Life in the Minors
Chronicle: The road back to Maine
By Joe Kuras
It was a one-line blurb in the Transactions section of many sports pages nation-wide, Eastern League Portland Sea Dogs Announced a two-year affiliation agreement with the Boston Red Sox
No big deal, the average fan probably thought. Boston will be sending their AA players to Portland, Maine instead of Trenton New Jersey next year.
But was it a big deal? It should not have been to the players and coaches. Every year they will probably be in some other city anyway, by either moving up or down the organizational ladder, or as part of a new organization.
But to the fans, the media and the owners of both Portland and Trenton, it was a big deal.
Speculation began in January of 2002 that the Boston Red Sox would end their affiliation with the Trenton Thunder, their Double A team since 1995, at the end of the season. As early as April, the Trenton Times and the Portland Press Herald took turns reporting rumors of a new working relationship between the Boston Red Sox and the Portland Sea Dogs. Adding to the speculation was the fact that Red Sox owner John Henry, when he previously owned the Florida Marlins, was very pleased with the working relationship the Marlins had with the Portland front office.
Trenton had been affiliated with the Detroit Tigers in 1994 after the franchise had shifted from London, Ontario. For the past eight years, they had been affiliated with the Boston Red Sox under 3 different Player Development Contracts (PDC), with the third and most recent one due to expire in 2002.
Portlands PDC was also due to expire at the end of the 2002 season. They had been affiliated with the Florida Marlins for all nine years of their existence. But all bets were off this year when Jeffrey Loria sold his Expos to Major League Baseball and in turn purchased the Florida Marlins from John Henry. Gone was the Marlins front-office staff that the Sea Dogs worked closely with for 9 years. Loria replaced them with his Expos personnel, leaving the Sea Dogs to deal with a bunch of strangers this year.
Major or Minor League teams were not allowed to announce intent to affiliate with some other club until August 20 26. Major and Minor League clubs could not engage in discussions with the other new prospective club until the end of the minor league season.
April 26, 2002 Are the Red Sox leaving Trenton
The Trenton Times reported in April that the Red Sox preferred to relocate their Double-A team closer to Boston. The team would join Pawtucket (AAA) and Lowell (short-season A) as New England based teams, providing easier access among the teams to players, instructors and front office personnel.
Thunder president Joe Finley, co-owner Joe Caruso and General Manager Rick Brenner indicated they would go to Boston in May to meet with the new Red Sox ownership group and voice their preference for remaining a Boston affiliation.
Boston was allegedly very happy with the way the Trenton staff operated the team. But they were ready to take advantage of an opportunity to move their Double A team back to New England.
All things being equal, Red Sox director of player development Dave Jauss told Kevin Thomas of the Portland Press Herald, youd rather be closer.
The New York Yankees unintentionally added speculative fuel to the fire when people began to realize that their PDC with the Norwich (Conn.) Navigators also expired at the end of the 2002 season. The rumors began that the Yankees would conveniently relocate closer to home in Trenton while Boston made up for Duquettes political faux pas by finally returning to New England.
The Red Sox were previously affiliated with the New Britain (Conn.) Red Sox, now known as the Rock Cats, in the early 1990s. When that PDC expired, owner Joe Buzas had had enough of Dan Duquettes pressure tactics to move his team to Springfield, Mass. So he hooked on with the Twins instead, stayed put in New Britain and renamed the team the Rock Cats. The best available franchise left for Boston was located in Trenton.
May 23, 2002 Knock, knock. Anybody home?
As reported by the Trenton Times on April 26, Thunder president Joe Finley, co-owner Joe Caruso and General Manager Rick Brenner did go to Boston to meet with the new Red Sox ownership group and voice their preference for remaining a Boston affiliation. Only problem was John Henry and Tom Werner were up in Portland, Maine, attending a Sea Dogs game as guests of their good friend and Sea Dogs owner Dan Burke. The Thunder staff met instead with Director of Baseball Operations Kent Qualls and interim GM Mike Port.
