Jon Lester is pitching in Portland tomorrow night.

This is where I’d traditionally shame and jab you with the obvious: Lester, one of the Boston Red Sox plum prospects and a cancer patient for roughly one year, needs your support now more than ever.

On the cusp of the September stretch drive and clearly no part of the Sox playoff plans, Lester is farther away from being ready for prime-time than he or any of us dared to imagine.

Whether or not he’ll ever make good on his pre-lymphoma promise is a delicate physical, emotional and psychological battle, one more easily won when Lester can see with his own, tired eyes that all of New England is in his corner.

Today’s hard-ball homily should sound like an echo to those of you who know my leanings well enough to know how much I despise video games, discussion boards, fantasy leagues, celebrity ballroom dancing or anything else that keeps us away from the ball yards, courts and rinks.

Get off your butt and go.

Problem is, you beat me to it. Nice job. Fourteen seasons into our second chance to screw up the perfect fit of professional baseball in greater Portland, I’ll say it again. Fantastic job.

It’s August, it’s warm, it’s cheap and it’s convenient, so Hadlock Field would be jammed to capacity whether Monday’s starting pitcher was Jon Lester or John Rocker.

Tomorrow’s game, like most on the Sea Dogs’ home calendar between the Fourth of July and Labor Day, is a sellout. Was a sellout. Long before the Red Sox made it clear that the Hollywood ending of Lester’s comeback bid will probably have to wait a year.

Somehow, against all odds, baseball survives. Thrives, even.

Despite steroids, amphetamines and the absence of a true salary cap.

Despite an entire generation of kids abandoning Little League in droves to play summer soccer, lacrosse or basketball.

Despite most of us adults needing a Ritalin drip to keep our attention focused on a 10-minute perusal of the newspaper or a 28-minute sitcom, let alone a 3-hour, 26-minute baseball game with more pitching changes than Carl Lewis’ version of the national anthem.

Shelling out seven bucks to watch professional athletes being paid like janitors to play a child’s game is still the supreme way to spend a summer evening.

Baseball has bucked every trend. With all its faults, and with gas prices lofty enough to keep most of us buying our beer and cigarettes in bulk to minimize trips to the corner store, professional baseball continues to smash attendance records everywhere from the Bronx to Beloit.

Nowhere is the support more stunning than here in Maine, where we habitually withhold affection for most of our high school, minor league and big league teams unless they win.

Sure, Portland is the reigning Eastern League champion, but the Sea Dogs have essentially hovered within five games either side of the .500 mark since switching their affiliation from Florida to Boston earlier this decade.

Plus, I can assure you that the average Sea Dogs constituent doesn’t know what an agate page is, let alone look at the standings on it. Those are the moms, the granddads, the 5-year-olds that make the Portland franchise such a self-perpetuating monster.

So I’d tell you to be there screaming out your lungs for Jon Lester, but most of you can’t be. And that’s a credit to all of us.


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