For the Hermon and Old Town High School baseball teams, this past Thursday evening must have resembled old home night. A wet spring, which has plagued the region thus far, rendered the Old Town baseball field unplayable for a key early season tilt between the two schools. To get the game in, the teams met under the lights at Bangor’s Mansfield Stadium. It was a venue familiar to both clubs as they met in last year’s Northern Maine Class B Championship game, a contest won by Old Town, 2-0.
For many of the players taking the field this night, the familiarity with the well manicured Mansfield Stadium grounds ran much deeper. While I was working the public address announcing duties, I was joined in the press box throughout much of the contest by Mansfield Stadium committee members Ron St. Pierre and John Stubbs. St. Pierre is a long time fixture in the Bangor baseball community, who has served as the stadium’s field director since its inception. Stubbs was a long time assistant baseball coach at Bangor High School under venerable coach Bob Kelley.
In between pitches much of the time was spent reminiscing about the Senior League World Series. Unfortunately 2016 would be its final year in Bangor as Little League made the decision in late August the event would be moving to Easley, South Carolina. We made mention of the opportunities the youngsters playing in front of us had. Mansfield had become a second home to many of these players as Old Town played in the 2015 Senior League World Series. A number of the Hermon kids played in last summer’s World Series, combining with Hampden to form the host contingent.
Over the first nine years of the World Series in Bangor, organizers and promoters had to continually remind all who would listen this was not a Bangor event. A Bangor team served as hosts for seven of the first nine series. It was a run highlighted by their climb to the championship game in 2010, managed by St. Pierre. The title game versus Aruba was played before an overflowing crowd in front of an international television audience. This wasn’t supposed to happen. The host team was supposed to maybe be competitive, perhaps win a game, above all be gracious hosts, and call it good. This was the script for the first eight years of the SLWS in Bangor.
Then something funny happened. The kids who came to this event when they were seven or eight years old were beginning to come of age where they had a chance to play on this stage. It wasn’t just Bangor kids, either. Crowds have consisted of youngsters from all communities. They became inspired and other communities got better. In the final six years of hosting the SLWS, Bangor has hosted twice, while Hampden-Hermon also served as the host team twice. Brewer was the host team in 2011, while Old Town was the host team in 2015. The host squad has also advanced to the semifinal round in each of the last three World Series.
With much of the hand-wringing circulating around the apparent decline of baseball, the national pastime appears to be alive and well in the greater Bangor area. There is no question the region’s high school teams have significantly benefited from having the World Series in Bangor. Hampden is a strong contender along with Bangor in Class A while Hermon and Old Town should battle it out for a chance at a title in Class B.
Maine District Three Little League encompasses an area from the Newport area to Aroostook County. SLWS Tournament Director Mike Brooker also stated the District Three Senior League tournament was the most competitive district tourney in the country because the winner would earn a direct ticket to the World Series. Even for those players who never played in a Bangor World Series, participating and competing in the district tournament has helped to elevate their high school programs.
Sebasticook Valley of Newport has competed at the district level in Senior League for the last several years and were much more competitive recently. Nokomis Regional High School has seen a resurgence in their baseball program, which I believe is a direct correlation to vying for a spot in the World Series during the summer. The Warriors advanced to the semifinals a year ago and are off to a strong start this season. In addition, Brewer High School has been a consistent contender and is off to a solid 4-1 start this year. Bangor Christian has also had a number of players who have participated on Senior League tournament teams and has been a strong Class D program.
For fifteen years the Senior League World Series was the bait that attracted many players and communities at large to baseball. As other interests and baseball leagues swoop in like crows to roadkill, what will the baseball landscape resemble in years to come?