June 9, 2002 Whats so great about Portland?
The media continued to report on the one subject that no one could technically talk about until August 20 the advantages of Boston affiliating a Double-A farm club close to home. As Kevin Thomas of the Portland Press Herald wrote:
They are successful already, so why would the Portland Sea Dogs care if they affiliate with the Boston Red Sox?
Because linking with the hometowns favorite team makes a good thing that much better. Ask the Reading (Pa.) Phillies. Reading leads the Eastern League in attendance with 6,509 fans a game during the cold months. With the summer approaching, Reading is on target to draw a half-million.
Reading has a good population base and a marvelous marketing department. But there is more to its popularity. Reading, about 80 minutes from Philadelphia, has been affiliated with the Philadelphia Phillies for 36 years.
The Sea Dogs cannot comment on the possibility of the Red Sox moving their Double-A affiliate here. Red Sox folk will say that Portland is a marvelous place and that, in general, having your minor-league team close by is desirable.
Theres one clear truth about this speculation of the Red Sox coming here: No one from the Red Sox or Sea Dogs has come out to deny it.
June 15, 2002 a Double-A team in New Hampshire?
Drew Weber, owner of the Lowell Spinners, threw his hat into the ring, making it known that he would like to purchase a Double-A Eastern League team and locate it in Manchester, New Hampshire. Weber preferred that the team be a Boston affiliate as well.
Like all other Major League clubs, Boston only has one Double-A team. So if Manchester were to be a Boston farm club, then the Red Sox would not have a presence in Portland. Weber had 3 potential options to follow up on.
He could have purchased the New Haven Ravens, another Double-A team in the Eastern League. The team could have played one more year in New Haven while a new stadium was built in Manchester. Fan support in New Haven had been poor, with the team averaging 2,260 fans per game. Weber had reportedly tendered an offer to buy the New Haven club from owner Ed Massey.
Another alternative was to make Manchester a short-season A-team, replacing the Lowell Spinners in the New York-Penn League. Lowell could have moved to the Eastern League, assuming their home field at Edward LeLacheur Park was expanded to a seating capacity of 6,000.
A third alternative, should Massey not accept the offer to purchase the New Haven team, would have been for Weber to purchase the Double-A Erie Seawolves from Palisades Baseball. Seawolves fans had not exactly stormed the gates in Pennsylvania, with the team averaging 2,919 fans per game.
This would have created a positive domino affect for Trenton. If Erie moved to Manchester, it would have also relocated from the Southern to the Northern Division. In turn, Trenton could have returned to the Southern Division where they could have played their natural geographic rivals, Harrisburg and Reading more often.
Weber had a 90-day agreement with the city of Manchester to come up with plans for the construction of a stadium on city-owned land. The agreement expired in early June, but Weber secured an extension for another 60 days. His plans included a 6,000-seat stadium in April 2004 and a Hilton Hotel on riverfront property.
July 7, 2002 Trenton courts Boston again
Trenton GM Rick Brenner didnt get much satisfaction back in May when team officials traveled to Boston. They had hoped to get a commitment for a new PDC from the new ownership group. Instead, they met with Director of Baseball Operations Kent Qualls and interim GM Mike Port and walked away empty handed. Again in July, on his second trip to Boston, the Red Sox informed Brenner that they were not prepared to discuss plans for a Double-A PDC for 2003.
Still, it was important to go there and restate our position, which is we want to continue our relationship with the Boston Red Sox, the Trenton GM stated to John Nalbone of the Trenton Times. And I havent received any indication from anyone in Boston that the Red Sox are unhappy in Trenton, or that they dont want to come back.
Brenner also assured Qualls and the Red Sox had no intentions of playing the Yankees against the Red Sox in an effort to affiliate with the 26-time World Champions, despite rumors to the contrary.
August 3, 2002 Trenton prepares for Boston split
Steve Nalbone of the Trenton Times reported that the Trenton Thunder baseball club was leaning toward severing their ties with Boston when the official contract termination period begins August 20.
