Friday, October 22, 2021

Andy Young: Why the Sea Dogs thrive, but the Pirates walked the plank

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

Maine’s largest metropolis was home to two professional sports franchises in the late 1990’s, and I worked for both of them.

My fulltime employer was the Portland Sea Dogs, the city’s wildly successful Eastern League baseball franchise. I was the lead radio announcer and publicist for the team that at the time was affiliated with the 1997 World Series champion Florida Marlins.

In the winter I moonlighted for the American Hockey League’s Portland Pirates, providing “color commentary” on the broadcasts of each of the team’s 40 home games. Radio/TV color commentators have usually played the game they’re commenting on at some high level, although as anyone who’s ever seen me on skates can attest, that’s not always the case.

My job involved pre-recording three interviews: a pregame talk with the team’s always pleasant and cooperative coach, Mark Kumpel, plus two chats with interesting subjects (usually Pirates players, other team personnel, or visiting professional hockey dignitaries) that would be played between periods. I also provided 10-second bits of relevant game analysis when Dave Ahlers, the team’s outstanding play-by-play announcer, needed a quick drink of water during play stoppages.

I was paid a princely $40 per game, which I thought was terrific, since then as now I consider it a blessing to be paid any amount of money for doing something I love enough to do for free.

A month or so into the 1998 season, Dave asked me if I’d be interested in going on a road trip to Newfoundland, a place I had never visited, for back-to-back games against the St. John’s Maple Leafs. He said he could use the help, so when I responded affirmatively, he said he’d talk to management about it. He reasoned that the team was chartering a plane and I would share his hotel room, so my added presence wouldn’t negatively impact the organization’s all-important bottom line.

But before the next home game the general manager came by and dolefully explained the cost-conscious Pirates were on a tight budget and $1,600 ($40 per game for 40 home games) was all the financially strapped team could afford for a season’s worth of color commentary. However, in lieu of my customary per game stipend, he offered to pay me meal money if I’d still be willing to make the trip. Before foolishly, impulsively, and truthfully responding that I’d actually have gone for nothing, I asked how much the per diem was. He replied that I would be given $50 for each of the trip’s three days.

I graciously accepted his offer, all the while wondering how a team paying someone $150 because they professed to being too cash-strapped to pay him $80 made economic sense.

That trip was memorable for all the right reasons. I spent every waking moment I wasn’t at the arena exploring Newfoundland and Labrador’s (it’s all one province) capital city. That included a trip up to Signal Hill, where Guglielmo Marconi received the first-ever transatlantic radio message on Dec. 12, 1901.

I learned that provincial status wasn’t given to Newfoundland and Labrador until after World War II (in 1949), and that their time zone is one and a half hours ahead of ours. The Pirates’ largesse is the main reason I’m one of the few Americans who can boast of having visited all 10 Canadian provinces. 

Given the odd logic of how I was compensated for my trip to the North Atlantic, I also gained insight into why, 23 years later, the Sea Dogs continue to prosper, while when the phrase “Portland Pirates” is uttered nowadays, it’s nearly always preceded by the word “defunct.” <

No comments:

Post a Comment