New baseball book highlights Portland's Hadlock Field

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PORTLAND — It may seem like an eternity before anyone sees the grass at Hadlock Field, but Josh Pahigian is ready to take us out to the ballgame.

Pahigian, an adjunct English instructor and special projects writer at the University of New England, has completed his eighth book about baseball, “The Amazing Baseball Adventure.”

Released Feb. 1 by Lyons Press, the book is like a travel guide for fans and families.

“Being on the road and having different ballparks to dot your course is really special,” Pahigian said Feb. 10.

He came of age a Red Sox fan, just as a grounder squibbed between the legs of Boston first baseman Bill Buckner and cost the team the sixth game of the 1986 World Series.

Pahigian also became an intense fan of the game. He has an eye for the goofy fun and ballpark traditions major and minor league teams use to keep fans engaged and entertained.

Hadlock Field holds a prominent spot in “The Amazing Baseball Adventure.”

Before the Sea Dogs began play in 1994, the team logo had already topped the list for merchandising sales throughout minor league baseball. Yet minor league baseball in Portland was a gamble.

In 1982, by one vote, the City Council rejected a $500,000 bond to renovate Hadlock Field as the new home of the Bristol, Connecticut, Red Sox.

In 1984, the Maine Guides began play in a new ballpark in Old Orchard Beach. After five years, the team moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania, leaving behind mosquitoes of legendary proportions and a mountain of ballpark construction debt that burdened the town for decades.

When major league baseball expanded in 1992, it created the need for more minor league teams. Portland became one of 12 cities to apply for a AA team, playing two rungs below the major leagues. 

Kennebunk resident Dan Burke, who had run ABC, led the effort to land a team, then recruited Eastern League President Charlie Eshbach to run it. The city paid $1.5 million to upgrade Hadlock Field.

As Pahigian and Eshbach tell it, the team was looking for a final Maine touch, one that had to be a surprise for Burke.

On April 6, 1994, the surprise emerged in the second inning following a Rick Hirtensteiner home run. As he rounded the bases, a lighthouse, modeled after Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth, rose into view beyond the center field fence, complete with fog horn and fireworks.

The lighthouse remains to salute every Sea Dogs home run and win, but Hadlock Field has changed and expanded.

Following the 2002 season, the Sea Dogs’ working agreement to provide players for the Miami (then Florida) Marlins was terminated in favor of an agreement with the Red Sox.

Where once was a left field fence short enough to allow fans to watch games from a treehouse up a hill beyond the stadium, now came a replica of the famed 37-foot tall “Green Monster” in Boston’s Fenway Park.

“I like it for young fans who have not been to Fenway yet, being able to replicate it, I think it adds something special to the park,” Pahigian said.

“The Amazing Baseball Adventure” also details the origins of sausage races at Milwaukee’s Miller Field, where an animated scoreboard feature came to life when front office staff designed meaty costumes for racers.

Pahigian also introduces readers to the “Crazy Hot Dog Vendor,” who rides a fake ostrich mascot around the ballpark in Reading, Pennsylvania. He also explains how the sign used in the movie “Bull Durham” followed the Durham, North Carolina, team to its new home.

While he may be happy just watching the action, for Pahigian there is added value to the between-innings antics he details in his book.

“If you can put something out there for my 4-year-old or 9-year-old that makes them want to stay through nine innings, I am all for it,” he said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Author Josh Pahigian at Hadlock Field, where he details the origins of the ballpark lighthouse and replica of Fenway Park’s Green Monster in his new book, “The Amazing Baseball Adventure.”

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.