Bostons alleged desire to affiliate closer to home was the unspoken yet driving factor. At the same time, Trenton also grew frustrated with Boston when the Thunders depleted roster was not replenished. The inability to field a complete roster had hurt the Thunder in the won-loss column, which in turn could have had a more long-range negative impact on the Trenton owners at the gate and ticket office.
Even if the Red Sox came to us and said they wanted to continue the partnership, Im not so sure we would do it, Thunder President Joe Finley said in the Times article. Theyve talked about building from within through the farm system, but we look at the system right now, from ourselves on down to (Class-A) Augusta and (Class-A) Sarasota, and its not a pretty sight. We realize the new ownership just took over and it takes time, but our first obligation is to our fans.
According to Nalbone, Thunder players were also not pleased with Bostons failure to restock the roster after Wilton Veras, Mike Kusiewicz, Josh Hancock and Freddy Sanchez were promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket, Seung Song was traded to Montreal for Cliff Floyd and outfielder Will Smith went down with an injury.
Again the Yankee name surfaced, where a baseball official familiar with the Yankees internal discussions indicated that the New York team preferred to pull out of Norwich, Conn. and opt for Trenton.
The Trenton staff, admitting that the Red Sox may have already decided to shift their Double-A team to Portland, also realized that there were 20 other Major League teams with Double-A contracts about to expire.
We may have to look around and see who is available, Finley told Nalbone. I am not saying we are going to terminate with the Red Sox, but it doesnt look good. I do know we have a lot of homework to do between now and then.
Kent Qualls, Red Sox director of operations, indicated that there was no new information regarding the Red Sox presence in Trenton.
August 6, 2002 The frustration mounts
Thunder President Joe Finley was quoted in the Trentonian, They tell us Hey, youre the greatest. You do everything first-rate. But nothing has happened. At some point, if we dont hear from (the Sox) what we need to hear, or get the feeling that they want to continue our relationship for certain, then, yes, well have to look into other options.
Meanwhile, the same rumors from Manchester churned through the mill. The New Haven Ravens were the only Double-A Eastern League team on the market. The question of how a new $20 million stadium would be financed remained. Manchester officials were opposed to public money earmarked for a stadium.
Jim Fennell of the Manchester Union Leader promoted a Manchester team in the image of Portland, specifically the intimacy of the ballpark and the mascot.
Speaking of mascots, Fennel wrote, make sure theres someone like Slugger, Portlands nonstop mascot, who knows how to make it fun for kids.
August 7, 2002 A farce of the game
Anthony Coleman of the Trenton Times reported, The state of the Boston Red Sox farm system is making a farce of the game as the Thunder continued to operate 2 men under the limit of the 23 man roster.
Coleman wrote, A crowd of 6,304 at Mercer County Waterfront Park sarcastically applauded in the top of the eight inning when designated hitter Steve Lomasney (ed. note - catcher is his natural position) entered the game in left field and left fielder Tom Sergio moved to the mound.
The unorthodox move of putting a position player on the mound was a result of Bostons failure to move another starting pitcher to Trenton after Sueng Song was traded to Montreal for Cliff Floyd on July 31.
August 8, 2002 Qualls perfects his poker face
Steve Nalbone wrote in the Trenton Times that he suspected Kent Qualls poker face has come a long way since 1998. In a visit to Trenton, the director of baseball operations for the Boston Red Sox did nothing to confirm or deny rumors of a Double-A relocation to either Portland or Manchester. His comments echoed similar thoughts to Trenton on May 23 and July 5 when the Trenton staff traveled to Boston seeking a commitment from the parent club.
I cant say (it wont happen), Qualls was quoted by Nalbone. What I do know is ownership is going to make a decision and that they have discussed some of those (PDC) situations internally, but have not reached any decisions. I dont make those decisions and I honestly dont know what their time frame will be.
