Posted by John Marr
From the earliest days of the Portland Sea Dogs, there has been a relationship with the Rotary Club of Portland and we move one of our summer meetings to the ballpark to gain some intimate insight into the team, the players and the ball field. Now that the Sea Dogs are a minor league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, it’s truly a time to go out and root, root, root for the home team. Since the Sea Dogs have come into the league in 1993, Maine baseball fans have been able to watch young talent being developed into first-rate major league talent, as seen with Pedroia, Youkelis, Betts and many others. We have also had the opportunity to see some legitimate All-Stars, such as David Ortiz, come to Portland to rehab from injury back to top form. In light of this history, it was a genuine Sea Dog treat to get to spend some time with two up-and-coming ball players at our Hadlock Field meeting. The team was represented by pitcher Matt Kent (at left in photo) and utility infielder, Josh Tobias (at right in photo) who handled a question-and-answer session from the inquiring minds of Rotarians.
Since both of the young talents come from states south of the Mason-Dixon Line, one of the first questions they were asked is how tough is it to adjust to the early season weather. Matt Kent is from Texas and Josh Tobias is from North Carolina, so a Maine spring is a dramatic difference. Their answers were simple and sincere. Neither one of them feigned bravado and suggested it didn’t affect them. They admitted that it is always a tough adjustment to get used to playing ball wearing extra clothing, but pointed out that most teams face the same challenge.
Just as a question about the weather is expected, so are questions relative to our sometimes heralded and too-often vindicated arch rival, the New York Yankees. Coming off of two recent series with the Bronx Bombers with much different outcomes, our speakers had much to work with. Matt did not try to downplay, nor sidestep, the most recent drubbing at the bats of the Yankees and told us that baseball can be a cruel game and emotions have to be set aside and adverse encounters have to be looked at as blips and a mental adjustment has to be made so a player can move on to the next encounter with a clear mind and steadfast determination.
The players were asked how baseball became their chosen sport, with each coming from states where both football and basketball have huge and energetic followings. Since Josh and Matt are athletes, it was not a surprise to learn that they played multiple sports growing up.  Josh, coming from NC was into basketball as a kid, while Matt comes from the home of Friday Night Lights where football is king, so they had to fight the tide. Josh and Matt admitted that they realized early on that baseball was their strongest sport and decided to go with the flow of their talents and not succumb to the lure of the local passion. They concentrated on the national pass-time and it’s served them well.
The efforts to improve the pace of the game and accuracy of the officiating was prominently discussed. Matt admitted that he was not a supporter of replay when first introduced. However, his position has been evolving and he now feels that no team should lose due to a poor call. He pointed out that a single call can turn a game and that game can affect the stats and keep a team from the playoffs. Neither player voiced any distinct dislike of any of the efforts to modify the rules of the game and admit that there are ways to readjust the pitcher play clock.
When asked what advice a parent should give to a sports-minded kid who shows talent, the answer was quick and easy, practice, practice, and practice, but never to the neglect of your studies. As for the off season, they are like the rest of us and know that you have to get away from it all for a while and get re-energized. However, baseball is their job and they work out to stay in shape year round. Josh has decided to try winter ball to gain more experience, while Matt focuses on body mechanics during the off season.
The goal of every minor league player is to make it to the “bigs.” The play of the franchise team is closely followed and can impact opportunity. While the Sox may be struggling, at this juncture, both players agreed that the team has to consider chemistry and now is not the time to start calling up talent from the minors and trying plugging them into the rotation. That said, they both admit that you always have to be ready and as the season winds to a close, there may be a chance. Bottom line, these young players are ready and the talent pool the Red Sox have to draw upon is as rich as a Sea Dog biscuit!
(Photo L-R: PP Don Zillman, President Amy Chipman, Matt Kent, and Josh Tobias.)