Down East 2013 ©
I’ve just returned home from spending Memorial Day weekend watching the Portland Sea Dogs  play baseball. Or some rough approximation of the sport.
On the whole, my experience at Hadlock Field wasn’t unpleasant. The weather was warm. The beer was cold. The ballpark food was satisfyingly unhealthy. I should have been contented.
Instead, I wanted to punch somebody. Preferably, somebody in charge of assembling this team.
I understand that baseball is a difficult game, in which the margin between winning and losing is often based on subtleties the average fan can neither understand nor appreciate. Fortunately, that’s not a big problem when assessing the first two months of the Sea Dogs’ 2011 season. Unfortunately, that’s because the Boston Red Sox’s Double-A affiliate is just plain awful.
In May, the Dogs won a total of six games.
That’s not a typo. Six!
They also lost twenty-five.
As of this morning, they’d been victorious in only fifteen games all season, while coming up on the short end of the score on thirty-six occasions, a record good enough for last place  in the Eastern League’s eastern division. It’s also qualifies them for the worst record in the entire league. And the worst record of any Boston minor league team. By a sizable margin. Road wins (five) are almost rarer than congressional budget compromises.
So, what’s the problem?
It’s not hitting. Portland is currently third in the league with a team batting average  of .271. In slugging, they’re fourth. On base percentage? First. Runs batted in? Third. Home runs? Fourth.
Better than respectable.
So this miserable effort must be because of pitching. The stats seem to bear that out,  with the Sea Dogs ranking next to last in the league in staff earned run average as well as walks and hits per inning pitched. They’re dead last in saves and home runs allowed.
Portland fielders haven’t helped. They’ve made forty-five errors in fifty-one games. I didn’t check to see how that compares to the other teams. I can only stand so much heartache and frustration.
If things don’t change, the Dogs will be eliminated from playoff contention at the earliest date in their history, sometime in late July or early August. The rest of the season will consist of going through the motions.
Except that’s what this team already seems to be doing.
It’s a baseball axiom that losing is contagious. If so, it appears to have reached epidemic proportions in Portland. While a few players – newly arrived shortstop Vladimir Frias,  catcher Tim Federowicz,  third baseman Will Middlebrooks  – put in a full nine innings on both offense and defense, others – including most of the outfield and the bullpen – barely bother to show up after the sixth.
Which, in most of the games I’ve seen this season, is when everything goes to hell.
Opponents’ grounders start sneaking through the infield for cheap hits. Sea Dogs batters stand at the plate like they’re waiting for a bus to take them someplace unpleasant. Portland relief pitchers throw as if they’ve forgotten whether it’s preferable to have the umpire call balls or strikes.
Generally, when a team displays such a chronic lack of effort, it’s the manager’s fault. But Dogs skipper Kevin Boles  has an impeccable baseball pedigree and considerable success managing at other levels. He appears to be engaged with his players and astute in his in-game moves. If he’s to blame, it’s not apparent from the stands.
Portland has had much better seasons with much worse managers (Eric Fox , Frank Cacciatore ). The team has also suffered through lousy seasons (although none as lousy as this one, so far) with quality guys in charge (Carlos Tosca , Ron Johnson ).
If I thought it would do any good, I’d blame this mess on Gov. Paul LePage, since everything else seems to be his fault. But I’ll have to content myself with the realization that things could be worse.
I could be a hockey fan from Lewiston.
Because if I was such an unfortunate soul, I’d be without a local team.  As of May 31, the Lewiston Maineiacs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (motto: Leading All Professional Sports In Oxymorons In Our Name) ceased to exist. The league bought the financially troubled franchise and dissolved it, bringing to an end what had become an annual rite of speculating that the team would move someplace else. There’s now talk of attracting an American junior team to the city for the 2012-2013 season, but for the present, Lewiston has hockey the way LePage has good press.
The deicing of the Maineiacs wasn’t the only hockey loss Maine suffered this past week. Portland Pirates coach Kevin Dineen won’t be back either. Dineen ended six seasons at the helm of the American Hockey League franchise by being named new head coach  of the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers.
OK, I admit it. Until now, I wasn’t aware an NHL team even existed in Miami. I’m still not convinced this Panthers thing isn’t some ploy Dineen concocted to move to a warmer climate.
And it might not be a coincidence that he bailed shortly after Portland ended its parking-fine forgiveness program.  Until recently, the city gave errant parkers a mulligan on one ticket every six months if they had no additional violations. That generated a lot of good will, but it also cost municipal government a lot of revenue, as much as half-a-million bucks per year.
You can see why Dineen wouldn’t want to hang around and pay that.
The good news is that with that kind of money floating around, the Pirates can afford a new coach. And there’ll be enough left over to loan Lewiston some cash to cover a new hockey team. And the rest of the windfall can be used for incentives to keep Sea Dogs players awake in the late innings.
Al Diamon is not a fair-weather fan. He’ll continue to watch Portland’s miserable baseball team lose games. He’ll just drink more while doing so. Rather than disturb him during that process, please put your comments in emails and send them to firstname.lastname@example.org .