If Maine is known for two things–lobsters and lighthouses–let a third be Portland’s cultural tension between Boston and a peaceful coastline that, apart from proximity, shares little with the metropolis many Mainers once called home.
Old Port, a brick-laden, downtown neighborhood juxtaposing chic oyster houses and the millenials that enjoy them with actual seaworthy vessels and the mariners that operate them, straddles the two well. Just a mile west, Hadlock Field does the same with a full-scale Green Monster and a celebratory lighthouse that rises for Sea Dog home runs.
The Portland Sea Dogs became an Eastern League expansion team in 1994, affiliating with the new Florida Marlins for nine seasons. In 2003, they switched affiliations to the Boston Red Sox. While current Sea Dogs jerseys feature Red Sox style colors and piping, the team does still sell paraphernalia in the old teal and black scheme, clinging to their marine aesthetic more overtly than any Bostonian would ever assume.
With unique features, passionate fans, and classic ballpark vibes, Hadlock Field provides a healthy foretaste of Fenway while staying true to its coastal location.
Had the Sea Dogs been graced with foresight to lay their bricks along the water in Old Port, at the forefront of the 1990’s ballpark renaissance, Hadlock Field would undoubtedly rank among the nation’s best, on placement alone.
As it stands, just over a mile from the historic neighborhood, the location isn’t bad. It’s just not within convenient walking distance of much, and most fans require an automobile to get to the park. Nearby, there are a few notable spots.
The Holy Donut, right across the street from Hadlock Field, is a must-visit. A legendary Portland joint, The Holy Donut makes their giant, specialty donuts from potatoes, by hand. With unique and seasonal flavors, there’s certainly something for everyone. Just be aware that the store closes at 4 p.m. each day.
A block south, Salvage BBQ serves up North Carolina, Texas, and St. Louis style meats in their quick-service restaurant renovated from an old railroad post office building.
That said, if you’re looking to spend an afternoon dining and shopping before a baseball game (and willing to pay for parking twice in one day), there’s no better district than Old Port.
On recommendation from a Mainer, I strolled up to Eventide Oyster Co. in Old Port with a few friends for an afternoon bite before the game. But we about-faced as quickly as the hostess informed us it would be a two and a half hour wait.
In a growing city that bulges visitors in the warm months, such wait times may become the norm. Although that experience also serves as a testament to the culinary quality of the city–a quality built on the reputation of Maine’s signature dish.
While every restaurant and its food truck in Portland serves a lobster roll, I do recommend Highroller Lobster Co., which serves several variations of the Maine staple in a bright diner with an outdoor patio.
Though Hadlock Field does not receive high marks in the urban fabric category of ballpark criticism, its placement is by no means suburban, nor is it unsafe. It’s good, but it’s just a mile away from being superb
Where to Sit
Perhaps due to Maine’s enduring summer sun, which sets late in the evening behind the third base side, the majority of Hadlock Field’s infield seating is to the left of home plate. The infield seats are tiered in the usual box, reserved, and grandstand levels, with the box seats being closest to the field as you can observe in the Hadlock Field seating chart below.
The protective netting at Hadlock Field extends beyond the seats on each side, meaning foul ball chances are slim the closer to the field you are.
Above the grandstands are rows of box seating called the Sky View Seats. Not associated with suites, Sky View Seats provide the same sightline as suite seats, just without the luxurious indoor experience. Near home plate, they’re also the best spot for foul balls. Several fouls ended up in sections 405 and 406 at the game I attended.
Down the right field line, the Coca-Cola Picnic Area is another prime spot for stray souvenirs. It’s not protected by netting, so flares down the line end up among the picnic tables frequently.
In right field, Gifford’s HomeMaine Ice Cream Pavilion is the best-valued, most unique spot you’ll find in the ballpark, and arguably in all of the minor leagues.
Gifford’s Pavilion provides roomy, countertop seating above the high right field wall, modeled after the Monster Seats in Fenway. Since the Maine Monster is not outfitted with seats, this is the next-best thing.
With unobstructed views of the whole park, and the sunset behind third base, these seats are also the only home run catching opportunity at Hadlock Field. Further, the Sea Dogs bullpen is situated next to the pavilion seats, elevated above the field, giving spectators an unparalleled perspective of warming pitchers.
For $13, you can’t beat the deal. But it was even better pre-pandemic. Then, the Gifford’s Pavilion was an all-you-can-eat section for $25 per person. Per the usher I talked with before the game, it would have taken just a hot dog, popcorn, soda, and ice cream to make the ticket essentially free. And that’s just an appetizer if you’re doing all-you-can-eat the right way.
Unfortunately, that deal was not yet available at the game I attended in June 2021. Hopefully, in the coming months it will resume.
What to Eat
If you can’t eat your heart out at Gifford’s Pavilion, head to the Shipyard Grill down the left field line for cheese steaks, sausages, and barbecue chicken. For beer lovers who haven’t had their fill already at Portland’s manifold breweries, hit up the microbrew stand behind first base.
A local favorite, as it should be, is the Seadog Biscuit—an ice cream sandwich composed of Gifford’s vanilla and two large chocolate chip cookies. For $3.50, it’s hard to beat.
Otherwise, the in-stadium offerings are an underwhelming assortment of usual ballpark fare. But like most stretches of 100 feet in New England, Hadlock Field does have a Dunkin’ Donuts.
Sense of Place
Hadlock Field’s major props are awarded because it’s so clearly a Red Sox ballpark, yet it’s so clearly not in Boston.
The Maine Monster is topped with a Citgo sign, not, I presume, because the now-austere gas station actually sponsors the team, but because the Fenway aesthetic calls for it. It’s also topped with a giant Coca-Cola bottle because, well, that’s more enticing than a billboard honestly.
Yet, with the Monster-style seats in right field, it’s more like a deconstructed Fenway, or a model Fenway that was constructed from close-up pictures of certain features of the actual Fenway. Either way, it works.
Hadlock Field also has a closed concourse (under the stands, requiring the arriving fan to walk through a passageway before the field is ever fully revealed). That’s the old way of ballpark design, the way that even modern retro-style parks like Camden Yards utilize. Though it prevents the spectator from keeping an eye on the game while making a food or bathroom run, the closed concourse does cultivate an intimate, hidden feel of the early 20th century ballparks that were tucked away in urban neighborhoods.
When the Sea Dogs blast a homer, or close out a win, a lit lighthouse arises from beyond the center field wall, an easy, but still classy celebratory adornment that highlights quintessential Maine.
Neighboring Hadlock Field down the right field line are the James A Banks Sr. Exposition Building (a basketball gym) and the William B. Troubh Ice Arena. Both buildings are high-ceiling, brick structures. And the Banks Exposition Building is close enough to the baseball field that several foul balls bounced off it, or came to rest on its roof, during the game I attended.
The buildings give a sense of urban encasement, however artificial, that allows for the invasion of the game into what looks like part of an old city, in this case by way of errant fouls. It’s an overlooked, perhaps even accidental, feature, but it elevates this ballpark from good to great.
The bricks that compose Hadlock’s facade, and those of the surrounding buildings, firmly place the home of the Portland Sea Dogs in the New England that graduated from cobblestone streets to downtowns revolutionized by industry. Yet, with simple features and intelligent branding, the Sea Dogs stretch out their paws to the nearby coast, which beckons Mainers and Bostonians alike to a laid-back retreat, be it at the beach or the ballpark.