Former Black Bear Star, Camden Native MacDonald is the Maine Man for the Sea Dogs
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Most young baseball players throughout New England have a dream to put on the uniform of the Boston Red Sox.
For pitcher Mike MacDonald, that dream is still very well in play as he has joined a select few with Maine ties to suit up for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs. In fact, he is the first Pine Tree State native and third University of Maine Black Bear to reach the pinnacle of the sport in Maine, playing at Hadlock Field.
After a long journey, the kid from Camden – who is also one of the most decorated players in Black Bear history – has accomplished the first step to accomplishing that dream. But before Fenway hits, he still has work to do, although a trip to the Big Leagues is just two short calls away.
“The baseball community in Maine [is a small one],” MacDonald said standing in front of the visiting dugout on Saturday at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. “At the same time, there are a lot of players who have come through. To be the first native Mainer in Sea Dogs history is a great thing and I am just excited to go out there every time.”
In his career with the Black Bears from 2000-2004, the 2002 America East Pitcher of the Year was 25-13 with a school-record 284 strikeouts. He is also second all-time with 313.2 innings while his 25 wins are fifth-most in program history.
His UMaine career included some memorable experiences, including an NCAA Regional at USC during his sophomore season.
The Black Bears were eliminated in two games in their first NCAA appearance in a decade but the hometown kid was able to pitch against Cal State Northridge and get a small glimpse of what was to come.
Hitting coach Kenny Joyce (1996) is the only other Maine native to have worn the Sea Dogs uniform, while Pete Fisher (2005) and Rusty Tucker (2006) were the two former Black Bears that suited up for Portland.
He remembers going to Hadlock as a child and seeing the team as an affiliate of the Florida Marlins before switching organizations in 2003.
Now, he is on the other side of the fence – signing autographs, instead of requesting them.
Although his career his just two short appearances old, MacDonald has a strong outlook about his new team and how the season has gone a stone’s throw from his old stomping grounds.
“I think it’s going well,” he said. “I like the organization, I like the guys. It’s a good group here and I’m just looking forward to competing every time.”
Back in the Eastern League, he stepped onto Waterfront Park in Trenton, N.J. on July 8 and recorded just two outs before leaving with an undisclosed injury – a situation which he calls “unfortunate” but an unchangeable part of the game.
He came off the disabled list and tossed seven masterful innings against Reading on Tuesday, allowing just five hits en route to earning his first win with Portland.
“I just had a combination of everything working – a lot of strikes popping the zone and the fielders making some great plays behind me. We put up some runs early, which always helps getting into a rhythm.”
MacDonald admitted to having some normal jitters before the game but Sea Dogs manager Kevin Boles was very happy with his first performance.
“He attacked the zone,” Boles said on what was their first real look at the 30-year-old righty. “He’s a guy that looks like he can add some track with velocity, he’s a guy who can command his fastball…and change speeds at any point in the count.”
The graduate of Camden/Rockport High School was originally drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 15th round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft and has nine years of Minor League experience, including two full seasons and parts of two more at Triple-A.
MacDonald was named an Eastern League All-Star in just his third professional season, going 13-9 with a 3.94 ERA for the Fisher Cats in 2006. He also spent parts of 2007 and 2008 in Manchester – time that he is forever grateful for.
“I had a great time here…and with the Blue Jays organization. I enjoyed my time and am happy to be back. There’s always a great group of guys and that is all you can ask for. You win as a team and lose as a team.”
He began the season in the independent Atlantic League and learned many valuable lessons from former Cy Young Award winner Sparky Lyle – his manager with the Somerset Patriots. In 13 games, he was 3-4 with a 3.60 ERA and 37 strikeouts.
Although there is still much left to prove, it is hard not to look ahead to Fenway Park as the ultimate end to an improbable journey for a local hero. As a native New Englander and Red Sox fan, he has fond memories of making that exciting trip from the north to “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark” as a child.
“It’s a historic stadium. What else can you say? It’s a great place to watch a ballgame, you are up close, it gets loud. There are not a lot of seats there so you hear the fans cheering every time.”
Maine baseball fans should keep their fingers crossed that those cheers will be for a Red Sox pitcher named MacDonald one day soon.