The lines are shorter, the food is warmer, the leg room is roomier, and the players are rested and hungry.
Ah, the pleasures of April at Hadlock.
The Portland Sea Dogs open their 2016 Eastern League season Thursday at 6 p.m. against the Hartford Yard Goats, and shortly thereafter temperatures could dip into the 30s. While Maine’s cold spring nights might keep some folks away from the park, there are some definite perks to April baseball at Portland’s Hadlock Field.
This is a good year to discover the joys of cold weather baseball, since the Sea Dogs inherited four more April home games when it became apparent the new baseball park in Hartford, Connecticut wouldn’t be ready in time for the Yard Goats to play there this month.
Here is a break down of some of some of best things about April baseball at Hadlock, and the best ways to enjoy them:
Not everyone is mentally prepared to watch baseball with temperature in the 30s, or even 20s, which means there are nights in April when you’ll find Hadlock to be a spacious place. The upside of this is that you’ll likely face shorter lines, at the concession stand or bathrooms, for instance, and if you want you can probably find a seat with no else around you. You can stretch your legs and spread out more than during a sold-out July game. You’ll also have more room to stow your blankets, gloves, parka and winter hats. Remember that even if it’s sunny and 55 degrees during the day, that doesn’t mean an April night game won’t become frigid, and fast.
Because Hadlock is likely to be less crowded in April, and because it can get cold sitting in one place for three hours, spring games are a good time to explore the wonders of Hadlock Field. Wander the ground-level concourse and you’ll see there are pictures of every Sea Dogs team going back to the first season, 1994. You can see former players who made the Majors. Walk on over to the metal bleachers in far left field and learn that you can peer down into the opposing bullpen, where relief pitchers warm up. And you might be able to even browse the Sea Dogs souvenir shop in relative isolation, because sometimes the place gets packed. So if you want to take your time finding just the right hat, out of the dozens offered, an April game might be a good time to look for one.
WARM UP WITH A TREAT
On a hot summer day at the park, you want beer and lemonade and ice cream. But in April, you want hot cocoa and coffee and fried dough. The cold temperatures give you an excuse to try some of the hot foods at Hadlock. There are usually sausage sandwiches, steak and cheese, BBQ chicken and other warm treats at the Shipyard Grill down the left field line. Just standing near it and smelling the smoke from the grill can warm you up. French fries will warm you up too, and this year there is big news on that front. In recent years there have been only four concession areas selling fried food, making for long lines. This year there will be 12. Plus, besides regular French fries the Sea Dogs have added something called Maine Cut Potatoes from Penobscot McCrum, and clam cakes are now on the menu as well.
April ballgames are a good time to learn a little more about baseball, given the fact that it might be a little quieter and less hectic. Buy a program and learn the player’s names, study the stats. Learn about the other teams in the Eastern League, which is filled with AA-level teams, meaning they are just one level (AAA) away from the Major Leagues. Since the Sea Dogs are affiliated with the Red Sox, that’s the Major League team Sea Dogs players are aiming for. You can also teach yourself to score a game, one player at a time, using the sheet in the program. If you master that skill, even slightly, you’ll feel like you’ve learned a new language.
Because of the colder weather in April, games are scheduled a little differently. For some, the April times might be a little more convenient. For instance, there are Saturday afternoon games, at 1 p.m., in April and May. But in June Saturday games switch to 6 p.m. All weekday games start at 6 p.m. in April and May, which is a good time for youngsters to see a ballgame and not miss their bed time. In June, weekday games start at 7 p.m. The Sea Dogs have one noon game this month, on April 20, if you’re looking for something to do during school vacation week.
SOME APRIL EXTRAS
The Sea Dogs have giveaways and promotions all year long, but the ones scheduled for April give people a little more incentive to come out to the park. Saturday, for instance, will have a magnet give-away. The first 1,000 fans get the Sea Dogs season schedule, on a magnet, ready to be proudly displayed on your refrigerator. Also on Saturday, people who come early can listen to the Kastaways, the Sea Dogs’ rock band made up of costumed mascots, playing music outside the park. (They’re playing April 30 as well). Monday will be MOMday, when moms can get in free, with a coupon and purchase of a child’s general admission ticket. And you can get your spring haircut at the ballpark, April 30, as part of “All The Hair Your Can Spare” event. Stylists from Bei Capelli in Scarborough will be on hand to cut and style, in exchange for a hair donation to the Pantene Beautiful Lengths program, which creates wigs for cancer patients. Hair donors also get a free ticket to the game.
WHEN: 6 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Hadlock Field, 271 Park Ave., Portland
HOW MUCH: Advance ticket prices are $9 to $11 for adults and $6 to $10 for kids. Day of game prices are $1 more.
INFO: Seadogs.com; website includes directions, parking information, schedule and a list of upcoming promotions.