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Remembering Charlie Eshbach: Former Sea Dogs president and general manager dies at 70

Charlie Eshbach has been called the "King of Baseball" and is credited for building the Portland Sea Dogs and Hadlock Field into what they are today.

PORTLAND, Maine — When you look around Hadlock Field, home of the Portland Sea Dogs, it's hard not to see Charlie Eshbach.

Eshbach, the long-time general manager and president of the Portland Sea Dogs, passed away earlier this month after a long battle with an illness, according to his colleagues. He was 70 years old.

"Charlie was the architect. People give my dad a lot of credit for founding the team, but my dad found Charlie," the Sea Dog's current co-owner, Sally McNamara, said. "I think that was our father's greatest gift, finding the right person to do the right thing, and Charlie's fingerprints are everywhere here."

McNamara and her brother, Bill Burke, are the team's current owners. It was their father, Dan Burke, who founded the Portland Sea Dogs back in 1992. 

Eshbach was the first person Dan Burke hired, and he would take on the role of president and general manager.

At the time, Eshbach had plenty of experience as a leader. When he was just 22 years old, Eshbach was named general manager of the Bristol Red Sox, making him the youngest GM in the league.

Shortly after, he would take on the role of president for the Eastern League. 

Eshbach agreed to work for Dan Burke. 

By 1994, the Portland Sea Dogs would take their place on Hadlock Field as the official Double-A affiliate of the Florida Marlins. A decade later, the Sea Dogs would switch their affiliation to the Boston Red Sox. 

Eshbach, who was a long-time Red Sox fan, started looking at ways to make Hadlock look more like Fenway. That led to the creation of the 37-foot left field wall called "The Maine Monster," resembling the famous Green Monster wall at Fenway Park.

"He made this place what it is," Bill Burke said. "It was his idea to have a mascot and my dad thought that was a bad idea. Charlie talked him into it and imagining the Sea Dogs without Slugger is just an example of the many ways he blessed this place."

"He was a GM, the league president, and then he came here and he would joke that he was so successful because he learned how not to do things by other people's mistakes," current GM and President Geoff Iacuessa said. "He knew when he came here what to do but he just had that human touch. I always say that he treated others better than he wanted to be treated and in return folks treated him pretty well."

Eshbach was the boss, and he was good at it. His friends and former colleagues say he was a visionary and someone who meant business, but he always led with kindness. At his memorial service at Hadlock Field, one of the speakers said you could go into extra innings speaking about Charlie.

His long-time friend and rival, Stump Merrill, says he was one of the most respected men in minor league baseball and that he always kept his word, especially when it came to the weather.

"It's an honor for me to have known him and to be fortunate to have spent so much time with him over the years," Merrill said. "I didn't always like him, but I respected him."

Even though he lived and breathed baseball, Eshbach is remembered at his core as a family man. 

"Charlie loved Ann Marie, loved his boys, loved his grandkids, loved his sisters," Bill Burke said. "He wouldn't wear it on his sleeve, he wasn't an outwardly emotional guy, but you just knew it."

He was also the trailblazer behind Strike Out Cancer in Kids, which has raised five million dollars over the years to fight childhood cancer.

"Minor league baseball teams work when you make it a friendly family environment and that is in all the details," Bill Burke said. "We have changing tables in the men's room and the women's room, if you use foul language we kick you out, so, everything is to welcome families."

Eshbach would play one of his favorite songs every day at noon, a tradition the team said it intends to carry on at Hadlock Field, or, as others call it, 'the house that Charlie built.'

"We will miss him every day, [and] we're going to do our best to honor him every day moving forward," Iacuessa said.

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