BANGOR, Maine — One pleasantly unexpected sight for manager Ron St. Pierre while guiding the upstart Bangor All-Stars to the brink of a Senior League World Series title during the past week took place far removed from the big crowds surrounding the championship stage.
“When I went home Friday, there were kids in Fairmount Park I hadn’t seen all summer playing baseball,” he said. “Even my own little grandson who was here from Denver was out there with them until dark. It was great to see.”
Certainly the Senior League World Series in general, and the host Maine District 3 champions’ performance there this year, could breathe new life locally into a sport that has suffered in popularity nationally at the youth league levels in recent years due to its sometimes leisurely pace against a societal backdrop often more geared toward instant gratification.
Bangor’s championship quest ended Saturday when Latin America champ San Nicolas, Aruba, defeated the local stars 8-1 in the World Series final at Mansfield Stadium.
St. Pierre sees potential similarities between this year’s SLWS run by Bangor and perhaps the previous most storied moment in the city’s Little League history, when Bangor won the 1989 Maine Little League championship on statewide television — an event that ultimately led to the construction of Mansfield Stadium in the early 1990s.
“I think this is going to do what the stadium did when it was first built,” said St. Pierre, who also was an assistant coach on that 1989 championship team. “When we first had the stadium, a lot of kids came right back to baseball. Now this generation of players has never known any field other than Mansfield Stadium. They don’t know all the hard work that’s gone into this, but I think with what’s happened this week and our ability to get this far it may start a new life for baseball in Bangor.”
At the least, this year’s SLWS has opened eyes throughout eastern Maine, particularly to the next generation of baseball players, as to the possibilities that exist.
“It just shows you that no matter where you’re from, if you work hard, anything can happen,” said Bangor second baseman Seth Freudenberger. “Look at us: We’re from Bangor and we’re in the World Series final.
“Just keep working hard, have fun, play hard and hopefully things will fall into place.”
Bangor had never won more than one game in any of its previous six appearances as the host team for the SLWS, but that history didn’t deter a better result this summer; it provided a motivating force.
“We came into this World Series thinking we wanted to make history for ourselves,” said Bangor outfielder Christian Corneil. “When we won the first game, we thought we were a good team. Then we won the next game, and we knew we could compete. We just kept playing hard and playing hard.
“We played hard against Houston and we played hard against California and we beat them. We got behind, but we never gave up, and we came back against those teams.”
SLWS tournament director Mike Brooker sees Bangor’s success in this year’s event as a reflection of improved youth baseball programs throughout the region.
“I’ve said that the Maine District 3 Senior League baseball tournament is probably the more pressure-packed Senior League district tournament in the country, because you’re playing to go to the World Series,” he said. “And if you look around District 3, you see how every team has been improving in the last five or six years, and I think this tournament is why, because all the kids realize this is the prize at the end of the rainbow.
“Brewer almost had Bangor beat in the district tournament this year. Hampden’s program continues to improve. Hermon’s program continues to improve. All the district teams continue to improve, and that’s because they understand what they can do if they win that district tournament.
“Now you look at what the Bangor boys were able to do, and it could be pretty exciting for Senior League baseball in Maine District 3 for a lot of years to come.”
Brooker also hopes the electricity generated by this year’s Senior League World Series will serve to heighten its visibility in the eastern Maine community at large.
“It was a magical run for the boys from Bangor,” he said. “I’m so happy that the city supported them, that the city was able to see what a great event this is, and I just want them to come out for this regardless of who’s in the championship game. This is truly a great event.”
Final attendance totals hadn’t been established as of Saturday afternoon, but Brooker expects this year’s event to be the best-attended SLWS since it was moved to Mansfield Stadium from Kissimmee, Fla., in 2002. “I would say our best attendance record ever has been about 32,000 to 35,000, and I’m sure we’re way above that, probably between 40,000 and 45,000 this week,” said Brooker of the seven-day, 23-game tournament.
“For the last three games for Bangor, when you count who was out there on the hill [beyond the left-field fence], there was easily 3,000 apiece, and even games at 10 o’clock and 1 o’clock this year were very well-attended,” he added. “I think the message is getting out there to people that this is really something to be a part of.”
That attendance bump also could represent a good first step in the funding of next year’s event, said Brooker, who also hopes this year’s success will spark increased sponsorship for the 2011 SLWS. Tourney organizers seek to raise at least $50,000 in sponsorships each year to help offset the annual budget of $175,000, which includes in-kind contributions.
“Once everything is counted up I think this will give us a good head start on next year,” said Brooker. “I know our souvenir stands sold out, and I know our gate receipts will be the highest they’ve ever been. It’s good to have that.”
But while thoughts soon will turn more directly toward 2011, the memories of the 2010 Senior League World Series and the local team’s pursuit of a dream should linger for generations to come.
“For a person my age, this gives me great faith in the youth in this country and in Bangor,” said the 67-year-old St. Pierre. “These kids worked as a team. We didn’t really have to motivate them. I’d see them make mistakes, then I’d see them pick each other up. Nobody ever blamed anybody for making an error.
“I have never seen a team like this. I have never seen a group of 16-year-old kids work so hard all together as this group has. What I’ve taken from this week is that I could sit back and really enjoy watching young people do what they do best, which is play hard and have fun.”