In honor of the passing of Dan Burke, the only owner the Portland Sea Dogs have known, I thought this would be a good time to let you in on a little secret; that Portland, Maine (and the rest of the state for that matter) is one of the best little sports towns in America, due in part to Dan Burke. As you've seen from my posts on here, I have attended games at Hadlock Field on a regular basis, and the place is always full and the team and owners put on an excellent show. The Boston Red Sox didn't move their Double A affiliate to Portland because it was geographically convenient (there are other local options), it is because of the quality of the operation of the Sea Dogs and how well Dan Burke's management team worked with the big club, something John Henry knew because he was an owner of the Florida Marlins when the Portland Sea Dogs were their Double A affiliate.
If you would like to know more about Dan Burke, you can find information at the two links above.
But Dan Burke's passing prompted me writing this story that's been in my head for awhile; that Portland, Maine is arguably the best minor league city in the country. For a city of less than 75,000 to continually fill Hadlock Field's 7500 seats and to be home to the Portland Pirates and the NBA Development League's highest drawing franchise says an awful lot. In just two seasons the Maine Red Claws have become the D League's model franchise. The Red Claws have done this without playing at the Cumberland County Civic Center, the home of the Portland Pirates of the AHL, but in the old barn that is Portland Expo, the second oldest arena in continuous use in the country, having been built in 1914. Having seen a Red Claws game there, seated in old backless bleacher seats, reminds you of a bygone era but is illustrative of the fact that the product on the floor makes you forget you're sitting in a building reminiscent of the old armories around the country.
Finally, there's the Portland Pirates, the longest running franchise in this city, dating back to the Maine Mariners of the mid 1970s. Show me another city, even one that's five times larger than Portland, that can boast continuously having a minor league franchise for 35 years (to say nothing of the fact it supports three franchises in total). Despite many changes in affiliation, the Pirates always draw; and when the big club wants to move their affiliate to supposed greener pastures, there's always another team ready to have its AHL affiliate be in Portland. Fans of the Mariners/Pirates have been fortunate to have four Calder Cup winners over that time but are hungry for another, since the last was the Pirates winning in 1994.
All three franchises know that the fans are loyal but that making their franchises a part of the community is key, and they have both done that and then some. If you need more proof as to how great a sports city Portland is, you can read this marketwatch article that puts Portland in the top 10 nationally or this Street & Smiths article that has Portland fifth, ahead of the likes of Charleston, Syracuse, Spokane, et al.