Plug pulled on three UMaine games

Posted April 08, 2010, at 10:20 p.m.

If a game is played on a baseball field, but there’s no radio announcer to broadcast it, does it still make a sound?

Obviously the answer is “yes,” but the irony of the question is not lost on University of Maine baseball radio play-by-play man Jim Churchill, who will be with the team this weekend in Albany, N.Y.

Churchill will watch the Black Bears battle the University at Albany at the Great Danes’ home field Saturday (noon doubleheader) and Sunday (1 p.m.) as they start conference play, but he won’t be calling any of the action over the air or on the Internet.

That’s because Albany’s Varsity Field is JV when it comes to modern sports facility amenities like electrical power and a working telephone line.

“It’s very frustrating because they’ve been gearing their spring trip and early season games into conference play and here we are unable to do the first two series games on the radio,” said the 48-year-old Churchill, now in his 11th season as the Black Bears’ baseball radio voice.

“It’s kind of ridiculous that here we are in Division I and there are some teams that still don’t have at least those two basic requirements,” he added.

The same holds true next weekend when Maine goes on the road to Binghamton University, which is one of three America East member schools that do not have the electrical or phone connections needed to broadcast a game live from the field.

“At the very minimum, access to a telephone and power is what we need,” said John Shields, program director for Blueberry Broadcasting-owned and Bangor-based radio station WAEI (97.1 FM), one of two stations airing UMaine baseball games. “It’s not technically possible without those things.

“Even if they had wireless Internet, it wouldn’t be feasible to do an Internet broadcast. You’d have to have enough bandwidth to do it. What you really need is a phone line.”

The Bangor Daily News Web site is the only place UMaine fans will be able to follow this weekend’s baseball action.

Sportswriter Pete Warner will be filing frequent updates during the games via a mobile broadband modem. The updates will be posted on the BDN home page at www.bangornews.com.

A complete wrap-up of the weekend’s action will be published in Monday’s BDN.

Churchill will provide half-inning updates via Twitter (Mainebaseball@twitter.com).

“You’d think they could at least get an extension cord and give us some power. I strung about 600 feet of extension cord to do games at Bryant University last year,” Churchill said. “We’re not asking them to build a press box. We’re just asking them to provide the minimum. There have to be some poles or electrical outlets outside somewhere that we could use.”

America East associate commissioner Matt Bourque sympathizes, but says there is no conference edict for members to upgrade baseball facilities unless they are hosting playoff games.

“We as a conference have kind of decided to focus on our six sports of emphasis: men’s and women’s soccer in the fall, men’s and women’s basketball in the winter, and men’s and women’s lacrosse in the spring,” Bourque explained. “It goes back a few years. At the time, I think the athletic directors were thinking these were our premier sports where we could make the biggest impact in terms of being competitive nationally.”

Maine is the only AE school not fielding either a men’s or women’s varsity lacrosse program.

“We’ve had two teams [men and women] in the 16-team NCAA Tournament field in the past,” Bourque said. “We traditionally have nationally-ranked lacrosse teams.”

Meanwhile, schools such as (most recently) Vermont, New Hampshire and Boston University have dropped their baseball programs.

“In many of our communities like Maryland and New York, lacrosse’s popularity is comparable to hockey’s in Maine,” said Bourque, who attended Morse High School in Bath. “It’s as surprising to me coming from Maine as someone coming from Baltimore seeing how big a UNH/Maine hockey game is.”

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