BANGOR, Maine — On a field of dreams built for developing baseball players from throughout Eastern Maine, Tim Barnes was not without a dream of his own as he and the Calais Senior League All-Stars played Bangor in an exhibition game Tuesday evening at Mansfield Stadium.
His dream was about coming back to this very same diamond — via West Deptford, N.J. — in less than two weeks from now to join Bangor in the 2009 Senior League World Series.
But while Bangor qualified for the SLWS as the host team by winning the Maine District 3 title, District 1 champion Calais must win the 10-team U.S. East regional that runs Aug. 7-13 to earn a return trip to Mansfield Stadium.
That quest begins Saturday, when Calais faces the yet-to-be-determined New Jersey champion in its opener of the double-elimination tournament.
The New Jersey champion, incidentally, has won the East title each of the last eight years, with Freehold Township, N.J., being crowned world champion in the 14-16 age bracket in 2004 and the North Cumberland Little League of Upper Deerfield, N.J. winning the SLWS title last summer.
“It’s a new test, being able to go down there and face the champion from last year, hopefully beating them, hopefully being the new champion, and then coming back here to Bangor to play,” said Barnes, a pitcher-shortstop from Edmunds who will be a junior at Shead High School in Eastport this fall. “That would be great, two teams from Maine.”
Calais, in its first year of fielding a Senior League program, won its first-ever district title in baseball at any age level by defeating Ellsworth twice in tournament play and then avenging an earlier loss by sweeping Bucksport 3-2 and 8-4 in the championship round last Saturday.
“It was a big surprise,” said pitcher-third baseman Josh Gillespie of Calais. “That was tough to do, sweep them on their home field, but it felt good.”
Calais forced a winner-take-all game by scoring twice in the bottom of the seventh of the first game, with Jeremy Beers singling and scoring the tying run and Adam Geel singling home Drake Morrow with the winning run.
The new champs then used a two-run double by Morrow as part of a three-run rally in the fifth inning to take the lead for good in the second game, with Gillespie adding an insurance two-run homer an inning later.
“I’m pretty excited to go, finally,” said Geel, the winning pitcher in the District 1 title game. “We’ve always played Bucksport and always had good games against them, we just couldn’t pull through.”
Calais actually represents three different high schools: Calais, Shead and Woodland.
The team played a 10-game regular-season schedule against rival District 1 programs Bucksport, Ellsworth, Coastal (Blue Hill), Acadian (Mount Desert Island) and Sunrise (Franklin-Harrington) before advancing to the district tournament.
“I was very confident,” said Calais manager Ken Murphy, who is assisted in the dugout by coach Walter Cummings. “We’ve got a very, very good bunch of kids. They get along good, and they play good baseball.”
Calais has been led by its pitching depth, a rotation that includes Barnes, Gillespie, Geel and Joe Mitchell. Barnes pitched a complete-game five-hitter in Saturday’s first game against Bucksport.
Morrow handles the catching duties, with Ryan Lincoln and Jordan Perry at first base, Dylan Carter and Jessi Clark at second base, Barnes and Geel at shortstop, Geel and Gillespie at third base, Beers and Cole Nicholas in left field, Mitchell in center and Tom Collins and Ryan Rhode in right.
“We’ve been pretty balanced,” said Murphy “We play very good defense, we hardly ever strike out. We make contact, and the pitching’s been really, really good.”
Calais will get an immediate test in its regional tournament debut, given New Jersey’s recent dominance in the event.
“New Jersey’s going to be tough,” said Gillespie. ”There’s going to be some big boys down there throwing some heat. They’re going to be all-around good players, so we’re going to have to bring our ‘A’ game and hopefully we’ll be able to do something with it.”
Beyond any specific game, though, the Calais coaches and players simply hope to enjoy the moment — for just playing the game is the ultimate dream.
“This is for the kids to have a great experience, it’s all about the kids,” said Murphy. “You’re taking a bunch of kids from Washington County, Maine, to New Jersey to the regionals, and that’s great. I’ve told them to just to have fun, we’ve got there, now enjoy the experience.”