PORTLAND, Maine — The Portland Sea Dogs announced Tuesday that founding president and general manager Charlie Eshbach has died.
Eshbach was 70 years old, and his death comes after a lengthy illness, the organization said in a release.
Eshbach was the Sea Dogs’ first employee, hired by team founder Dan Burke to lead the return of professional baseball to Portland for the first time since 1949. Eshbach was the primary visionary of the Sea Dogs brand and the builder of the franchise, the organization said in the release.
He served as the team’s president and general manager through the 2010 season and remained as the team’s president through the end of the 2018 season when he stepped down from the position after 25 years. He remained with the club as a senior advisor.
In 2018, he was inducted into the Portland Sea Dogs Hall of Fame.
Bill Burke and Sally McNamara, current Sea Dogs owners and the children of Dan Burke, released the following statement in response to Eshbach's death:
"Charlie Eshbach was the heart and the brains behind the Portland Sea Dogs, advising our father Dan Burke as he worked to bring the team to Portland. His wise counsel and good humor will be dearly missed by all who counted on him for advice and support. We are deeply saddened by his passing and our hearts go out to Ann-Marie and his entire family.”
In 1995, Eshbach co-founded the Strike Out Cancer in Kids program, which has raised over $5,000,000 for the Maine Children's Cancer Program.
“All of us at The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center and the Maine Children’s Cancer Program are sad to hear about the loss of Charlie Eshbach, who was a great friend to our organization and our patients," Maine Medical Center President Jeff Sanders said in a statement Tuesday. "The Portland Sea Dogs’ ‘Strike Out Cancer in Kids’ Program that Charlie co-founded has made a difference in the lives of countless Maine children, and we will always be grateful for his generous community spirit.”
In the team’s inaugural season in 1994, the Sea Dogs led the league in attendance, attracting over 375,000 fans. Since then, according to the Sea Dogs, the team has consistently ranked among the league's attendance leaders.
For his efforts, Eshbach was honored as the Eastern League Executive of the Year in 1994 and 2002. In 2013, he was named the “King of Baseball." The "King of Baseball" is a long-standing tradition in which Minor League Baseball salutes a veteran from the professional baseball world for long-time dedication and service. It is the highest individual honor in Minor League Baseball.
The Red Sox expressed their condolences in a Twitter post on Tuesday.
"He was a benevolent force and his passion for the game, the Sea Dogs, and the Red Sox made an indelible impact on both players and fans," they wrote.
Jim Knowlen, the Sea Dogs' longest-serving usher, shared with NEWS CENTER Maine in May that he got the job 25 years ago after meeting Eshbach.
"'Charlie, I am a cook at the University of Southern Maine. I am 65 years old. In two years, I will be retiring, and I will like to work for the Sea Dogs. How do I do it?'" he said, recreating the conversation.
A few weeks after submitting his application, Knowlen got the job.
NEWS CENTER Maine asked Knowlen on Tuesday about the characteristics he remembers about Eshbach.
"Very good. Very strict. Followed the rules. Pleasant," he said.
Eshbach's Minor League Baseball career spanned 45 years. Prior to joining the Sea Dogs, he served for 11 years as Eastern League president and was presented the inaugural Warren Giles Award for outstanding service as a league president in 1984.
During his time as league president, Eshbach served a three-year term on the Executive Committee of Minor League Baseball and served as interim president of Minor League Baseball in 1988. He began his career in Minor League Baseball in 1974 with the Elmira Pioneers (NY-Penn League). In 1975 he joined the Bristol Red Sox, Boston's Double-A team in the Eastern League. Eshbach also served as general manager of the Reading Phillies in 1978.
Eshbach is survived by his wife Ann-Marie and sons Brian and Scott, along with grandchildren Charlie and Audrey Eshbach.