BANGOR — Among the spectators at Thursday afternoon’s games at the Senior League World Series was one of the players who inspired the construction of the tournament’s host field.
Matt Kinney was part of the 1989 state champion Bangor West Little League team that lacked a quality place to continue their careers at the Junior and Senior League levels.
From that need, and the benevolence of one of that team’s coaches — author Stephen King — grew the construction of Mansfield Stadium in the early 1990s.
Nearly two decades later Kinney has completed a 16-year professional baseball career, and the notion that he and his Little League teammates played a role in some of the best 15- and 16-year-old players now making their way to his hometown to crown a world champion each August is almost beyond belief.
“It blows my mind, I think it’s awesome,” said the 34-year-old Kinney, who retired from the Class AAA Fresno (Calif.) Grizzlies after last season. He now lives in Peoria, Ariz., where he coaches and conducts pitching clinics. “When this field got built, I was a sophomore in high school, and to think that now after 18 years you’d already have 10 years of the Senior League World Series here, it’s incredible.”
Having been playing professionally during the summers, Kinney has had little opportunity to come back to the Queen City to witness baseball being played on his home field.
But he didn’t miss Bangor’s march to the championship game of the 2010 Senior League World Series.
“Last year I watched Bangor play on ESPN, and it was wild,” said Kinney. “I was sitting in Arizona watching the game and seeing the stadium, the memories just kept coming back. We won a (1995) state championship here, I threw a no-hitter here, there are a lot of things that when I sit here in the stands and think about them, it’s been incredible.”
Kinney was a sixth-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 1995, and while he never played for that major league club — though he was sporting a Red Sox cap during his Mansfield Stadium visit — his pro career included stops with the Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants.
“One of the things I was thinking about as I was coming over here was that I was able to have a long career in the pros, I pitched in Yankee Stadium, I pitched against (Roger) Clemens, I pitched against (Albert) Pujols and a bunch of future Hall of Famers,” said Kinney, who finished his career with a 19-27 major league record. “But some of my best memories are here.”
Kinney went on to spend the 2008 season playing for the Seibu Lions of the Pacific League in Japanese, then returned stateside to play his final two years in Fresno before a back injury midway through the 2010 season ultimately prompted his retirement.
“Basically, the arm is fine and the mind still wants to play, but some of the other body parts aren’t agreeing with me, so it was time,” said Kinney. “Plus, I have a young family (wife Megan, 4-year-old son Maddox and 3-year-old Mason), and I wanted to be able to spend time with them and not have to travel.”
Kinney was offered chances to coach in the professional ranks, but opted instead to stay closer to home where he coaches teams of 12-, 13-, and 14-year-olds and conducts clinics in counjunction with several other former pros.
“I was tired of being away from the family,” said Kinney. “At first (coaching in the pros) was what my plan was before we had the kids, but it ends up being the same as playing because you’re away from your family all the time and it’s the same grind with the travel, so for right now this is the best thing for me to do.
“Coaching the younger kids has been a nice transition, though, because I still love baseball and this gives me a chance to put something back into the game that gave me so much.”
SLWS banquet tickets available
The 2011 Senior League World Series awards banquet will be held at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Bangor Civic Center.
The event will honor all 10 teams in this year’s field and features a buffet dinner.
The public is invited to attend, and tickets are available for $25 at Mansfield Stadium through the conclusion of Friday’s SLWS semifinals.