One has to wonder just what kind of decisions Qualls has made during his tenure with the Red Sox. As director of minor league operations, he once told A Red Sox Journal that he wasnt involved in the decision to designate minor leaguer David Eckstein for assignment. The Angels quickly scooped up the 2nd baseman and turned him into a Major League starting shortstop and lead-off hitter.
Meanwhile, on the playing field, Trenton pitchers Eric Glaser and Bryan Adams were hitting for themselves. With just 17 healthy bodies in uniform, no other position players were available to DH. Reliever Rolando Viera was pressed into service to start one game. Jerry Salzano, who can play 1st base but never played 2nd base, started one game at 2nd while Sergio, the outfielder who pitched, rested his arm by playing first base. Like Steve Lomasney, Dan Mooney, another catcher on the team, started a game in left field. A third catcher, Andy Dominique had been battling food poisoning. Infielder Carlos Leon had a jammed shoulder. Shortstop James Lofton was scheduled to see a neurologist with a possible hypertension-related medical problem.
According to Nalbone, Qualls deferred all roster-related concerns and issues to Ben Cherington, assistant director of player development.
From an ownership standpoint its become more clear each day that we would be doing our fans a disservice if we didnt look around, Finley told the Times. What has happened with this roster, through no fault of R.J. (Trenton manager Ron Johnson) or the players, who work extremely hard and have played their hearts out every day, has made that decision a lot easier.
August 11, 2002 Red Sox owner John Henry speaks
Red Sox owner John Henry strongly hinted to Bob Hohler of the Boston Globe that Boston would sever their eight-year tie with the Trenton ball club. By keeping quiet and playing the waiting game, the Red Sox were now positioned to point the finger of blame, so to speak, at the Trenton club, since they were the ones who had voiced displeasure and indicated they would look elsewhere for a new PDC.
I saw some quotes from the Trenton president the other day that may be a leading indicator of things to come, Henry told the Globe. Based on his comments, its probable there will be a change.
August 13, 2002 All along the watchtower
Right now were kind of watchfully waiting, Sea Dogs president Charlie Eshbach was quoted in the Portland Press Herald. You hear a lot of rumors. Im just waiting to see what happens. No one will know anything until August 20.
August 20 was the first day that either the Major or Minor League team could announce their intent to change affiliations. Up until then, baseball officials were not allowed to discuss any potential changes.
Down in Trenton, Thunder President Joe Finley was quoted in the Trenton Times, It was never our intention to break up this relationship in such a public manner. We have reached a similar conclusion as the Red Sox, which was to look around after this season, but we had every intention of keeping that decision confidential until the appropriate time.
Club officials were prevented from discussing a new PDC with any other club until after the season ended. Fines could be in upwards of $100,000 for tampering during the season. But at the same time, Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez jerseys were popping up in the downtown shops of Congress Street in Portland. With a strong Red Sox fan base evident ever since the Sea Dogs anchored in Portland in 1993, Nomar Garciaparra Bobblehead Night was scheduled at the Sea Dogs Hadlock Field on August 29.
August 15, 2002 Weber concedes
Lowell Spinners owner Drew Weber invited Red Sox owner John Henry home to dinner two months ago. But according to Weber, he never discussed the possibility of Boston basing their Double-A team in Manchester.
I chose not to bring business into our discussion that evening, Weber told The Union Leader of Manchester. If I had it to do all over again, I would have done things differently, said Weber. The Red Sox are a wonderful organization and they have the right to choose Portland.
While Portland, Trenton and Boston officials are prevented from discussing new affiliations until after the regular season, Weber, a third party to this affair, was quoted as saying, They (Boston) made up their minds weeks ago.
The Manchester Monarchs, an American Hockey League team, had expressed interests in bringing minor league baseball to the New Hampshire city. But Manchester officials have continued to extend an exclusive contract to Weber and the hockey team bowed out of the picture.
