Portland's sports fans and families are abuzz about the city's newest draw: the Sea Dogs at Hadlock Field.

While some may have been skeptical about the venture at first, no one is disputing that the minor-league baseball team and its brand-new field have given Portland a lift.

``It's a nice rallying cry for the region,'' says Michael Donovan, director of the Greater Portland Economic Development Council. ``My kids think it's great,'' he adds.

Already one of the most successful franchises in the minor leagues, the Sea Dogs - an affiliate of the major-league Florida Marlins - are more than halfway through their season. While their record may not be something to cheer about (36 wins, 50 losses at the time of this writing), the Sea Dogs lead the Double-A Eastern League in attendance (averaging 5,100 people per home game) and are among No. 1 in minor-league sales of souvenirs and apparel.

``It's been an incredibly successful venture. The city was ready to have a professional baseball team in town,'' says Cornelia Madden, director of marketing and sales for the Sea Dogs.

During one home game against the New Britain (Conn.) Red Sox, the Dogs drew 4,000 Portlanders who watched Sea Dogs pitcher Joel Adamson go the distance in a nine-inning 12-to-0 shutout.

Many fans sported black-silver-and-teal hats featuring ``Slugger the Sea Dog,'' a harbor seal with a determined look on his face and a bat in his mouth. The Sea Dogs' debut came on the heels of a championship season for the Portland Pirates, the city's hockey team. (The Pirates are a farm team for the Washington Capitals.)

Although Portlanders are hesitant to say the city will become a ``real'' sports town, they seem happy about the team spirit.

``It brings in something for the kids to do, for everyone to do,'' says Shawn LeBrun, a student from Waterville, Maine.

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