PORTLAND – Somebody said it was Opening Day here at Hadlock Field. And give the Portland Sea Dogs front office credit for drumming enough evidence that we believe them.

The requisite buntings and banners rippled in abundant unison. Those home uniforms glared whiter than Ann Coulter’s fan club. Championship rings came out of cold storage and stoked warm memories of last September’s push to the pennant.

Thank heaven for metaphorical heat. The only source of coziness or joy in Stormville is that the home team played a game Monday night. Finally.

Seventy home dates comprise everyone’s Eastern League slate. With its barely thawed turf under a tarpaulin of saturated snow all weekend, Portland took the collar with its first four dates.

Monday’s fifth at-bat was the equivalent of a windblown, infield fly that fell between a triangle of infielders. It was a throwaway date in every sense of the word.

“When I got to the yard today at around noon,” said Sea Dogs center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, “I was thinking we weren’t going to play.”

Of the 3,802 paid spectators, two out of three were represented by a barren blue, green or silver bleacher seat. Two hundred (maybe) chose loyalty over common sense and stuck around until the bitter, cold end, an 8-6 loss to the New Britain Rock Cats.

There were bright spots.

Ellsbury, who could end up roaming center field in Fenway Park the day Red Sox brass admit the Coco Crisp experiment was a dud, went 4-for-6 with three doubles.

The Sea Dogs showed the spirit you would expect from a team that was playing indoor Wiffle ball in the neighboring Exposition Building two days earlier. Portland rallied from a 7-1 deficit to put the potential tying run into scoring position in the eighth inning and, um, happily push this one past the three-hour mark.

“We played (New Britain) a week ago, and that was the last time we saw somebody in a different uniform,” said Portland manager Arnie Beyeler. “Today was the first time we’ve been out on our field to take batting practice.”

This is where I’m supposed to stuff my face with hot dogs and apple pie, crank up the heater in my Chevrolet and feel a tear trickle from my eye as I reverently whisper, “Well, at least it was baseball.”

No, it certainly wasn’t baseball. Nor was it remotely fair to anyone affiliated with this franchise.

I know it’s cold everywhere right now. I know it’s snowing small farm animals in Cleveland these days. But as long as Bowie, Reading, Trenton, Harrisburg, Altoona and Erie have teams in the Eastern League, they should start every season with an obligatory 10-day homestand.

Instead, with its opening set deemed a white-out, the Sea Dogs drove south Sunday in search of the first minor league facility in good enough shape to allow a workout. They wound up in Lowell, Mass.

Portland banked on Mother Nature to plow Hadlock’s tender grass, and she obviously was busy celebrating Easter. As of noon Monday, the outfield remained under a thin glaze.

Two hours and several shovels later, the game was a go.

“This,” said Sea Dogs assistant general manager Chris Cameron, “was the result of lots and lots of manual labor.”

Tired?

“Yes, we all are. Physically and mentally,” he added.

Players shared that stir-crazy look, at times. Pitching on both sides was eminently hittable, even if too many swings looked like the mismatched moving lips and overdubbed dialogue of an early Jackie Chan flick.

Timing turned the corner in the sixth inning. Cory Keylor, Jed Lowrie and David Bacani each ended up with two hits. Poor Jeff Natale had the toughest night. He got plunked twice.

Spectators were good sports, politely following the rhythmic clapping in Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and stomping dutifully to the piped-in organ music.

Portland players’ choice of layers ranged from wimpy (Floridian Jeff Corsaletti’s open-face ski mask) to the wacky (New Hampshire native and relief pitcher Kyle Jackson’s sleeveless look).

The consensus: It beat another night of playing poker.

“You try to stay busy,” Ellsbury said. “I was proud of how our team battled. We got down early, but we kept picking away at it.”

Kind of like those front office interns and their shovels.

Opening Day: Seven months of anticipation. Can’t wait for it to get here. Thank God it’s over.

Kalle Oakes is a staff writer. His e-mail is [email protected]


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