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Top pitching prospect Junichi Tazawa showed his stuff on Opening Day. (Brandon McKenney photo)
“It’s time to gander at them fields so green
To watch those replays on the diamond screen.
The crack of the bat and roar of the crowd,
The home team’s gonna make those cheering fans proud”
– Mark H. Young
Enjoying a game-time temperature of 56 degrees, a large crowd of 5,719, along with 10 Japanese media representatives, watched the Portland Sea Dogs open their 2009 season April 9. Despite losing 3-0 to the Connecticut Defenders that day, there was much to cheer about.
Junichi Tazawa, the Opening Day starter, had an impressive outing in his professional debut. Tazawa pitched five innings while allowing just four hits, one walk and one run to go with seven strikeouts. The 22 year-old right-hander, signed by Boston as a free agent after a four-year amateur career in Japan, is rated by “Baseball America” as the seventh-ranked Red Sox prospect.
The hometown fans welcomed back several players from the 2008 team, including first baseman Lars Anderson, a 21-year-old, 6-foot-5-inch lefty. Possessing good pitch recognition, quick hands and tremendous opposite field power, Anderson hit a team high .316 last year in 41 games, after being called up from Class A Lancaster. This season, he is working on attacking hittable pitches earlier in the count and pulling the ball more by hitting more inside pitches. If all goes well for the No. 1 Red Sox prospect (according to “Baseball America”), he will move up to Pawtucket before too long.
Another noteworthy returnee is centerfielder Josh Reddick, who played 34 games last year in Portland. “Baseball America” ranks him as the organization’s No. 5 prospect, with the system’s best outfield arm. In 2008, with stints at Portland, Lancaster and Greenville, Reddick had 23 home runs, 91 RBI and 14 stolen bases. The 22-year-old, who bats left and throws right, had four hits in the team’s second game (and first win) of the new season.
Also back is manager Arnie Beyeler, who joins Carlos Tosca as the only skippers in the team’s 16-year history to manage for three seasons. In 2008, Beyeler led the team to a 74-66 record, finishing second in the six-team Northern Division. It was the team’s fourth consecutive playoff appearance. As a player, Beyeler made it as high as Triple-A Toledo in 1991.
The Sea Dogs continued their seven-game opening homestand through Wednesday and are on the road from the Thursday to April 22. They return home on Thursday, April 24 for another series with the Defenders. That homestand continues though the end of the month with three games against the Binghamton Mets.
Division rival and two-time defending Eastern League champion Trenton, the affiliate of the New York Yankees, is at Hadlock for only six games this season.
In contrast, the nearby New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Toronto Blue Jays) will play 14 games in Portland. Their first appearance is May 19. Portland resident Ken Joyce is not returning as the Fisher Cats’ hitting coach this year, as he has moved up to Toronto’s Triple-A team in Las Vegas.
The other Northern division foes: Connecticut, Binghamton and New Britain will be at Hadlock for 12, 10 and 10 games respectively.
Southern Division opponents are each in town for just one series.
The fourth annual “Futures at Fenway” minor league doubleheader will be held on Saturday, Aug. 8 in Boston. The Sea Dogs will play in the opening game (12:05 p.m. start) against the Bowie Baysox (Baltimore Orioles). This will be Portland’s second appearance at Fenway, having played there in 2007 in front of 34,746 fans. Game 2 will feature Pawtucket, the Triple-A affiliate of the Red Sox, taking on the Norfolk Tides (Orioles).
Mike Antonellis, radio voice of the Sea Dogs, returns for his fifth season. He is joined this year by Aaron Goldsmith. Coverage begins 20 minutes prior to the first pitch. Games can be heard locally on 1490 AM.
During the season, the radio crew will be providing a daily blog, with a behind-the-scenes look at the team. They also put out an excellent daily Game Notes (visit seadogs.com, under the Stats menu).
The New England Sports Network (NESN) will broadcast games from Hadlock on June 1 and July 2. The Sea Dogs game at Fenway Park on Aug. 8 will also be televised.
Other highlights include fireworks on April 24, May 22, June 18, July 3 and Sept. 3.
The Sea Dogs will not be holding monthly luncheon programs this year, opting instead for two new events. The first, on March 27, was held in the team’s new clubhouse. The sold-out event allowed fans to experience a clubhouse meal and tour. The next event will be a Picnic in the Park on Saturday, July 25 at 12 p.m. For $10, fans will be served lunch at Hadlock and have a chance to mingle with the Sea Dogs’ players (and get autographs).
A new Grill Shack/Brew Pub has been built behind the third base stands where the Speed Pitch game was formerly located.
During the opening series it was a less crowded alternative to the other concession areas. Fans of the popular Speed Pitch will be glad to know that the game will return in a new location in about a month.
Lars Anderson is another future Red Sox star in the making.
The Forecaster will present its sixth annual Spring Sports Preview next week. The preview includes detailed analysis of every
varsity sport at each school in our coverage area.