While Weber most likely would not be able to bring a Boston-based AA team to Manchester, and while there is no stadium or city dollars to build one, he indicated to Kevin Thomas of the Portland Press Herald, I can promise each and every fan in the state of New Hampshire and Manchester that theyll be thrilled with the team we bring in.
Webers best bet to secure Boston farm teams in Lowell and Manchester might be to move Lowells short-season Single-A franchise to Manchester and lure Bostons probable AA team in Portland to Lowell someday.
August 17, 2002 Blame it on Dan Duquette
Five months of rumors and speculation. Thats what Sea Dog and Thunder baseball fans were subjected to, from March through August, 2002 with the possible shift of the Red Sox AA club from Trenton to Portland. All of this could have been avoided back in 1994 if then Red Sox General Manager Dan Duquette left well enough alone and allowed Joe Buzas to keep his own Double-A club in New Britain, Connecticut.
Buzas wanted to stay put in New Britain and secure a new stadium from the hardware city. But Springfield, Mass. politicians were clamoring for a minor league team in their city. Dan Duquette, looking for a win-win situation for the Red Sox, pressured Buzas to moving his team. Duquette figured Springfield would be happy and in return, politicians from the western half of the state would support a new Fenway Park. It didnt help when Boston could not stock the New Britain franchise with quality players. The BritSox finished last in the Eastern League for four consecutive years (1991 1994).
Buzas chose not to renew the PDC with Boston when it expired in 1994 and affiliated with the Minnesota Twins instead. It was a low-risk move, having already had the positive experience of working with the Twins by affiliating his Triple-A Salt Lake City club with the parent team. He christened his new team the Hardware City Rock Cats. A year later, it was renamed the New Britain Rock Cats. Attendance in New Britain peaked to 4,012 when Twins farm hands made the team competitive. Buzas eventually sold the team to a new ownership group in 2000 for somewhere between $6-7 million.
During this same period of time, Bob Schaefer was brought on board with the Red Sox as their farm director. Thanks to Schaefer, a very good judge of baseball talent, Bostons farm system was soon rated in the top 5 by Baseball America. But Schaefer was not on the same page as Duquette the GM preferred to trade minor league prospects for major league fringe players. Duquette was rumored to be jealous of Schaefer who received most of the credit for restoring the farm system. In August of 1999, Duquette gave Schaefer two hours to decide if he preferred to be fired or accept a job watering the grass at their complex in Fort Myers, Florida. Schaefer opted to leave the Boston organization and is now the bench coach for the Kansas City Royals.
According to Jed Weisberger of the Trenton Times, current Trenton field manager Ron Johnson has done a marvelous job this season. Johnson, along with coaches Steve Braun and Mike Griffin, would be welcome by the Trenton front office, if it were their responsibility and their decision, to run their Thunder team for any affiliate that replaced the Red Sox.
Weisberger also wrote:
Meanwhile, for Thunder ownership, Bostons departure is a win-win situation. The Red Sox farm system was rated 28th of 30 by Baseball America this season, and is a virtual lock to be 30th of 30 in 2003.
If indeed the Yankees replace the Red Sox, a change in talent will be noted immediately. If it happens to be another club, the Thunder are still gaining.
Good luck, Portland. Chances are, with your beloved Red Sox, your 2003 team will be as good as your 2002 club, a cellar-dweller.
The Red Sox-Thunder relationship is like a marriage that went bad. Both sides worked hard at it the first five years. Post-Schaefer, the Red Sox stopped working, while the Thunder did what it could, first (to) continue and then salvage an upbeat relationship.
The time has come for Boston to go, back to New England, which will work for the team. The time has also come for a new start for the Thunder.
August 18, 2002 Red Sox souvenirs, cheap!
Kevin Thomas of the Portland Press Herald reported that the Trenton Thunder gift store (www.trentonthunder.com) was already holding a blowout sale on Red Sox items, 2 days in advance of any formal announcements regarding Bostons PDC with Trenton. Thomas also did an excellent job of summarizing many of the points already mentioned here. Some other things in Thomas article included the following.
