October 28, 2021
MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

Sea Dogs feature new look, energy Pitching, speed are team strengths

It’s not really a whole new ballgame for the Portland Sea Dogs, but it could be an even more enjoyable one.

They have a new parent organization; new players, coaches and team colors; and a newly-renovated ballpark. Just about the only thing that hasn’t changed for the Sea Dogs this season is the front office, league affiliation, and standing as one of the more established Double A teams on the East Coast.

And although the Dogs haven’t always been successful on the field, the popularity of Portland’s 10-year-old minor league baseball team has rarely waned much, if at all.

After nine years as the Double A affiliate of the Florida Marlins, the Sea Dogs have put on their Red Sox and traded their black-and-teal colors for Boston’s red-and-navy blue.

“The nice thing is for nine years, there were many Marlins fans through the Sea Dogs, but there were even more Red Sox fans,” said Charles Eshbach, Sea Dogs president and general manager. “Now you can be one and the same.”

A new affiliation brings a renewed sense of excitement, inside and outside the organization, as well as new rivalries. In this case, that should be big benefit to Portland as it not only has an affiliation with the most beloved professional sports team in New England, it now has a ready-made rivalry with the Trenton Thunder, Class AA affiliate of the most reviled team in New England: the New York Yankees.

Ironically, this utopian baseball marriage came about almost exclusively by chance.

“We had a wonderful relationship with the Marlins and we had some great success on the field, so we got to a point where we weren’t looking to go anywhere else,” Eshbach said. “Then, during the winter a year ago, the Marlins were sold, John Henry went to take over the Red Sox and at that point, all the people we knew and all the strong relationships we had were gone with the Marlins.”

Since the Sea Dogs’ affiliation agreement was coming up for renewal in the offseason and the Red Sox were also at the end of an affiliation contract with (ironically) Trenton, Portland officials decided to test the waters with the Sox.

“The fact that it’s been able to come out this way has been wonderful, and it’s turned out this way with John Henry, who owned the Marlins, owning the Red Sox,” Eshbach said. “Plus Tom Werner and Dan Burke are close from their days when Dan was president of ABC. So we it was not only going with the Red Sox, we were going with people we knew.”

A new affiliation means an entirely new team, and after sitting through seven postponements and starting their season a week late, the Sea Dogs are starting to find out what kind of team they have.

“We’ve had four opening days and we’re going for our fifth next week,” said Eshbach. “It’s almost like Groundhog Day. Every day is opening day.”

The roster is dotted with names baseball aficionados and rotisserie fans will recognize, such as former Northeastern University star and 2001 Red Sox Minor League Pitcher of the Year Greg Montalbano, minor league all-star and former No. 1 draft pick Kelly Shoppach, and Kevin Youkilis, who Baseball America ranks as Boston’s No. 3 prospect.

Shoppach is on the disabled list while rehabbing in Florida following shoulder surgery. He’ll be Portland’s designated hitter until he can catch.

Youkilis, a 24-year-old third baseman, blew through Rookie and Single-A ball last year before batting .344 at Trenton. He should be a fan favorite.

“Youkilis is a guy they’re high on. He’s had a lot of play in the media as the poster child for their change in philosophy,” Eshbach said. “He’s the type of guy who gets on base and makes things happen. He’ll take a walk, a hit, whatever.”

This week’s issue of USA Today Sports Weekly refers to Youkilis as the “organization’s poster boy for plate discipline.”

Other key players for Portland are starting pitcher Jorge De La Rosa, a 21-year-old lefthander like Montalbano, 25; righthanders Gustavo Lopez, 27, and Anastacio Martinez, 24; outfielder Jeremy Owens, 26; shortstop Nelson Castro, 26; second baseman Carlos Leon, 23; catcher-first baseman-designated hitter Andy Dominique, 27; first baseman Dustin Brisson, 25; and outfielders Jeremy Owens, 26; Tonayne Brown, 25; Justin Headley, 26; and Justin Sherrod, 25.

