Editor’s note: One in a series profiling Maine Sports Hall of Fame inductees.
BANGOR, Maine — There were 12 players on Dennis Libbey’s Mattawamkeag High School baseball team. There were only 83 kids in the entire school.
When he jogged out to shortstop for tryouts at the University of Maine, there were 14 other shortstops waiting to take ground balls.
“And I had thought I was special,” quipped Libbey. “The funniest thing was the guy next to me’s name was Rico Petrocelli. His real name was Paul, he was Rico’s nephew.”
Rico Petrocelli was a former Boston Red Sox shortstop.
“I was shaking and I think I booted that first ground ball,” recalled Libbey. “Nothing was guaranteed back in those days. With [coach] Jack Butterfield, you earned your way. Nobody was given anything.”
Libbey took a “deep breath” and competed for the position.
“Eventually, they started moving players around, some guys got cut and, by the time it was all done, I was left standing [with the position],” said Libbey.
He had played on the undefeated freshman team — freshmen weren’t allowed to play varsity at that time — and wound up starting at shortstop for all three years on the varsity.
When he graduated in 1973, the hard-nosed leadoff hitter owned the school record for singles and hits in a season as well as runs scored and stolen bases in a career.
Libbey since has gone on to be an important component in Bangor’s youth baseball programs. He will enter his 24th year of coaching this season and has coached the Bangor Junior League All-Star teams to six straight state championships. He is a past president of the league, is on the board of directors and still coaches a Little League team.
On May 20, he will be inducted into his third Hall of Fame: the Maine Sports Hall of Fame. He is already in the UMaine and Maine Baseball hall of fames.
Libbey joins a prestigious class for the Maine Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Bangor Civic Center. Also being inducted are Walter Abbott, Emily Ellis, Dana Wilson, Ed Guiski, Phillip Coulombe, Matt Hancock and Howard Vandersea.
Brewer High athletic director Dennis Kiah remembers Libbey as a player on the Mattawamkeag town team in summer ball and as the starting shortstop as a sophomore in high school.
“You could tell he was a special player even at a young age. He was a great hitter. We faced some good [college-age] pitchers and he held his own,” Kiah said. “His work ethic was second to none and his love of the game was second to none.”
“He was the smoothest shortstop I’ve ever seen play the game,” said former UMaine teammate Dana Corey. “His knowledge of the game is unprecedented. Bangor Little League is lucky to have someone with that much knowledge in their system. That’s why they’ve had so much success.”
Libbey’s passion for the game stems from his family. His dad, Herb, was a great player as were his brothers, Junior and Ken. Junior and Ken are also in the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame.
“In my family, if we lost, it lasted two weeks,” said Dennis Libbey. “The reason I went to the University of Maine was town team ball. We used to play 65 games in the summer.”
Butterfield noticed him and sent him a letter inviting him to try out.
Libbey, who had scored 1,458 points in his career for the Mattawamkeag High basketball team, was offered a basketball scholarship to Houlton’s Ricker College, “but their coach, Woody Dunphy, had played baseball for Jack and told me if I had the opportunity to play for Jack, I should take it.”
Libbey said his career highlights include being in the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame with his brothers and being chosen a co-captain at Maine.
“When you’re a captain at the University of Maine, people understand what that means. It’s a big honor,” said Libbey, who is the president of Sargent Tyler and West Insurance Co. in Bangor.
Libbey, who is married to the former Jayne Johnstone and is a father of two, Justin and Jessica, credited his family, Butterfield and Larry Mahaney for being major influences on his life and said going into the Maine State Hall of Fame will be “special.”
“It’s very humbling,” said the 61-year-old Libbey.