The fan-base between Trenton (5,812 average attendance) and Portland (5,588) were similar. Portland got the edge in geography, where players and roving instructors could drive the interstates rather than fly to Boston and their outposts in Lowell and Pawtucket.
Two members of the Boston ownership group, Les Otten and George Mitchell, could now watch the Boston prospects in their home state of Maine.
It may take another year or two before any of Bostons top prospects make it to Hadlock Field and the Sea Dogs become a contending team.
As a Major League affiliate, the Red Sox would only supply Portland with players and coaches for the team. No other jobs were at stake. Dan Burke owned the Portland club and employed GM Charlie Eshbach and his staff to operate the independent, yet affiliated, organization.
It was already speculated, before any formal announcement or agreement between Boston and the Sea Dogs, that Portland would adapt the Red Sox colors of red and navy blue. The Marlins look of black and teal could be diminished or eliminated.
The left field walls at both Fenway Park and Hadlock Field were about 315 feet. While Fenways Green Monster was 37 feet tall, Hadlocks measured up at only 20 feet. Would an identical monster arise at Hadlock?
The immensely popular Sea Dogs name and mascot Slugger no doubt would remain unscathed during this change in affiliation.
Meanwhile, media sources quoted current New Britain Rock Cats owner William Dowling as being content to remain affiliated with the Twins.
We have been very pleased with the way the Twins have treated us, Dowling was quoted as saying.
That could change though with the contraction issue still lingering.
It created a bit of a problem for us last offseason, Dowling said. I have talked to the Twins people, and we are on our way towards getting something resolved.
August 20, 2002 Portland makes the first move
The Portland Sea Dogs wasted no time in announcing their intent to replace the Florida Marlins as their Major League affiliate. Portland TV stations announced on late afternoon newscasts that Sea Dogs president and general manager Charlie Eshbach had officially notified the national minor league office in St. Petersburg, Fla. of Portlands intent to seek a new Major League affiliate.
Trenton would not confirm or deny their intent to terminate the PDC with Boston. Thunder president Joe Finley was quoted in the Trenton Times as saying, While this is a very heated issue and we appreciate everyones desire to know, its just not something I can comment on. I would have preferred to keep this process confidential. It is at the point now where I am not at liberty to discuss what we have done, or what our intentions are.
August 21, 2002 Portland looks to playoffs
It was a general concurrence that Portland and Boston wanted to affiliate with each other because of the geographic advantages of a local fan base and local travel, not to mention the positive working relationship Portland enjoyed with John Henry when he owned the Marlins. Sea Dogs president and general manager Charlie Eshbach came up with new spin on the switch.
We have not made the playoffs since 1997 and we owe it to our fans to look around, Eshbach explained.
With a Boston minor league organization rated 28th out of 30 teams, it would probably be a few more years before a Boston affiliate at the Double-A level were ready to compete in the Eastern League playoffs.
It was also reported that the Trenton Thunder were expected to announce their intent to affiliate with another Major League team on August 20th.
Meanwhile, Mike Moore, President of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, apparently was aware of the hoopla in Portland and Trenton. He issued a 3-paragraph fax to all minor league teams. The fax, in part, stated:
Under MLR 56 (d)(1), notice of intent to terminate a PDC (player development contract) shall only be given to me, and shall not be disclosed to ANYONE ELSE except in accordance with MRL56.
This is a sensitive period for many Major and Minor League Clubs and cities. Ill-advised, off-hand comments can cause a great deal of harm and undermine what should be a discreet, orderly process.
Moores fax also warned that any NAPBL club, league or individual who commented on the PDC process before the first day of the negotiating period would be subject to fines and penalties.
August 23, 2002 Wrong color
Red Sox interim General Manager Mike Port confirmed that he had been in contact with the commissioners office about a change in affiliation at the Double-A level for 2003. Port was not at liberty to offer any other comments.
