BANGOR — Todd Miller arrived at Bangor High School on Thursday evening hoping to get a few baseball coaching tips.
He left the clinic, sponsored by the newly created Bangor Baseball Support Committee, with an added bonus.
“This was the first time I’d ever heard an umpire talk,” said Miller, an Acadia National Park ranger whose 12-year-old son Isaiah will play in the city’s East Side Little League program this spring.
“It was really enlightening to get a look at the world from their perspective.”
The clinic, which also included presentations from several coaches who guided Bangor youth league teams to championship seasons in 2010, was the third of five scheduled for Thursdays throughout March for persons interested in becoming involved with organized baseball programs within the city.
“At the Little League level, especially, you find a lot of parents who you can see in their eyes would like to coach but really don’t know how to put a 90-minute practice together or really don’t know if a kid should have his elbow up or down when he’s batting,” said Dale Duff, the Bangor East Little League president and part of the fledgling committee. “They really don’t know so they hesitate to jump in and start coaching.
“You also might have parents who would volunteer to pitch batting practice or hit fly balls to the outfielders but they also need to be able to teach those kids how to do those things correctly, so helping the coaches coach better and giving them more confidence is what these clinics are all about.”
A LARGER GOAL
These clinics also are part of a larger, still-evolving effort to provide additional support for young baseball players of all ages in the city.
“The purpose of this was really to bring the coaches at all levels and the directors of all these leagues together for one thing: How can we enhance the experience of the Bangor kids, how can we continue the success they’ve had over the years, and how can we have open lines of communication in terms of what each other’s teaching and how we’re teaching those things?” said Dave Morris, the Bangor American Legion baseball head coach and Bangor High assistant coach who has spearheaded the development of the Bangor Baseball Support Committee.
“We’re really trying to work hard to deliver the same message for those kids playing T-ball up through the high school age.”
Morris said his motivation for assembling this group of volunteers did not stem from any specific need for improvement he saw within the city’s baseball system.
Quite the opposite — his motivation came from one of the biggest moments in Bangor’s baseball history, its Senior League (ages 15-16) all-star team advancing to the Senior League World Series championship game at Mansfield Stadium last August.
“Being at those games and looking around and thinking about how fortunate we are around here with the facilities we have and the people we have supporting them, and then looking at the kids and the experience they had at the World Series and the inspiration they were for the entire city, I wondered how we could build off that.”
Morris shared his vision with others within the Bangor baseball community, and the result is a loosely based organization of interested parties with a shared mission of supporting and assisting in the growth of the sport within the city while ensuring all involved a quality experience.
“We’re not saying we know everything about baseball, nobody does,” said Ron St. Pierre, a longtime baseball presence in Bangor who coached the city’s Senior League team to its second-place SLWS finish last summer. “We’re just trying to be helpful.”
Such support for baseball within the city would include enhancing the lines of communication among coaches, parents and administrators at different age-group divisions to address issues ranging from equipment procurement and skill development to perceived competition between individual programs.
Take last summer, when the city’s American Legion and Senior League programs both were advancing toward championship-level play — the state American Legion tourney and SLWS, respectively — with an overlap of several players competing on both teams.
It was a situation that left some to suggest the teams may have been pursuing individual self-interests at the expense of overworking some of the players — particularly the pitchers.
But the head coaches involved said that wasn’t the case, and that their discussions leading up to postseason play became a template of sorts for the program-wide communications stream being sought through the Bangor Baseball Support Committee.
“The communication we had between each other to help each other’s program out was clear and open and definitely involved compromising on both sides,” said Morris.
“In Legion and Senior League there appeared to be some friction, not that there ever was, but some people said things they shouldn’t have been saying because they didn’t know what was going on,” added St. Pierre.
“So we thought about it and said why don’t we put something together where we can try to help everybody so hopefully when we say Bangor baseball, whether you’re coaching Farm League or Senior League or Legion or at Bangor High School, we’re all on the same page.”
CLINICS, AND BEYOND
The ongoing weekly coaching clinics feature the likes of University of Maine baseball coach Steve Trimper, Husson University coach Jason Harvey, Bangor High varsity coach Jeff Fahey, umpires Chris Parker and Rob Curtis, as well as coaches from throughout the rest of the city’s baseball system.
“Up through age 12 between Bangor East and Bangor West, with the amount of teams we have in East and West and three coaches per team, there are 72 coaches out there today who will be coaching up to age 12,” said Duff. “What we’re trying to do is to get to those 72 coaches and anybody else interested in coaching and help them become better coaches.”
The free clinics will continue for two more Thursdays from 6 to 8 p.m. at the high school, loosely in conjunction with a weekly baseball clinic being conducted by the Bangor American Legion baseball program on Sundays throughout the month that has drawn an average of more than 100 youngsters ages 5-14 during its first two weeks.
“You can go find a coaches clinic somewhere else but you might have to go out of state and it costs a lot of money,” said Morris. “But we have a lot of people right here in Bangor with experience from the professional ranks to college to high school and youth baseball that can provide a lot of information.”
For parents like Miller who want to provide a helping hand as their children ascend the Bangor baseball ladder, the clinics have represented their own brand of spring training.
“We’re modeling for our kids, so these things are all important,” he said. “Some skills that were talked about at the clinics like catching last week, these are good things to know, and for the coaches and assistant coaches to hear about those types of things can only help the players on their teams.”
Such exchanges of information represent yet another example of the multilateral communications network sought by committee organizers.
“It’s an unbelievable opportunity for us to be able to talk to some of the young coaches,” said Parker, a veteran Little League and high school umpire and one of just three Mainers to work a Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. “Hopefully, they’ll be future all-star coaches and if you get them to understand all the safety issues concerning the kids and other things they need to know now, it will help them moving up the chain because the higher you go the tighter the rules get about what you can and what you can’t do.”
The committee’s plans for other activities still are being formulated, with possibilities including the creation of a citywide baseball calendar to include schedules for all levels of play throughout the year, holding mini-clinics before Little League games to bolster skill development, and having older players within the system work more with younger players.
“I’m hoping this might be something that can work for other sports in Bangor, too,” said Morris. “I’m sure other people have thought about this for other sports before, but the key is doing what we can do to provide a great experience for kids.
“If you bring a group of people together and have a common goal, a lot can get accomplished.”