2022 Freitas Awards: Portland Sea Dogs (Double-A)
A little loyalty goes a long way.
The Portland Sea Dogs are the winners of the Double-A Freitas Award, thanks in large part to a big jump in attendance at Hadlock Field in 2022. The Red Sox affiliate averaged 5,744 fans a night and saw a 37% increase from the previous year.
It isn’t hard to figure out why.
In the early stages of the pandemic in 2020, the Sea Dogs’ ownership group of Bill Burke and Sally McNamara made the stunning commitment to pay their 19 full-time staff members and more than 200 game-day employees for any missed wages for games that weren’t played.
Ultimately, that ended up being the entire season.
It was something that Sea Dogs president and general manager Geoff Iacuessa says the team wasn’t really looking to market at the time, but a gesture that they also weren’t shying away from. That generosity didn’t go unnoticed, and it has created genuine loyalty not only from the staff members who never missed a paycheck, but from fans in a smaller community who appreciated that the organization was going out of its way to do the right thing.
“I definitely think it’s both,” Iacuessa said. “We’re on the smaller end as far as (the Eastern League) goes, from a population standpoint. We get some summer tourists as well, but we’ve always been supported so well by our community.
“A lot of that has to do with us doing our best to support our community, and that’s one area that Bill and Sally recognized early on during Covid that we could do. The feedback we got from the community was incredible. That story took off, certainly locally, and you still get fans and sponsors who still bring it up and say what a great thing it was.”
Since their debut in 1994, the Sea Dogs have been a pillar in the Portland, Maine, community as well as one of the more successful franchises in the EL, having won five division titles and one championship, which they secured back in 2006.
That was the fourth year of an affiliation with the Red Sox that remains intact today. Countless future stars, including Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Dustin Pedroia and Rafael Devers, won over fans in Portland before they reached Boston.
With it being a little less than a two-hour drive from Fenway Park to Hadlock Field, a strong and logical affiliation has also gone a long way in making the Sea Dogs the top attraction in Portland, a port city of approximately 68,000 that has earned a reputation as one of the most popular road trips in the league.
“Obviously, we’re in the heart of Red Sox Nation, and the fans care about the Red Sox and care about the prospects and players coming up through,” Iacuessa said. “We drew very well as a Marlins affiliate, and then when we switched to the Red Sox, it took it to a whole other level.
“That’s certainly a point of pride for us to be the hometown team’s Double-A affiliate, and to be Portland’s hometown team, so it’s a great combination and something we’re excited to be able to do.”