Some of the biggest names in University of Maine baseball history will gather in Orono later this month to honor the man who helped put the Black Bears in the national spotlight.
Former UMaine head coach John Winkin will be the featured guest June 27 when former players, coaching peers and old friends gather for a tribute dinner at UMaine’s Wells Commons.
Hampden Academy product Mike Bordick and South Portland native Bill Swift, TV announcer and Old Town native Gary Thorne, Boston Red Sox principal owner John Henry and former players Bert Roberge, Joe Johnson, Dale Plummer and Brian Seguin are among the notables expected to attend.
Swift and Bordick will deliver keynote addresses, while Thorne will serve as the master of ceremonies. The program begins with a reception at 4 p.m., followed by a meal at 5.
The dinner is the brainchild of former UMaine player and longtime assistant coach Mike Coutts, who operates Frozen Ropes in Portland and is the head coach of the Deering High baseball team.
“The guy did so much for so many people, me included,” Coutts said. “I think he changed the face of baseball in the state and New England, and maybe even nationally. I thought it was fitting for a guy who had done so much to be recognized.”
Coutts and other UMaine baseball alumni have joined forces with UMaine development officer Pat McBride and the UMaine athletic department to plan the event.
“It’s a pretty amazing period of history in the University of Maine athletic department that we need to celebrate a little bit more,” said McBride of the Winkin era, which spanned 1975-1996 and included six trips to the College World Series.
UMaine coach Steve Trimper, who knew Winkin through their dealings with the baseball coaches association prior to his taking the Bears’ job in 2006, is pleased to be able to help pay tribute to the coaching legend.
“It’s going to be a celebration of coach Winkin and all of the people that he’s touched, whether it’s been at Colby, Husson or the University of Maine,” Trimper said. “It’s a celebration of all the good things he’s done.”
Winkin continues rehabilitation at a Waterville assisted-living facility after suffering a stroke on Dec. 10, 2007. He continues to show improvement.
“He’s as sharp as a tack and he loves to talk baseball,” said Trimper, who sees Winkin periodically. “I think he’s looking forward to this event.”
While the dinner will serve as a tribute to Winkin and a UMaine baseball reunion of sorts, Coutts stressed the importance of opening the door for anyone who wants to take part in recognizing Winkin.
“There are lots of people out there who followed the program and were filling up Mahaney Diamond watching college baseball games,” Coutts said. “We’re trying to let those people know that this is going on.”
Among the other dignitaries scheduled to attend are former Arizona baseball coach Jerry Kendall, American Baseball Coaches Association Executive Director and former Central Michigan coach Dave Keilitz.
Those who can’t make it to Orono, including former Sen. George Mitchell and Los Angeles Dodgers coach Mark Sweeney, will send video greetings to Winkin.
McBride said trying to summarize Winkin’s coaching career with a three-hour program will provide a tough challenge.
In addition to the June 27 dinner, other events are scheduled as part of the celebration. There will be an evening reception June 26 at Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono where people can reconnect and see Winkin.
There is a golf outing planned the morning of the 27th at Bangor Municipal Golf Course for anyone who would like to play. There also is an open house at refurbished Mahaney Diamond that afternoon.
“To stop and take advantage of an opportunity to reconnect is great, especially for the baseball program and the guys whose lives were so impacted by coach Winkin,” McBride said.
The weekend should open the door for Trimper and UMaine’s current staff and players to come face to face with Black Bear baseball’s illustrious past.
Tickets for the dinner are $40 and can be reserved by contacting Sherry Pennington in the UMaine Office of University Development at 207-581-1160 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.