Friday, May 04, 2007

The Ol' Ball Game - The Sea Pups and Slugger at Haddock Field

Peggy and I went up to Portland for our 23rd anniversary last weekend, staying overnight so we could use a gift certificate to Vignola that my brother Lee had sent down. Vignola, located in restaurant row in Portland's Old Port, is highly recommended, btw, if you're in the mood for high-end Italian. I had the pork and veal meatballs with porcini mushrooms, tomato and pancetta and Peg had the grilled quail. Both were excellent.

A little weirdly, Vignola shares a basement kitchen with a "sister" restaurant, Cinque Terre, located a building away, which serves even higher-end Italian from the looks of its menu and prices. Vignola which is positioned as "casual" in their marketing, seems to be the Jan to Cinque Terre's Marcia Brady, but it was a fine choice as far as we were concerned.

Earlier in the day, we finally went to a Sea Dogs game, something we've talked about doing since the Pups, as I nicknamed them long ago, were a Marlins affiliate. Now they're the Red Sox's AA team, and they were playing New Hampshire's Fisher Cats last Saturday, giving us even more of an excuse to go - if we needed one.

As I've mentioned before, I'm not as rabid a baseball fan as Peggy. I like the Sox, but can seldom get through a full game on the tube. We'll maybe go to one or two live games a year, dependent on how many freebie tickets come our way from family and business. But, even with subsidized tickets, a trip to Friendly Fenway can put a serious dent in your pocketbook. Parking costs are outrageous unless you can come in by way of the T. You can easily lay out $40-50 for food and beer for two - and we're talking ballpark food and watery, lukewarm beer. You take an average-sized family to a major league park and you're talking an expensive day or night.

Plus - and I don't want to go into a rant about Fenway, because I actually do I kick out of going there - but it ain't a family ballpark all that much, advertising hype aside. It's mostly a park for testosterone-infused 20-somethings, too many with foul mouths on them, and listening to the constant F-bombs being dropped can quickly get old.

So, it's kind of nice to step back in time, and get something closer to what going to a ball game was probably like in the `40s and `50s. At the Pups' Hadlock field (which again, we had quickly twisted into "Haddock Field" for all the obvious reasons), you're almost sitting on the players, no matter where you're sitting. The place was crawling with kids and family, not surprising when general admission is $6 for adults and $3 for kids. Even box seats go for only $8 and $7.

The announcer comes on and tells you "no swearing allowed," and happily, there isn't. The game isn't bad, probably no one would consider it up to pro standards, but no one seems to much care either. We're all just having a good time.

The Pup's pitcher, a guy with the wonderful baseball name of Charlie Zink, throws an interesting knuckle ball which seems to have the Fisher Cats confounded for the six innings Charlie stays in. A reliever almost throws the game away with a handful of pitches, quickly bringing the to-then-scoreless Cats into the game with five runs. But the Pups' manager apparently wakes up from whatever reverie he's fallen into and seeing that an 8-0 game has turned into a 8-5 game in a matter of minutes, relieves the reliever with a new pitcher who gets Our Boys out of the inning, bloody but unbowed.

And the promotions! Hey, there is something happening every minute at a Sea Pups game, let me tell you, buddy. You got what seems to half the school population of Maine marching out on field pre-game to be acknowledged as part of "most improved student day." You got flying lobsters, tricycle races, basketball toss contests, baseball throw contests, a different contest going on every inning change. You got a family winning an upgrade from G.A. to box seats. You got little garbage can characters wandering around the aisles to remind you to dispose of your trash properly. You got Oakie the Acorn in the stands who almost got clobbered by a foul ball. You got entire rows being awarded free pizza because a Sea Pup batter knocked the ball for a double.

And you got Slugger - pictured above - the hardest working mascot in Double A, who arrives chauffeured in his own John Deere cart and proceeds to work the crowd for a full seven innings, shaking hands, passing out autographed Slugger cards, all while being escorted by his own bodyguard as he travels back-and-forth among the fans. Slugger culminates his game by - in close order - stomping a fan's Yankee cap; leading the crowd in a rousing traditional Take Me Out to the Ball Game; and then finishing with what is apparently a tradition at Haddock Field, a full-blown singalong version of YMCA, complete with arm gestures spelling out the letters. Tired but triumphant, Slugger calls it a day at the eighth inning. The Sea Dogs win the day, and Peggy and I decide we'll catch a repeat performance in June when the Pups visit the Cats in Manchester.

On Sunday we'd take a quick trip through Stroudwater village, an area I'd all but forgotten until Peggy saw a magazine about one of Maine's oldest settlements and asked me if I knew where it was. That open-ended question triggered another "when I was but a sprout in Maine " speech, because I did, in fact, know where it was very well. I promised to take the ever-patient Peg back in the Summer when things are prettier and the 252-year-old Tate House is open.

We wound up the trip with a drive to Ferry Beach and Camp Ellis in Saco since we wanted to check out the damage from the last N'Easter. Back when I was but a sprout in Maine, my family lived for a time in Ferry Beach in a little Cape Cod on Surf Street, which, as the name indicates, was parallel to the beach.

The old house was still there, but most of Surf Street, already damaged by earlier storms, was gone. You can click on the picture to your left to get a better image. You're looking up the "street" maybe 50 yards away from where I used to live as a kid. Where you see sand leading up to the blue house used to be asphalt. And that house looks like it will need to be torn down. Most of the underlying foundation is damaged. The storm literally demolished six other houses in the area.

Reports have it that Saco won't allow the houses that were damaged to be rebuilt. The owners claim that the Camp Ellis breakwater - which you can see to the left in the background - is in dire need of repair and once fixed will stop further erosion. Or maybe reverse erosion, I guess, as the beach is reclaiming what used to be dunes, beach pines, roads and homes.

Our favorite restaurant for steamers - Wormwoods, where my dog Butchie used to go to drink with clamdiggers - was still intact, and, after making sure of that, we headed home.

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