Les Otten, a Maine resident and member of the Red Sox ownership group, attended the Rangers-Red Sox game the night before. Kevin Thomas of the Portland Press Herald wrote, A smart-aleck reporter mentioned he (Otten) should be wearing a Portland Sea Dogs hat.
Wrong color, Otten replied. Its teal (blue).
Otten only smiled when the reporter suggested that the Sea Dogs colors would be changing soon.
August 24, 2002 Youre fired
The first sign of things to come in 2003 happened in late August. The Boston Red Sox fired roving outfield/base-running instructor Bobby Mitchell and minor league field coordinator Gary Jones. Both were hired by former GM Dan Duquette. Jones originally joined the Boston organization as the manager of the Pawtucket Red Sox, replacing Ken Macha.
August 25, 2002 shoulda happened 20 years ago
It was reported that the effort to build a ballpark in Manchester, New Hampshire had hit a snag. The proposed site was contaminated with hazardous waste. The Portland Press Herald also reported how the Red Sox hit a snag 20 years ago when their AA Bristol Red Sox almost moved to Portland.
Joe Buzas, the former New Britain Red Sox/Rock Cats owner, previously had the franchise located in Bristol, Conn. On September 30, 1982, Portland City officials held a news conference to announce that Buzas bid (one of four considered), was accepted. The Bristol Red Sox would move the team to Portland and the city would put up a $500,000 bond to renovate Hadlock Field.
Seven of nine votes from the city councilors were needed to seal the deal. But the city started to get cold feet when attendance and break-even figures were tossed around. None of the Eastern League teams drew more than 95,000 in 1982, and 120,000 fans were needed to turn a profit.
Jordan Korbritz, a Bangor attorney who also bid to bring a team to Portland, swayed the city council to vote against the Bristol-to-Portland shift. Buzas then shifted the team to New Britain. Korbritz went on to acquire a Triple-A team and located it in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. The town guaranteed $2.2-million to construct a stadium. The team lasted 5 years (1984 1988), affiliated with the Indians and Phillies. They were known as the Maine Guides and then the Maine Phillies. When Korbritz pulled out of Old Orchard Beach, the town was left with the debt and an empty ballpark.
September 6, 2002 Timing is everything
September 6 was the first day that Major and Minor League teams could begin the negotiation process.
Negotiation is really overstating it, Trenton Thunder president Joe Finley told Steve Nalbone of the Trenton Times. Its more along the lines of Hey, are you guys interested? You are? OK, lets have lunch and talk about it.
According to Nalbone, the actual player development contract was a nine-line standard form letter. It looked more like a high school permission slip.
Red Sox director of baseball operations Kent Qualls wasted no time and was in Portland on the 6th to meet with Sea Dogs president and general manager Charlie Eshbach. Eshbach would only confirm that he had spoken with Qualls and that discussions were continuing.
An announcement of a Portland-Boston affiliation could be fairly quick and it could be later, Eshbach told Kevin Thomas of the Portland Press Herald. Its safe to say we dont want to make any announcements around Sept. 11 (the anniversary of the terrorist attacks).
Portland would also not want to make any announcement too close to September 6, the 1st day of negotiations. That would present an image of tampering by entering formal talks before the negotiation period. Unnamed Eastern League sources indicated that the Sea Dogs were fined only $1,000 for violating Major League Rule 56 by holding a press conference on August 20 to announce their severed ties with the Marlins.
September 7, 2002 Youre fired, part II
The Boston Red Sox announced that four of their minor league coaches/managers were terminated. They were Rich Bombard, Pawtucket pitching coach; Billy Gardner, Sarasota manager; Larry Pierson, Sarasota pitching coach; and Herm Starrette, Gulf Coast pitching coach. Media speculation began that ex-Boston shortstop Rick Burleson, a recently named inductee to the Red Sox Hall of Fame, and currently a manager for the Reds short-season Single-A team in Billings, Mont., could become a manager in the Red Sox farm system next year.
