PORTSMOUTH — One's in the prime of his baseball career, another is coming off a strong rookie season and the last one ...; well, he's pretty much defied labels for the last four decades.
Big-league outfielder Sam Fuld, minor-league prospect Mike Fransoso and iconic Red Sox left-hander Bill Lee will be the guests of honor at the 2nd annual Seacoast Mavericks Hot Stove Dinner, which will again be held at the Residence Inn's Harbor Events Center downtown on Friday, Jan. 24.
Last year's inaugural event played to a full house, with Fuld and former Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia the main attractions. But Salty signed a three-year deal with the Miami Marlins earlier this month and organizers were looking for another big name.
"We wanted someone from the Red Sox," said Mavericks president Mike Daboul. "We kept on coming back to former Goldpanner Bill Lee because he's a great source of entertainment. He's a great public speaker. He enjoys doing these events and he's great with kids."
The dinner will begin at 6:30 p.m., with a VIP reception scheduled for 5:30 p.m. It is put on by the Seacoast Mavericks, who will begin their fourth season in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League — their second in Portsmouth — in June.
Fuld, a Durham native, finds himself a free agent after spending the last three years with the Tampa Bay Rays, solidifying his reputation as a defensive whiz and valuable fourth outfielder, as well as one of the best players to ever come out of the Seacoast.
"Going into last year, Sam was the guy going forward we always wanted to be in the mix (for the dinner)," said Daboul. "He represents a big-league connection to our organization. He's one of the most accomplished players from New Hampshire to play major league baseball."
After a record-setting four-year career at the University of Maine, Fransoso was drafted in the 27th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates and assigned to their short-season Single-A affiliate in Jamestown, N.Y., last summer. Playing shortstop and second base, he ended up batting .253 after spending much of the season above .300, and was chosen to play in the New York-Penn League All-Star Game as a designated hitter.
"I think I performed well," said Fransoso, after the season. "There could have been a few better things I could have done. There were expectations that I met and some I think I exceeded a little bit. I've still got a lot of work to do."
"Mikey really put himself on the map the last couple years," said Daboul. "He had a great year with Pittsburgh in his first year of minor-league ball and we're excited to have a local kid who basically grew up in our building and on the fields of Portsmouth."
For entertainment value, it will be tough for either to keep up with Lee, a Hall of Famer in that department.
Older baseball fans will remember the 66-year-old as gritty pitcher who did what the experts said left-handers couldn't do — have success pitching at Fenway Park in the 1970s.
He went 119-90 with a 3.62 ERA in 14 big-league seasons, and has remained one of the region's most popular figures through his offbeat take on life and politics, and his pure love of the game that he still plays. He'll fly up to the baseball dinner from Red Sox Fantasy Camp in Fort Myers, Fla.
"I told him I needed him to speak for 10 minutes at the dinner," said Daboul. "He said, 'That's it?'"
Last year's event attracted more than 300 fans. Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.seacoastmavericks.com or calling USA Training Centers at 431-6700.
"The response last year was amazing," said Daboul. "It was something we really wanted to do for a while but bringing the college team to Portsmouth really gave us a platform to do this event and do it right."