It was 10 degrees outside when I took the dogs for a walk this morning. The wind was gusting up to 25 miles per hour. The front yard is still ice-covered, and what ground is exposed is frozen harder than an AIG executive’s heart. But my official Down East calendar says the vernal equinox occurred on March 20, heralding the arrival of spring.
The sun does has some heat to it. The snowbanks have shrunk a little. And they’re playing baseball in, of all places, Orono.
It may be cold enough to give a whole new meaning to the term “frozen rope,” but the University of Maine Black Bears returned from their annual southern road trip to inaugurate the new artificial surface on Mahaney Diamond on March 21, the earliest home opener for UMaine in the history of the baseball program.
The field had been cleared of snow the previous week, and the FieldTurf proved adequate to the challenge of Maine weather in March. After dropping a doubleheader to Sacred Heart on Saturday, the Black Bears regrouped on Sunday and took two from the same team.
Those with sufficient fortitude – and sufficient layers of insulated clothing – for spring baseball in northern climes can catch more UMaine home action April 3-5 against Iona.
Or fans can chill (a little meteorological humor there) until April 9, the start of the Portland Sea Dogs’ minor-league season against the Connecticut Defenders.
Expect a warming trend at Hadlock Field, when hot prospect Junichi Tazawa takes the mound for the Boston Red Sox Double-A affiliate.
The right-handed pitcher from Japan will make his regular-season professional debut with the Dogs, but based on his impressive showing in spring training, he won’t be in Portland long enough to experience the nice weather when it finally arrives. If you miss him here, you can catch him at Fenway in September.
Enough frivolity. It’s time for another installment of “PsychoCritters,” our seemingly endless series of reports on unusual behavior by animals. (For purposes of this series, we do not consider people who play or watch baseball in Maine in March to be psychotic. We consider them desperate.)
On March 20, police were called to an apartment house in Lewiston, where they discovered a scorpion.
It was black and 3 inches long and lived in an aquarium. It said it had come to Maine to try and catch on as a utility infielder with the Sea Dogs (that should give any base runner thinking of breaking up the double play with a hard slide second thoughts). Nevertheless, its owner was cited for illegal possession of an exotic animal.
The state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is reminding motorists that spring is prime season for car-moose collisions.
The state has somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000 moose, depending on whose estimates you believe (moose are remarkably irresponsible when it comes to returning census forms). In 2007, nearly 650 accidents involving the animals took place, with five of them resulting in fatalities. Final figures for last year aren’t yet available, but there were no fatals.
Statistically, moose-related accidents are more likely to occur in Aroostook County than anywhere else in Maine. This may be due to the large number of moose heading for UMaine baseball games. Or it could be because Aroostook County has too many moose for its own good. Whatever the reason, state Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagash wants an increase in the number of permits issued each year to hunt the beasts.
State wildlife experts say that’s not necessarily a good idea, as the number of moose in the area may be declining, as more of them move south for easier access to the Sea Dogs.
In other sports news, the Legislature is considering a bill legalizing mixed martial arts, sometimes referred to as ultimate fighting or street brawling or aggravated assault – depending on how good your lawyer is.
Supporters say it would be a tourist attraction (much in the same way car-moose collisions are). Opponents say the bill is unnecessary because the same activity is already available any Saturday night around closing time on Wharf Street in Portland’s Old Port.
The answer to violence – whether inspired by martial arts, martinis or moose – is simple. Wear a helmet. You’ll look like a dork, but you’ll keep you head intact so it can be frozen cryogenically (usually by placing it in the bleachers during a Black Bears spring game) until the damage to your body can be repaired. Lawmakers, yielding to common sense, are likely to mandate helmets for all motorcycle riders under 18 as a first step toward making everyone wear them all the time. Also, you may have to line all your clothes with bubble wrap.
In Houlton, Smith & Wesson Corp. is celebrating the production of its 6 millionth pair of handcuffs, a event being hailed by both law-enforcement personnel and bondage freaks.
The company recently introduced colored cuffs, so you’ll no longer have to worry about the restraints clashing with your crime-committing outfits. Or whatever.
Other than that, this week’s economic news was the kind that goes well with funereal garb.
General Electric in Pittsfield cut its workforce by nearly a quarter, eliminating 100 jobs.
Wood Structures Inc. in Saco is being dissolved through Chapter 7 bankruptcy, leaving 180 people unemployed.
State regulators are being inundated with calls complaining about poor service by FairPoint Communications, which provides landline telephone service for most of Maine.
The company says it hopes to have the long delays in installing phones and Internet service corrected soon.
And Maine raked 47th in the nation in economic competitiveness in a survey by a conservative group.
The state actually scored in the middle of the pack on many factors, but was downgraded because of what the survey perceived as a high tax burden.
But let’s end on a positive note. It’s spring. There’s baseball. There’s moose. There’s plenty of handcuffs. And there’s Marine Pvt. Ulysses Milana of Lewiston. He’s the guy who lost 140 pounds in order to qualify for the service, doing it the old-fashioned way – by eating less and exercising more.
Since then, he’s had movie offers, proposed book deals and enough chances to endorse diet products to put even Peyton Manning to shame.
Milana wanted none of it. “You join the military so you can serve your country,” he told the Lewiston Sun Journal. “You don’t join so you can endorse a pill.”
Cool guy. Not quite as cool as baseball in Orono in March. But still, pretty cool.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.