Owens, a Rule 5 draftee from San Diego’s organization, has stolen 212 bases in the last four seasons.

Eshbach says team strengths should be starting pitching and speed. He hopes it will also be a sound defensive team. The team won’t remind anyone of the 1997 Portland team which had five guys with 20 or more home runs and one with 19 en route to 191, but they have at least four or five guys with pop. The biggest question mark – just like the big league team – pertains to the bullpen.

“I guess the best way to probably characterize our team is balanced,” he said.

Head coach Ron Johnson is excited about his team and expects this season to be more “secure” in terms of roster stability. Last season, only two of the players who began the season in Trenton finished it there.

That doesn’t faze Eshbach, who has been involved in minor league baseball for 29 years.

“Early in my career [1975], I was the manager of Boston’s Double-A affiliate [Bristol],” Eshbach recalled. “In April, they took our top pitcher, who was 4-1. At the end of May, they took our top pitcher who was 7-1 and moved him to Triple-A. At the end of June, they took our top pitcher who was leading the league in ERA and he went to Triple-A. Then in July, they took our guy who was then leading the league in ERA and he went to Triple-A. We ended up winning the pennant anyway because they kept bringing us guys who were good.”

It’s the hope of Eshbach, Johnson and other team officials that Portland can do the same thing, given Boston’s renewed emphasis on the minor league system and development of home-grown talent.

SEA DOGS SCHEDULE

APRIL

12 ? at Trenton, 7:05 p.m.

13 ? at Trenton, 7:05 p.m.

14 ? Binghamton, 6 p.m.

15 ? Binghamton, 6 p.m.

16 ? Binghamton, 6 p.m.

18 ? New Britain, 6 p.m.

19 ? New Britain, 1 p.m.

20 ? New Britain, 1 p.m.

22 ? at Binghamton, 7:05 p.m.

23 ? at Binghamton, 7:05 p.m.

24 ? at Binghamton, 7:05 p.m.

25 ? New Haven, 6 p.m.

26 ? New Haven, 1 p.m.

27 ? New Haven, 1 p.m.

28 ? Reading, 6 p.m.

29 ? Reading, 6 p.m.

30 ? Reading, 6 p.m.

MAY

1 ? Reading, 6 p.m.

2 ? at New Haven, 7:05 p.m.

3 ? at New Haven, 7:05 p.m.

4 ? at New Haven, 7:05 p.m.

5 ? at Norwich, 7:05 p.m.

6 ? at Norwich, 7:05 p.m.

7 ? at Norwich, 7:05 p.m.

9 ? New Britain, 6 p.m.

10 ? New Britain, 1 p.m.

11 ? New Britain, 1 p.m.

12 ? Trenton, 6 p.m.

13 ? Trenton, 6 p.m.

14 ? Trenton, 6 p.m.

15 ? at New Britain, 7:05 p.m.

16 ? at New Britain, 7:05 p.m.

17 ? at New Britain, 7:05 p.m.

18 ? at New Britain, 7:05 p.m.

19 ? Bowie Bay, 6 p.m.

20 ? Bowie Bay, 6 p.m.

21 ? Bowie Bay, 6 p.m.

22 ? Bowie Bay, noon

23 ? Harrisburg, 6 p.m.

24 ? Harrisburg, 6 p.m.

25 ? Harrisburg, 1 p.m.

26 ? Harrisburg, 1 p.m.

27 ? at Trenton, 7:05 p.m.

28 ? at Trenton, 7:05 p.m.

29 ? at Trenton, 7:05 p.m.

30 ? at Binghamton, 7:05 p.m.

31 ? at Binghamton, 7:05 p.m.

JUNE

1 ? at Binghamton, 7:05 p.m.

2 ? at Altoona, 7:05 p.m.

3 ? at Altoona, 7:05 p.m.

4 ? at Altoona, 7:05 p.m.

