Whoopie Pies give Portland fans a treat

Sea Dogs' rebrand brings battle over dessert's origin to EL

The Whoopie Pies were not only the team's first foray into a food identity, but first temporary name change whatsoever. (Portland Sea Dogs)

By Josh Jackson / MiLB.com | June 25, 2019 10:25 AM

The relevant parties agree on this: A whoopie pie consists of two cakey, chocolate disks -- rounded on one side and flat on the other -- separated by a thick layer of cream frosting. But whence the whoopie pie? Where best enjoyed? These matters are hotly contested, with the two most common and emphatic answers being Maine and Pennsylvania.

The dispute spilled into Minor League Baseball this year. Three seasons after the Eastern League's Reading Fightin Phils first suited up as the Reading Whoopies, the Portland Sea Dogs -- also of the EL -- staked a claim in ownership of the delicious delicacy on behalf of their state, taking on the Fightin Phils as the Maine Whoopie Pies on Friday at Hadlock Field.

The Double-A affiliate of the Red Sox had never previously rebranded, not as a regional food item nor anything else. But if assistant general manager Dennis Meehan had gotten his way, the Sea Dogs would have jumped into the fray in 2017, when Reading announced its Whoopies rebrand.

"When they first started doing it three years ago, I was pushing that we shouldn't let them do that," Meehan said. "I was saying we should have this and show Pennsylvania who the real whoopie pies are. There's a long, old battle between Maine and Pennsylvania over whoopie pies, so much that in 2011, Maine named it the official state treat. … ['Treat'] because we have blueberry pie as the official state dessert."

Pennsylvania's response to that sweet piece of legislature was so vehement as to draw the attention of The New York Times. The way Meehan saw it, the Phillies' Double-A affiliate's whoopie-pie-oriented identity ought to elicit no less strenuous a reaction from the lone Minor League club in Maine. His whoopie pie idea got no bites from his coworkers as the Phils played as the Whoopies for select games in 2017 and 2018. But after last season, when the food-themed temporary identity craze continued to grow across the Minors, he pitched it again.

"In our offseason meetings, everybody was supposed to come with three ideas and do a whole writeup," he said. "So, I brought this, like, 'Is this the year we get to do [a rebrand]?' I had a whole plan made up, but once you get the concept, it kind of takes off from there."


Sea Dogs mascot Slugger modeled his own Maine Whoopie Pies uniform. (Portland Sea Dogs)

Part of the original idea involved trying to get the Fightin Phils to play the June 21 game as the Whoopies, with a clash for whoopie pie supremacy presumably playing out on social media and culminating on the field. But when the Sea Dogs contacted their EL Eastern Division rival, they learned that the Fightins were moving on to celebrate another Pennsylvania treat, forsaking the whoopie pie this year to focus on occasionally becoming the Reading Pretzels. The possibility of playing up the inter-regional drama thus set aside, the Sea Dogs began to work with what they did have: a loyal fan base passionate about whoopie pies.

"Mainers love Maine. So if you take Maine and you take Mainers' favorite state treat and put it with the Sea Dogs, now you've got something they just love," said Meehan, a native of the state's Midcoast area. "From there, you just try to do as much as you can around the concept."

That turned out to be quite a bit. During the Baseball Winter Meetings, Meehan listened attentively as Class A Short-Season Staten Island president Will Smith held a session on attracting media attention for temporary rebrands. Smith's Yankees enjoyed tremendous success as the Pizza Rats for every Saturday home game last year and are continuing that practice this season. Taking a cue from them, the Sea Dogs orchestrated a carefully designed launch announcement, which they executed in early February. 

That gave the team enough time to get a primary logo as well as T-shirt and hat designs from in-house designer Ted Seavey.


Red Sox prospect Jarren Duran logged a hit and a run as a Whoopie Pie. (Portland Sea Dogs)

"We had boxes made up with a couple of whoopie pies, hats, T-shirts, stickers [to distribute to media outlets]. And [broadcaster Mike Antonellis] led the charge," Meehan said. "He went on all the radio and TV stations, and Mike and Slugger went on [a local news show] with Slugger doing the weather with [former Weather Channel meteorologist] Keith Carson. All day long, we were showing up at different places and giving out gear. We also gave some out to local influencers.

"Over that night and through that weekend, we were getting orders from all over country."


The Whoopie Pies played for one night, but branded seat cushions live on. (Portland Sea Dogs)

In scheduling the debut of the Maine Whoopie Pies, the team looked for a Friday or Saturday night when Reading was in town. Before long, they realized June 21 was perfect. Not only were they hosting the Fightin Phils, but it was the night before the Maine Whoopie Pie Festival was scheduled to kick off in Dover-Foxcroft, some 130 miles north-northeast of Hadlock Field. The festival, which began in 2009, quickly became an important partner. With the Maine Whoopie Pies playing on Friday night and the festival opening Saturday, the Maine legislature issued an official sentiment recognizing June 21-22 as Maine Whoopie Pie Weekend.

That began with Meehan reaching out to Maine state senator Heather Sanborn, who read the sentiment on the field before the game. 

Other pregame action included a whoopie-pie-eating contest conceived by Wicked Whoopies owner Amy Bouchard, who once made a 1,062-pound whoopie pie to smash a record previous held by a 200-pound whoopie pie from Pennsylvania. She'd previously helped L.L. Bean throw a whoopie-pie-eating contest and suggested the Sea Dogs do the same. Taking her up on the idea and keeping in mind Smith's advice about getting attention, the club invited prominent members of the local media to compete.

Seth Koenig, a reporter from the Bangor Daily News, downed 12 mini whoopie pies in five minutes to best a field of six, including a DJ, a sportswriter, the husband of a local news anchor, a sports medicine physician and Joan Bisson, the CEO of Trademark Federal Credit Union, which sponsored the evening. That sponsorship afforded the team the opportunity to, among other things, give out a branded Whoopie Pie seat cushion at the gate and do whoopie pie giveaways throughout the game.


Koenig won a five-pound whoopie pie in a whoopie-pie-eating contest. (Portland Sea Dogs)

Those who didn't win freebies could buy whoopie pies the team brought in -- and sold out -- for the night, as well as whoopie pie ice cream from Shain's of Maine, which packaged the flavor specially for Friday's game.2019 MiLB include

"We sold a lot of merchandise," Meehan said. "Absolutely -- ever since it launched, it's been one of our most popular brands. We were at the point where, in games leading up to [Friday], you would see people in the stands wearing the gear. Once June hit and school got out, you would see kids walking around in Whoopie Pies hats and T-shirts."

With fans feeling fat and happy in the stands, Reading won on the field, 11-8, in 10 innings. What significance might Mainers infer from the Whoopie Pies having lost a drawn-out battle to the Pennsylvania team? 

"Well," Meehan said, "everyone gets lucky once in a while, I guess."

Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @JoshJacksonMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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