PORTLAND, Maine — Maine National Guard Command Sgt. Maj. Steve Curtis from Stacyville has served two tours of duty in Iraq.
The days in Iraq could be long. The nights could be even longer.
But Curtis is a big-time baseball fan and said following the major league baseball season is one of the things that “kept me going in the combat zone” in Iraq.
“And baseball is worth fighting for; making sure people can go to games and be safe,” said Curtis.
Curtis was one of several servicemen on hand for Military Monday and Military Appreciation Day at Hadlock Field as the Portland Sea Dogs hosted the New Britain Rock Cats in an Eastern League Double-A game on Memorial Day.
It was also Bangor Community Day as the Bangor Daily News was the primary sponsor for the day with Bangor Savings Bank and Fairpoint Communications.
Curtis said it was nice that the Sea Dogs recognize the military and he was appreciative.
“You can’t say enough about what they’ve done for us,” said Sea Dogs second baseman Zach Gentile. “They give more for us than we can even imagine. We think we have it tough playing 142 games in 150 days. They don’t have any days off over there. They’re going all the time.”
“Memorial Day really puts things into perspective,” said pitcher Brock Huntzinger. “These guys in uniform have been over there [in war zones] seeing stuff [we hope we never see] just so we can come out here and play a game and have the freedoms that we have.”
“It’s pretty cool. Sometimes people lose sight of that. It’s cool to have the [soldiers] around,” added Huntzinger. “They’re selfless people. They make this country what it is. It’s pretty special.”
The Sea Dogs signed autographs before the game and servicemen and servicewomen accompanied them out to the positions for the top of the first inning.
A huge American flag was also unfurled behind the mound by service members and their families.
Before the game, from 10-11:15 a.m., fans and their children got to play catch on the field and it provided the families with some lasting memories.
Dawn Harmon of Cape Elizabeth was playing catch with her 6-year-old son Gabe, who was decked out in a Sea Dogs uniform and hustled around the field like a mini-Dustin Pedroia.
“This is something he looks forward to,” said Dawn Harmon. “He had breakfast with [third baseman] Will Middlebrooks last year and now he’s with the Red Sox. It’s pretty special.”
“I like playing on the field,” said Gabe Harmon.
“I love it. It’s great for the kids to be able to be on the field like the big guys,” said Jamie Chilles of Rockland, who brought his 8-year-old son Austin.
He also pointed out that the Sea Dogs host clinics for kids and it’s “really neat. We love it.”
Chilles has brought his family to Sea Dogs games and said “there isn’t a bad seat in the house.”
Army National Guardsman Brett Haney brought his wife, Blair, and children Colvin and Emma to the game and he played catch with Colvin before the game.
“This was our first Sea Dogs game as a family. The kids were so excited,” said Blair.
John Daly of Brunswick brought his stepson, 10-year-old Cameron, and said this is the third year they have participated in it.
“I love it. I think it’s great,” said Daly who added that watching the Sea Dogs play is equally enjoyable.
“It’s a great brand of baseball,” said John Daly who admitted that it took him some time to explain the player development ideology to his stepson.
“It took me a season to explain to him it’s not all about winning at this level,” said Daly. “[Cameron] gets mad when players leave.”
Lewiston native Brian Babbidge has served in Iraq and brought his 8-year-old son, Connor.
Brian Babbidge, who was dressed in his National Guard uniform and said he was “appreciative” of the Sea Dogs’ honoring of the soldiers, used to come to Sea Dogs games as a youngster and said things have been “a lot better” since the Sea Dogs became affiliated with the Boston Red Sox 10 years ago.
They spent nine years with the Florida Marlins.
The Sea Dogs replicated Boston’s 37-foot-high Green Monster in left field in 2003 and have made several additions like a clubhouse in right field and a group of comfortable seats in right field that hold 393. It’s the U.S. Cellular Pavilion.
In 2002, they had added a picnic area down the right-field line.
All of the seats are right on top of the action and the Sea Dogs have several on-field promotions during the game to entertain the fans. In one, four people dressed in raincoats toss fake lobsters in the air while two people try to catch them in a lobster trap.
Former Bangor mayor and current senator Nichi Farnham, husband Doug and son Gary were among the Bangor residents on hand at Bangor Community Day.
“[Bangor Community Day] is a great idea,” said Nichi Farnham. “There’s a lot of baseball fans in Bangor. Hopefully, some of these fans will come up to our Senior League World Series.”
Doug Farnham, president of the Bangor West Side Little League, said he distributed the free tickets supplied by the Sea Dogs in a trade-off with the Bangor Daily News for advertising in the paper and in the BDN’s digital properties.
The Farnhams said if this becomes an annual event, which they hope it will, people will be able to plan for it in future years.
“Some people had already made plans. But we know some people who came down yesterday and stayed in a hotel before coming over to the game,” said Doug Farnham.
Another popular reason for attending Sea Dogs games is getting the opportunity to watch future Red Sox players.
The Sea Dogs have the numbers and names of prominent Red Sox players who played in Portland such as Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Josh Beckett (Marlins), Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury.
There were 5,667 on hand Monday and they watched the Rock Cats blank the Sea Dogs 3-0.