors Night’ where we give away 1,000 complimentary tickets to our neighbors and businesses near Hadlock Field, said Cameron. “We also promote an adopt-a-school program where a local school has the option of having a Sea Dogs player come and speak on a particular subject, or we offer them discounted tickets that they can sell to raise money for the school.”

When asked about ticket giveaways to those who might not be able to afford tickets, Cameron said, “Fleet Bank provides a block of 500 tickets that they purchase at $1 per ticket. We then have the discretion of giving these away to groups and organizations that request them.”

Additionally, Cameron told me that the team mascots Slugger and Trash Monster were available for a fee to groups and individual parties. The Sea Dogs charge $50 per hour for them to appear, as well as offering them to non-profit groups for $25 per hour. Cameron said this is one of the more popular features that the Sea Dogs offer and that both Slugger and Trash Monster are usually booked for the summer.

[The final installment will look at the direct impact that the Portland Sea Dogs have on the neighborhood surrounding their home park, Hadlock Field]