PORTLAND, Maine -- Jimmy Knowlen is in his element. The 87-year-old Portland Sea Dogs usher, perhaps the most popular man at Hadlock Field, is standing in the aisle overlooking section 103. He’s decked out in a crisp pair of khakis and a neon yellow shirt denoting his status as a
PORTLAND, Maine -- Jimmy Knowlen is in his element. The 87-year-old Portland Sea Dogs usher, perhaps the most popular man at Hadlock Field, is standing in the aisle overlooking section 103. He’s decked out in a crisp pair of khakis and a neon yellow shirt denoting his status as a gameday employee, but above all he’s wearing a smile. Simply put, there’s no place he’d rather be.
“It’s great. I love it. I love it,” said Knowlen, his words coming in clipped, enthusiastic bursts and punctuated with a distinct Maine accent. “The people I work with. The people I work for.”
Sea Dogs vice president of communications and fan experience Chris Cameron said Knowlen’s love for co-workers and fans, combined with a relentless work ethic, have made him nothing less than a “Hadlock Field legend.”
“He takes such joy in his work,” said Cameron. “He has one of the toughest jobs here, protecting the dugout area, and just does a wonderful job keeping that area safe. But he also does it in such a lovely manner that no one can get upset with him for chasing them away from the dugout. He’s just a special man.”
Knowlen, a lifelong baseball fan, began attending Sea Dogs games shortly after their 1994 arrival. The Double-A Eastern League club, originally part of the Marlins’ farm system, has been affiliated with the Red Sox since 2002.
“I was working here [at Hadlock Field] even before I retired,” said Knowlen. “I was a cook for 28 years at USM [the University of Southern Maine]. I had a season ticket, for the Sunday afternoons, and I always enjoyed baseball. So I went up to [team president] Charlie Eshbach one Sunday afternoon and told him, ‘You know, in three years I’ll be retiring, I’d love to work for the Sea Dogs. How do I do it?’ ‘Go in the office and fill out an application.’ I did. Two weeks later, here I am.”
Twenty-five seasons later and there he still is, shaded just to the right of home plate and just to the left of the Sea Dogs’ dugout. Knowlen says working at the ballpark “is good for me. It keeps me healthy. It keeps me going.”
“He may be 87 but he’s not slowing down by any means. He’s cheering the team on. Doing the YMCA. Dancing,” said Cameron. “Going up and down the stairs all the time, checking on foul balls. He really does a lot to enhance the fan experience here…. I got a note from his daughter, it said, ‘Thank you for providing a place where my dad can come in and share his love of the game of baseball, but also where everybody appreciates the heart that he has.’ He has that heart that just makes you fall in love with him.”
Knowlen said his primary offseason hobby is baking cookies, because the oven warms up the house and fills it with good smells. While that’s a pleasant enough diversion, nothing can replicate the joy he feels when he’s at the ballpark.
“The very last game, the tears start coming when they play ‘Auld Lang Syne,’” he said. “Knowing the season’s over, you know? I loved it. I’m looking forward to next season. Can’t wait to get back.”
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.