PORTLAND, Maine — Boston Red Sox fans will see a familiar face in the Portland Sea Dogs dugout this season.
Former Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman has been promoted from Single-A Salem to replace Dave Joppie as the hitting coach for the Double-A Sea Dogs this season. Joppie has been promoted to the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox.
Gedman played 13 years in the major leagues and was with the Red Sox from 1980-90 before going to Houston and finishing his career in St. Louis. He was a career .252 hitter with 88 homers and 382 runs batted in.
That is one of the changes in store this season as the Sea Dogs celebrate their 20th season in Portland and 11th with the Red Sox. They were the Double-A affiliate of the Florida Marlins for the first nine years.
Assistant general manager Chris Cameron said minor league players have been in camp in Fort Myers, Fla., with the Red Sox since early March and will head to Portland on Sunday in preparation for their home opener at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 4, against the Trenton Thunder, the New York Yankees’ affiliate.
“Even though the roster hasn’t been set yet, we should have a real good team,” said Cameron.
The Sea Dogs were 18 games under .500 at the halfway point last season but went 32-19 over their last 51 games and finished up at 68-73.
“We were the best team in the Eastern League the second half of the season and a lot of the guys who finished the season with us will start the year with us,” said Cameron.
The players will enjoy a new and improved playing surface.
“We’ve installed new drainage and irrigation systems and some new sod. We’ll also have the same infield mix they have at Fenway Park,” said Cameron. “We’ve spent a lot of money on the field, although I’m not sure of the amount.
“The fans won’t notice it but the players will definitely notice. It’ll be a much better playing surface for them,” said Cameron.
Ticket prices will increase by $1, with the top ticket now costing $10 instead of $9, but Cameron said their prices are still family-friendly and among the lowest in the league.
“We hadn’t raised ticket prices in quite a while. This is just the fourth time in 20 years. We had to raise the prices to cover our costs,” he explained.
Attendance has been been in a steady decline but last year’s was the smallest decline in five years.
The Sea Dogs averaged 5,434 to their 69 games at Hadlock Field, 78 fewer per game than in 2011. In the previous four seasons, the average drop-off was 253 per game. Hadlock Field holds 7,368.
The Sea Dogs were fourth among 12 teams in attendance a year ago.
Cameron said ticket sales are “about equal to this time last year” but the sponsorship picture is better.
“We’ve added some new sponsors that we’re thrilled to have and all of last year’s sponsors are returning,” said Cameron.
One of the special activities for the 20th anniversary celebration will be the return of 11 players/manager alumni on Thursday, April 18, when the Sea Dogs host the New Britain Rock Cats at 6.
Catcher Charles Johnson, a Sea Dogs Hall of Famer, will headline the list. He went on to have a 12-year major league career. He was a two-time National League All-Star (1997 and 2001) and won five Gold Glove awards.
The other returning alumni affiliated with the Marlins include outfielders Fletcher Bates, Glenn Reeves and Pookie Wilson and infielders Heath Honeycutt and Drew Niles.
The Red Sox-affiliated alumni include pitchers Ryan Cameron and Marc Deschenes, catcher John Nathans, outfielder Jay Johnson and manager Todd Claus.
Season ticket holders, sponsors and employees who have been with the Sea Dogs for all 20 years will also be recognized.
“This is the biggest milestone (20th year) in our franchise to date and we want to do it up right,” said Cameron.
New England Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich will make a special appearance at Hadlock Field on Wednesday, May 8, when the Sea Dogs host Reading at 6 p.m. Ninkovich will throw out the ceremonial first pitch and sign free autographs or photos.
Kevin Boles will return for his third year as the Sea Dogs manager and Bob Kipper returns for his fourth straight season, and sixth overall, as the Sea Dogs’ pitching coach.
Another of the special events on tap will be Field of Dreams Day on Sunday, Sept. 1 at 1 against Trenton.
A cornfield will be built in center field and the players will emerge from the cornfield dressed in replica uniforms of the 1926 Portland Eskimos of the New England B League. The players will go into the stands before the game to thank the fans for their patronage.
Wells’ Paul Coughlin, an English teacher at Bonny Eagle High School in Buxton, will be the new public address announcer replacing Dean Rogers, who had handled the chores for 19 years before stepping down after last season.
One of the Sea Dogs’ marquee players of a year ago, outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., has had a terrific spring with the parent club, hitting .423 with two homers and nine RBIs entering Monday’s game against Baltimore.
Cameron said it wouldn’t surprise him if Bradley stays up with the Red Sox.
“He’s one of the best pure baseball players I’ve seen come through the Sea Dogs in my 17 years here,” said Cameron. “He brought so much energy and enthusiasm to our lineup. The fans loved watching him play because they never knew what he was going to do. He was a game-changer. He has all the tools. If he doesn’t open the season in Boston, he’ll be there very soon. He’ll make a big impact.”
The speedy Bradley hit .271 for the Sea Dogs a year ago in 61 games with six homers, 29 RBIs and eight stolen bases. He also had 16 doubles and two triples.