PORTLAND, Maine — When Gary Sheffield was playing for the Florida Marlins, he did a rehabilitation stint in Portland in 1994.
Charlie Eshbach, president of the Eastern League Double-A Portland Sea Dogs, remembered the stint.
“One of the coaches explained to Gary there was a tradition in Portland that when [a notable major leaguer] rehabs here, he has to pay for the spread after the game. That includes lobster and everything else,” recalled Eshbach.
”What Gary didn’t realize is that he was setting the tradition,” quipped Eshbach.
Eshbach said when Boston designated hitter David Ortiz did a rehab stint in Portland in 2008, “he sprung for the spread all three nights he was here.”
Red Sox Daisuke Matsuzaka of Japan upheld the tradition after Saturday afternoon’s outing, according to Chris Cameron, the Sea Dogs’ assistant general manager and media relations director.
“He bought steak, ribs and sushi,” Cameron said.
Portland certainly reaped the benefits of having Matsuzaka in uniform as the Sea Dogs pulled in their first sellout crowd of the season: 7,368.
The righthander, making his second start since recovering from Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow last June, tossed 4⅔ innings of three-hit, one-run ball with seven strikeouts and two walks in the Sea Dogs’ 9-1 win over the Reading Phillies.
Eshbach and Cameron said rehab stints always help attendance and create a buzz around Hadlock Field.
“There’s a certain level of excitement any time a big leaguer is here,” Eshbach said. “One of the big differences is you sell out for the most part. In the middle of the summer, we sell out anyway but any time you can sell out in April it’s a nice bonus.
“It also brings home the fact we are affiliated with the Red Sox,” added Eshbach.
It also brings more exposure to the team and the facility as media members who don’t normally frequent Hadlock Field are in attendance.
“It’s a little stressful,” Cameron said. “I’m responsible for coordinating the [postgame] interview and you’ve got 30 media members waiting to talk to him.”
Cameron said he “flies by the seat of his pants” in some instances because he isn’t exactly sure when the player is going to arrive.
He usually coordinates the media session with the player.
He said the media will congregate outside the clubhouse for the session, which is usually 20 minutes after the player leaves the game.
“Usually, the player will go right down but Daisuke had to ice his shoulder first and he wanted to take a shower first,” Cameron said. “But everything was terrific. It couldn’t have gone smoother. I’m sure it helped that he had an outstanding outing.”
Matsuzaka received a standing ovation from the Sea Dogs fans and acknowledged it with a tip of his hat.
The Red Sox have their own interpreter assigned to Matsuzaka.
Cameron, a Brunswick native who has been with the Sea Dogs since 1996, said it was a breeze compared to the rehab stint by Hideki Matsui when he was with the Yankees and played with their Trenton Thunder affiliate.
“There were 75 Japanese media members following him,” Cameron said. “There were only 12 for Daisuke.”
Eshbach said Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester, former New York Yankee outfielder Bernie Williams, pitcher Dwight Gooden and Red Sox outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron were also among the notable players doing rehab stints along with Kevin Millar when he was with the Florida Marlins, the Sea Dogs’ first major league affiliate (1994-2002) until the Red Sox became the affiliate in 2003.
“Millar told the Marlins he wanted to rehab here and not in Triple-A. He had played here and liked it here,” recalled Eshbach.
Eshbach said one of the reasons they landed Matsuzaka’s rehab stint was the Triple-A Pawtucket (R.I.) Red Sox were out of town.
Ellsbury, who was in Portland with Cameron in 2010, could do another stint with Portland as he is currently on the disabled list due to a shoulder injury.
Cameron said the Ortiz rehab stint was interesting because he heard from people “I hadn’t heard from in 10 years” who were seeking tickets.
“I’m not even sure I knew some of them,” he joked. “I got an email from one of my high school English teachers.”
Eshbach recalled two Canadians who showed up at Hadlock Field when Ortiz was doing his rehab stint.
“One of them said they were vacationing at Old Orchard Beach and wanted to see the field. Then they asked me what was going on. They said they had gone online to get tickets and they were $200 apiece. I told them in New England, Red Sox baseball is religion and one of the disciples [Ortiz] was here,” Eshbach said.
Eshbach explained to the Canadians that scalpers were selling the tickets for $200, noting that Sea Dog tickets range from $6 to $9.
Cameron said although it can be hectic, when he sits back and reflects on the rehab stint experiences, they’re enjoyable.