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December 18, 2023

Diamond Baseball Holdings' Portland Sea Dogs need stadium upgrades to continue operation

A statue of a seal holding a baseball bat stands in front of an electronic sign and baseball park Photo | William Hall On Thursday morning at Portland's Hadlock Field, Slugger the Sea Dog was counting the days until the start of the 2024 baseball season. Whether the Portland Sea Dogs field a team in 2025 hinges on upgrades mandated for the stadium.

It's not yet the bottom of the ninth inning — but pressure is increasing on the Portland Sea Dogs, Maine's only professional baseball team and the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, to have a better home field before the Dogs begin play in 2025.

The Sea Dogs are owned by Diamond Baseball Holdings, a corporation based in New York City that announced in December its purchase of the Worcester Red Sox, the Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox that play at Worcester's Polar Park.  

The team's president and general manager, Geoff Iacuessa, told Mainebiz on Thursday that league-mandated upgrades could cost as much as $10 million at Hadlock Field, the 7,400-seat stadium that has hosted the Sea Dogs since their first home game on April 18, 1994.

"That’s a ballpark figure," he said, fittingly. "We really won’t know for sure until we get the final prints and estimate in February."

The improvements are necessary because Hadlock Field, a city-owned facility, doesn't meet standards set by a 2021 agreement between baseball's major league and minor league teams.

Among other results, that deal streamlined the number of minor league clubs, increased the salaries of their players and required that their clubhouses, locker rooms and other facilities satisfy certain quality criteria.

If teams don't meet the new standards, they risk losing their franchise within professional baseball. And neither the minor nor major league systems are helping out with the additional costs.

The Sea Dogs have already made some of the needed enhancements, including the installation of a new LED lighting system, padding on the outfield walls, and more netting to protect fans from errant foul balls.

"It has been a significant investment to this point for the items we have done," Iacuessa said.

But big-ticket items remain, and the most significant investment yet could be the creation of new clubhouses within the walls of Hadlock Field.

Currently, visiting teams use facilities next door on Park Avenue, in the Portland Exposition Building. But that isn't good enough, according to the new standards. So the Sea Dogs are exploring a new design that might include construction of a new clubhouse where stands now exist near third base.

The team and its new owner, Diamond Baseball Holdings, are talking with city officials to figure out how to pay for the new digs. But it's not yet clear what the goal is.

"Until we know the actual cost it is tough to nail down exact numbers, but both the state of Maine and city of Portland have been very helpful in discussing ideas to get to the finish line and DBH certainly stands ready to invest as well," said Iacuessa. "We are committed to making sure Hadlock Field achieves compliance with MLB and the Sea Dogs remaining in Maine."

A spokeswoman for the city of Portland, Jessica Grondin, told Mainebiz on Thursday, "We are currently working on creative ways for them to obtain funding and strengthen their lease. The city has a long-standing relationship with the Sea Dogs and would like Portland to remain their home for years to come."

So far, no requests for funding have come before the Portland City Council, she noted.

Many others of the roughly 120 Minor League Baseball teams are grappling with similar challenges. Some teams appear to be in the late innings of the process.

In Manchester, N.H., the New Hampshire Fisher Cats announced last February that seating enhancements had already been made to the team's 6,500-seat Delta Dental Stadium as a result of the mandates. Coincidentally, the Fisher Cats were recently acquired by Diamond Baseball Holdings, the Sea Dogs' owner.

In Durham, N.C., the Durham Bulls — the subject of the 1988 film blockbuster "Bull Durham" and the Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays — faced a bill of $10.4 million last year for necessary upgrades at their stadium. The North Carolina city pitched in $1 million.

“Since it’s a city facility, the majority of the burden falls on the city,” said John Paces-Wiles of Durham’s general services department, in a 2022 local news interview. "This is happening all over the country as well, so we're not alone in this."

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