Just like I remember it

The game itself lasted just over 2 1/2 hours — a 9-0 win for Portland over Erie.

But while the game was pretty brisk, I could watch games at Hadlock Field in Portland, Maine — particularly on beautiful summer afternoons — forever.

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When people think of Clay Buchholz, the first thing to come to mind will probably be all his injuries, but the guy has thrown a no-hitter, been on a couple All-Star teams, has a World Series ring and made tens of millions of dollars, so he has done OK for himself.

And it was almost 12 years ago, Aug. 17, 2007, that he made his debut with the Red Sox, the first game of a doubleheader. The Red Sox won.

Suzi and I were at Hadlock Field for the Sea Dogs’ game. Buchholz had been in Portland just a few weeks before, and when the PA announcer updated the score of the Red Sox game, he referred to “our” Clay Buchholz.

Even an avowed Yankees fan like me thought it was a nice touch. People cheered.

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Suzi’s the one who suggested going to Portland. It never would have been a place I thought of, but she told me it was a cool, funky place, and then she went for the clincher … we could go to a ballgame.

Her Maine guide book said to get tickets ahead of time, because they sold out a lot, but what did they know? The Sea Dogs were a AA minor-league team, and everyone knows those games don’t sell out.

Which is how I wound up talking to a security guard as we waited in the ticket line, him explaining that the game that night and the doubleheader the next day were both sold out, but that I should check to see if any season ticket-holders weren’t coming and released their tickets for resale.

The woman in the ticket booth said she’d do the best she could … which meant folding chairs in the walkway between the upper and lower sections. We were maybe 30 feet behind the third-base dugout.

Twist my arm to take those tickets — really.

The city and the ballpark were both all kinds of fun, so of course we didn’t go back for 12 years.

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When Suzi and I finally got around to thinking about what the heck we’d be doing on this vacation, one of the first things she said, almost off-handedly, was that the Sea Dogs had a Thursday game with a noon start time.

Which I already knew … because I had looked.

So we bought the tickets in advance — no worries about sellouts this time — and stored them on my phone. After we decided to go to Maine the previous day, we improvised the whole day and had a terrific time.

So what took us so long? To be honest, I have no idea. Where we used to live, we had to drive through Boston, which is no fun, but it was still only about 2 1/2 hours away. (Now it’s about an even two hours.)

It just became one of those things we always talked about wanting to do, but never did until now.

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But would Hadlock Field be the way I remembered it, or would my impression of it be dulled by time and other ballparks I’d gone to since then?

I’m a big fan of Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester, find LeLacheur Park in Lowell to be goofy fun, think Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford is awesome and can’t wait for Polar Park in Worcester in 2021. (Yes, I get that Portland, Lowell and Worcester are Red Sox farm teams, but I live where I live, and I go where the baseball is.)

However, it took about two seconds to remind myself that Hadlock was special.

It took me several innings, though, to figure out why.

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For starters, it’s a really nice park, and even though I’ve only ever sat down the third-base line — our seats this time were four rows back for a total of about $25 — I’ve been to enough ballparks to look around and know there are no bad seats.

Lots of parks are nice, though, but Hadlock is … intimate, and then some.

It’s right at the edge of downtown, with the “Maine Monster” in left field and high walls around the outfield. The back wall from first base around to the left-field corner is tall enough so that the neighboring medical facility just peeks over the top, and the Portland Exposition Building is tucked into the space down the line in right field.

So you’re not just going to a ballgame; you’re going into a world where all that exists is baseball.

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Even before the game, Suzi had referred to Maine as our “miracle trip.”

Maybe it was making it work going into downtown Portland with no plan (which she admitted did freak her out a little bit), but finding a prime parking spot for a tasty lunch and walk along the water.

It was definitely leaving the beach just as it started to rain, and having the rain stop by the time we got back to Freeport so we could walk to dinner.

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I tend to be obsessive about weather forecasts, especially when I’m going to be doing something outdoors, and especially especially when that something is a ballgame.

And the forecast did not look good — chances of thunderstorms pretty much all day. As I’m really terrible about getting angry over things that haven’t happened yet, Suzi kept reminding me to relax, to see what happened.

Then the forecast started getting better. The chances for rain started to go down and it was maybe going to clear up in the afternoon, so maybe there would be a delay, but with a noon start, maybe it would be OK.

Then the morning looked clear, and forecasts and radar showed Portland getting winged by rain around 1, but everything after that seemed fine.

By the time the game started, it was gorgeous, 75 degrees — we didn’t grab the sunscreen, so we did get burned — and even though it was going to get cloudy later in the afternoon, the rain wasn’t supposed to come until evening at the earliest.

So naturally, we left the rain, got in our car to head home …

… and it rained like crazy for about 15 minutes.

We’ll do it again one of these days, just hopefully not “one of these days” 12 years from now.

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6 thoughts on “Just like I remember it

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