PORTLAND — The look on Jose Iglesias’ face certainly made up for his lack of command of the English language.
When asked if he’d been told that the April temperatures in Maine weren’t normally as nice as he experienced Tuesday, the 20-year-old, first-year pro appeared surprised.
“He says, ‘What? Colder?'” said Alex Ochoa, the Portland Sea Dogs coach and interpreter of the day for the Red Sox shortstop prospect. “No. They haven’t told him that.”
This year’s Sea Dogs are in Portland and basking in the opportunity to play on their home field under untypically warm temperatures. The conditions at Hadlock Field were excellent, despite the overcast skies and afternoon shower. The field was green and the temperatures were much warmer than the Sea Dogs have been accustomed to.
“Last year, I was freezing,” said pitcher Felix Doubront, who was Portland’s pitcher of the year last season with eight wins and a 3.34 earned run average. “Today was a lot better.”
The players arrived in Maine this past weekend and had a benefit dinner for Youth Alternatives on Tuesday night. They open the 2010 campaign Thursday in Reading for seven straight on the road. Portland opens at home Thursday, April 15 at 6 p.m. against Trenton.
“It was kind of like a normal day during the middle of the season,” said manager Arnie Beyeler. “It was a nice day, but I’m sure we’ll pay for it during the next few weeks. That’s OK. It’s nice for the guys to get outside and do some things.”
Last year, the Sea Dogs had a much cooler reception by Mother Nature. It was also wet a year ago. In other years, there was still snow on the ground and in the stands. There were times when the Sea Dogs used helicopters to dry the field as the first home game approached.
“It was awesome,” said first baseman Lars Anderson. “It felt really good. I was wearing short sleeves, and I was sweating. That’s great.”
President and General Manager Charlie Eshbach said the field is the most green it has been in many years at this point in the season. The University of Southern Maine even played a home game on the field in recent weeks.
That’s been a welcome scenario for many of the new Sea Dogs getting their first look at their summer home. Four of the Red Sox’s top 10 prospects are in Portland this season, including Iglesias and Casey Kelly, neither of whom have never played in Portland. Anderson and outfielder Ryan Kalish are the other two ranked in the top 10, but both were in Portland last season.
“It’s the first time I saw the stadium and kind of looked at everything,” said Kelly, a pitcher who played shortstop also last year. “It’s definitely a sweet setup. I’m excited to play here.”
Kelly, who’ll focus solely on his pitching this year, knew Portland could very well be his destination after playing in Single-A Salem and Greenville last year. Though he hadn’t had time to check out what the Portland area had to offer, he liked what he’d seen so far.
“You get on the plane and you hear about Portland and how much fun they had,” said Kelly. “You get a perception in your head of what it’s going to be like. When you get here, it’s a lot of fun to think that I’m going to be pitching here and playing here this season.”
Iglesias was especially nervous about what he might find. The Cuba native had played in the World Championships in Canada during the summer, but that’s as far North as he’s been.
“He had seen the weather and it’s something he’s a little concerned about it because he has to play in weather like this,” said Ochoa. “So, it’s weather that he’ll be adjusting to and obviously he’s got to play in it.”
Those frigid April temperatures were nowhere to be found Tuesday. Though weather will surely wreak its share of havoc on the Sea Dogs’ schedule and the players’ comfort, a warm day on the field only added to the players’ excitement about the upcoming season.
“I just want to play,” said Kalish. “I wish we had a game tonight. It was a lot of fun out there. Last year, I was in Virginia to start, and it was cold there. For it to be the way it is right now, it was unbelievable. It was a really good time. We got out there, and we all had a lot of energy.”