The 2015 edition of the Bangor High School baseball team began their quest in earnest this week to win a second consecutive state championship. The Rams appear to have picked up where they left off a season ago when they shutout Windham in the state title game. Armed with strong starting pitching, Bangor shutout Hampden 1-0 on Wednesday before getting their bats going in their 14-3 triumph over Brewer on Friday. The Rams allowed only one earned run in that contest.
Success and baseball in Bangor are synonymous. Since 1969, the Rams have captured ten state championships while amassing eighteen Eastern Maine crowns. Bangor’s worst record in the past forty-five years is 9-7.
So why is the program so successful year in and year out? The first reason is fairly obvious: enrollment. Bangor’s enrollment of over well over a thousand students dwarfs that of the majority of opponents they face. There is no question their school population gives them a significant advantage. It should be noted however there are other schools of similar enrollment size that have not had nearly the success on the diamond the Rams have enjoyed.
Over the past forty-five years, Bangor has had only two head baseball coaches. Coach Bob Kelley, whose teams won eight state crowns and fifteen regional titles, guided the Rams up through the 2000 season. When Coach Kelley retired, Jeff Fahey took over the post, leading the Rams to two additional state titles and three Eastern Maine championships.
The consistency in coaching doesn’t end there. Since the early 1970’s until he retired in 2000, Kelley was able to turn to assistant coaches John Stubbs and Neil Waterman. Stubbs, who played on a state championship team at Bangor, primarily handled the pitching staffs. Waterman, who coached third base, always seemed to keep things loose in the dugout, but he was a fiery competitor. All three complimented each other extremely well.
This stability has also been seen manifested at the junior varsity level, as well. For much of Coach Kelley’s tenure, venerable baseball man Ron St. Pierre guided the J.V. squad. St. Pierre was, and still is, a master at teaching the fundamentals of the game. Most recently Coach St. Pierre has helped guide the Bangor Senior League contingent in the World Series. For the better part of the 90’s Jeff Fahey served as J.V. coach prior to taking over the head coaching helm in 2001. Fred Lower has served in this capacity for the entire duration since Fahey took over the program. Both Fahey and Lower played for Coach Kelley during the 1980’s.
At the varsity level, Fahey can turn to assistant coaches Rob Gould and David Morris. Gould and Morris also played for the Rams under Kelley. Coach Morris also leads the Bangor American Legion program, which is coming off a state championship of their own.
With this much consistency there has become a “Bangor way” of how to play the game. If you grow up in Bangor, this “Bangor way” becomes ingrained at a young age. Not only has there been stability at the high school level, youth baseball in the city has also witnessed the same kind of regularity in its leadership. While most youth programs have a revolving door of parents coaching their teams, Bangor has been very fortunate to have outstanding baseball men involved. For twenty years plus, Jim Owens and Dennis Libbey have led Bangor’s thirteen and fourteen year old players in Junior League. Owens played for the late Carroll Conley at Brownville Junction, while Libbey was a standout player at the University of Maine.
If you happen to go catch one of Bangor’s Junior League games in the summer, be sure to arrive early to watch infield practice. There is an organization and precision to what they do unlike most others.
High school and youth baseball season in Maine stretches from about mid-March to early August. Of course with our harsh climate, teams are stuck inside a gym for about a month before getting outside on the field for some real action. Bangor utilizes this time extremely well. Bangor High School’s gym features three full-sized basketball courts, which allows plenty of space to get work done. In one part of the gym, players will hit in the cage and work off the mound. This allows the other two courts to be used to practice fielding situations. Because of this, Bangor is generally ahead of their counterparts when they first hit the field.
People from the outside may view this “Bangor way” as a kind of cockiness or arrogance. The Rams do carry themselves with a certain confidence that comes in belief in their abilities as well as a knowledge of their preparation.
Bangor also boasts some of the finest facilities in the state. Athletics, particularly baseball, have been a priority in Bangor. Bangor for many years played at Garland Street Field before moving across town at Mansfield Stadium for the 1993 season. They should be rightfully proud of their home field. Bangor authors Stephen and Tabitha King graciously donated the funds to build the ballpark. People such as the aforementioned Ron St. Pierre, and Jim Owens go above and beyond to maintain and improve upon that gift. David Mansfield, who has been involved in youth baseball for many, many years, helps to oversee the stadium’s operations.
The building of Mansfield Stadium spawned another great tradition in 2002. Through the efforts and vision of the stadium staff as well as local Little League administrators Mike Brooker and Bob Stevenson, the Senior League World Series came to Bangor. As years have passed, several awe struck kids have found themselves playing in this international event many years later. They have watched major league players such as Xander Bogaerts, Kolten Wong, and others compete on the field they now call home. The World Series has been instrumental in keeping interest in our national pastime vibrant where it is waning among our youth in many parts.
The young men who have played for the Rams baseball teams over the years can tell you how fortunate they are to have been apart of something much bigger than themselves. No one is bigger than the program. After all, that is the “Bangor way”.