PORTLAND – Kids in bright red Red Sox jerseys did their best impersonation of Nomar Garciaparra’s jittery batting stance. Fans listened to live jazz music and shook hands with Sea Dogs’ mascot Slugger or his Boston counterpart, Wally the Green Monster. Red Sox prospects now playing for the Portland Sea Dogs, Boston’s minor league affiliate, milled about the crowd, signing autographs before heading back to Hadlock Field to play a double-header.

Monument Square was the hub of Red Sox nation Monday as hundreds of fans flocked to downtown Portland for a lunchtime rally for the team on a breezy, sunsplashed afternoon.

Few seemed to care that there were no players from the big club present (the Sox were in Texas preparing for a series with the Rangers), especially whenever one of the numerous speakers at the event reminded them of the Sox taking two-of-three last weekend from the Yankees.

“Two out of three from the ‘Evil Empire.’ You can’t beat that,” Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino said. “By the way, the Sea Dogs are in first place, too.”

Lucchino, representing Boston’s front office, along with team vice chairman Les Otten, saluted Sox fans in Maine, saying they are “second to none” in their loyalty to the team.

“We’re here simply to say that loyalty is a two-way street,” Lucchino said. “Maine has been loyal to the Red Sox for years and years, generations and generations. It’s our job as the new stewards of the franchise to come up here and say ‘Thank you, Maine.'”

The Red Sox have held similar rallies this summer in New Hampshire and Connecticut, making charitable contributions along with public appearances. Following the rally, they visited a Youth Alternatives group home to present a $10,000 check, bicycles and DVD players.

“I think the ownership in Boston realizes that the Boston Red Sox are more the New England Red Sox as far as loyalties go,” Sea Dogs president and general manager Charlie Eshbach said. “They realize that emotions run very deep up here in Maine for the Red Sox, and by reaching out to the fans, I think that’s terrific on their part.”

Former Sox manager Joe Morgan, who skippered the team to American League East division crowns in 1988 and 1990, spoke to the crowd, as did Sea Dogs owner Dan Burke.

City and state officials noted the New England Patriots were the last Boston team to come to Maine, when Portland and Bangor held rallies for the team after it won the Super Bowl in 2002. Some, including Gov. John Baldacci and U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, went so far as to predict the Red Sox would be returning for their own championship celebration this year.

Lucchino announced the Red Sox will celebrate Maine Day Sunday, Sept. 14 at Fenway Park, and noted the presence of Mainers in the Red Sox ownership, including Otten, Harold Alfond and former Sen. George Mitchell.

“You guys were present at the creation,” he said.

Whether Maine’s ties with the Red Sox minor league organization continue remain up in the air. Lucchino made no announcement regarding the future of the Sea Dogs, who are in the first of a two-year agreement as Boston’s AA affiliate. There has been some speculation that the Red Sox could drop the Sea Dogs and jump to Manchester, N.H., which already is slated to field an Eastern League team but hasn’t yet announced an affiliation.

Eshbach and Otten said the relationship between the Sea Dogs and the big club has prospered in its first year.

“I think it has (strengthened),” Eshbach said. “Obviously, going in there were certain unknowns. Through the nine years we had with the Marlins, it was the people that we dealt with were the important part. It could have been any organization. Obviously , the Red Sox are a very important part of New England, but the people are very important to us, too, and we’re finding working with them to be a great joy.”

“We’ve got a marriage going between the club down in Boston and the club here in town,” Otten said. “You’re seeing the real deal here in Maine. This isn’t associated with a team that’s 1,000 or 1,500 miles away. That marriage is just making baseball bigger. I don’t think baseball’s ever been bigger in Maine than it is right now.”


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