September 8, 2002 Slugger goes on vacation
While most of professional minor league baseball focused on end-of-season playoffs, all eyes in Portland were on the front entrance to Hadlock Field. The statue of Slugger, the Sea Dogs popular statue, was on longer poised out front to greet fans at the ballpark. Speculation was that Slugger was getting a makeover shedding his teal pinstripes and teal/black color combination for a new uniform in white with navy blue and red trim.
September 17, 2002 Let the merry-go-round begin
The Trenton Thunder, a Boston Red Sox minor-league affiliate the past eight years, made it official by announcing an unprecedented four-year Player Development Contract with the New York Yankees. Norwich, the team that lost the popular Yankees, was now rumored to be wooing the Blue Jays and the Rockies.
The Rockies, who once played in New Haven, Conn., had been affiliated with the Southern League's Carolina Mudcats, in Zebulon, N.C. When the Rockies and Mudcats parted ways, the Florida Marlins jumped in, moving their AA franchise closer to home, from Portland, Maine.
Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria had previously worked before with Mudcats owner Steve Bryant. "Going to Carolina is a quality opportunity for the Florida Marlins organization," Loria said in a news release.
In another related move, the Cardinals officially left New Haven for the Tennessee Smokies of the Southern League. The Smokies had been a Blue Jays affiliate for 22 years. Torontos options included a move to a Double-A team in Norwich or New Haven. The Portland Sea Dogs and Boston Red Sox remained mum, possibly waiting for Slugger to come back from his makeover before an announcement was made.
September 18, 2002 Transactions Baseball Eastern League
Portland Sea Dogs Announced a two-year affiliation agreement with the Boston Red Sox.
It finally happened. The Boston Red Sox and the Portland Sea Dogs announced Wednesday that their Double-A team will play in Portland, Maine, next season. The press conference was held on the field at the Dogs ballpark. Fans were invited to sit in the grandstand to watch the announcement.
Slugger got his anticipated makeover, sporting a navy blue cap with a red P intertwined with an image of him chewing on a baseball bat. His pinstripe shirt was replaced with a white jersey with red piping and Sea Dogs etched in red. The luxury boxes at Hadlock Field, originally named for baseball greats such as Ruth and Cob, were renamed to the likes of Pesky, Lonborg and Petrocelli. A replica, 37 high green monster was planned for Hadlock Field.
"On behalf of [team owners] John Henry, Tom Werner, Larry Lucchino and the entire Red Sox organization, I wish to express how very pleased we are to begin this relationship with the Sea Dogs in Portland, Maine," said Red Sox interim GM Mike Port on www.redsox.com. "The Double-A level is a pivotal point in the development of a professional baseball player and having a strong affiliate like the Portland Sea Dogs will surely help the overall strength of our entire player development system."
This is a great day for baseball fans in Northern New England, said Charlie Eshbach, Sea Dogs President and General Manager on www.portlandseadogs.com. The vast majority of Sea Dog fans are also Red Sox fans, so this is a terrific opportunity to blend the two together. It will be much easier for our fans to keep tabs on our alumni as they move up to the major leagues, he added.
All the ducks were lined up in a neat row to absolve Boston of any actions that initiated the change in minor league affiliations.
Bostons non-action and lack of commitment to Trenton left the Thunder no choice but to go on record (on August 3) as saying they may split from the Red Sox at the end of the year.
On August 11 Red Sox owner John Henry alluded that a change in affiliations may be probable as a result of those comments out of the Trenton Thunder office.
The Portland Sea Dogs and the Trenton Thunder announced on August 20 that they were severing their ties with the Marlins and Red Sox respectively.
Other than Henrys comments on Aug. 11, the Red Sox never did say they were interested in leaving Trenton.
Boston contacted the commissioners office of a possible change only after the Sea Dogs and Thunder announced their intent not to renew their PDC with the Marlins and Red Sox respectively.
Portions of this article were based on information appearing in Trenton Times, The Trentonian, Portland Press Herald, the Manchester Union Leader, njo.com and mainetoday.com.
Return to the Paw Sox page