6 ? Binghamton, 7 p.m.

7 ? Binghamton, 6 p.m.

8 ? Binghamton, 1 p.m.

9 ? Norwich, 6 p.m.

10 ? Norwich, 6 p.m.

11 ? Norwich, noon

13 ? at Akron, 7:05 p.m.

14 ? at Akron, 7:05 p.m.

15 ? at Akron, 7:05 p.m.

16 ? at Erie Sea, 7:05 p.m.

17 ? at Erie Sea, 7:05 p.m.

18 ? at Erie Sea, 7:05 p.m.

19 ? at New Haven, 7:05 p.m.

20 ? at New Haven, 7:05 p.m.

21 ? at New Haven, 7:05 p.m.

22 ? at New Haven, 7:05 p.m.

23 ? Akron, 7 p.m.

24 ? Akron, 6 p.m.

25 ? Akron, 7 p.m.

27 ? Altoona, 7 p.m.

28 ? Altoona, 6 p.m.

29 ? Altoona, 1 p.m.

30 ? at Harrisburg, 7:05 p.m.

JULY

1 ? at Harrisburg, 7:05 p.m.

2 ? at Harrisburg, 7:05 p.m.

3 ? at Harrisburg, 7:05 p.m.

4 ? New Haven, 6 p.m.

5 ? New Haven, 6 p.m.

6 ? New Haven, 1 p.m.

7 ? New Britain, 7 p.m.

8 ? New Britain, 7 p.m.

9 ? New Britain, 7 p.m.

10 ? New Britain, noon

11 ? at Norwich, 7:05 p.m.

12 ? at Norwich, 7:05 p.m.

13 ? at Norwich, 7:05 p.m.

14 ? at Norwich, 7:05 p.m.

17 ? Norwich, 7 p.m.

18 ? Norwich, 7 p.m.

19 ? Norwich, 6 p.m.

20 ? Norwich, 1 p.m.

21 ? at Bowie Bay, 7:05 p.m.

22 ? at Bowie Bay, 7:05 p.m.

23 ? at Bowie Bay, 7:05 p.m.

24 ? at Bowie Bay, 7:05 p.m.

25 ? at Norwich, 7:05 p.m.

26 ? at Norwich, 7:05 p.m.

27 ? at Norwich, 7:05 p.m.

28 ? Trenton, 7 p.m.

29 ? Trenton, 7 p.m.

30 ? Trenton, noon

31 ? at Binghamton, 7:05 p.m.

AUGUST

1 ? at Binghamton, 7:05 p.m.

2 ? at Binghamton, 7:05 p.m.

3 ? at Binghamton, 7:05 p.m.

4 ? at Trenton, 7:05 p.m.

5 ? at Trenton, 7:05 p.m.

6 ? at Trenton, 7:05 p.m.

7 ? Binghamton, 7 p.m.

8 ? Binghamton, 7 p.m.

9 ? Binghamton, 6 p.m.

10 ? Binghamton, 1 p.m.

11 ? at Reading, 7:05 p.m.

12 ? at Reading, 7:05 p.m.

13 ? at Reading, 7:05 p.m.

14 ? at Reading, 7:05 p.m.

15 ? at New Britain, 7:05 p.m.

16 ? at New Britain, 7:05 p.m.

17 ? at New Britain, 7:05 p.m.

19 ? Norwich, 7 p.m.

20 ? Norwich, 7 p.m.

21 ? Norwich, noon

22 ? Erie Sea, 7 p.m.

23 ? Erie Sea, 6 p.m.

24 ? Erie Sea, 1 p.m.

26 ? at New Haven, 7:05 p.m.

27 ? at New Haven, 7:05 p.m.

28 ? at New Haven, 7:05 p.m.

29 ? New Haven, 7 p.m.

30 ? New Haven, 1 p.m.

31 ? New Haven, 1 p.m.

SEPTEMBER

1 ? New Haven, 1 p.m.


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