Originally published in Castine Patriot, July 6, 2017 and The Weekly Packet, July 6, 2017
Peninsula youth baseball driven by ‘the love of the game’
Members of the Coastal Little League All Star team wait for a turn in the batting cage before a game at the Union Street ball field in Blue Hill on June 30. Players come from local teams on the Peninsula and Deer Isle/Stonington.
by Anne Berleant
A tradition and rite of spring and summer is played out on ball fields across the Peninsula. It’s Little League time, where everything rides on the curve of a pitch, the swing of a bat, and the smack of the ball in a leather glove.
The two Union Street fields in Blue Hill had all of these on display on a recent Saturday, as the Coastal Junior League team of 12- to 14-year-olds played a doubleheader against Mount Desert Island. Meanwhile, the Little League All-Star team, coached by Brooksville coach Tim Pert and Blue Hill coach John Cousins, practiced in the batting cage before their game against Calais.
Parents sprawled on benches and fold-out chairs, watching the action, calling out encouragement and cheering a solid hit to the outfield.
“It’s a great way to spend a Saturday,” Kathy MacArthur of Castine said. “And it’s clear the kids are having fun.”
Her son, Will, is playing his first year in the Junior League, moving up from the Penobscot Little League team, and spurred on by a youth baseball camp run by Junior League and George Stevens Academy coach Dan Kane.
“This has been all [Will],” MacArthur said, adding, “He really wants to play for Dan.”
The Coastal Little League Association began in 1982, started by local volunteers, former association president Steve Johnson said. He named Gary Upham, Jim Peasley, Ronnie Allen with help from Dan Pert, Tommy Fowler, Joe Brown, Denny Colson and George Cole as early organizers. Fund raising helped build the snack shack at the Union Street field and the fence around the 60-foot Little League field. Tom Largay and John Bannister donated the score board, and local sponsors all contribute.
“It’s a community effort,” said Jonathan Smallidge, safety supervisor-coordinator for the association and Junior League Coastal team manager.
But as school populations dwindled, so did the number of kids participating.
“We had nine teams, now we’re down to five,” Smallidge said. “How do you get enough 8- to 12-year-olds to have a team?”
Each spring Smallidge makes sure the two Union Street fields are ready for play—“It’s a community effort,” he said—while Kane sets up his youth baseball camp and coaches from Penobscot to Surry put out the call to come play ball.
“It’s for the love of the game,” Smallidge said of why he returns each spring. His youngest son currently switches from pitching to catching on the Junior League team.
Local enthusiasm for what is still known as America’s favorite pastime was piqued after an invitation from Portland minor league team The Sea Dogs. Over 120 people from the Blue Hill Peninsula will attend a July 9 game in Portland, with families coming out on the field before the game, and 20 kids getting to high-five the Sea Dog players as they enter the field.
Johnson, who still has Little League game schedules from the 1990s and can reel off past and present coaches and association members from its 35 year history, served as president of the Coastal Little League Association from 1984 to 2000, and is still involved. That Saturday, he umpired all three games.
“Baseball was so much a part of my upbringing,” he said. “We didn’t come home until the supper bell rang.”