February 23, 2018
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Veteran district administrator copes with Little League’s changes, challenges

Terry Farren | BDN
Terry Farren | BDN
Longtime District 3 Little League administrator Bob Stevenson takes in a Junior League All-Star game Wednesday night at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor.
By Ernie Clark, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Few things please Bob Stevenson more on a midsummer evening than getting the chance to see one of his grandsons play baseball.

So the 79-year-old Bangor native was in his element at Mansfield Stadium on Wednesday, watching young Kyle Stevenson help the Bangor Junior League all-stars win the Maine District 3 title with a doubleheader sweep of previously unbeaten Hermon in the championship round of that double-elimination tournament.

But as the District 3 administrator for the last 33 years, Stevenson’s involvement in all things related to Little League baseball and softball throughout a wide-ranging geographic area spanning from the Sebasticook Valley to central Aroostook County transcends such personal interests.

“For people who don’t know it, it’s a tough job because you’re trying to satisfy baseball people from as far north as Caribou and Houlton to as far south as Newport in the district,” said Dale Duff, the president of the Bangor East Little League, one of 18 local leagues that make up District 3. “A lot of things come up, from when you start the season to when you start all-star play, and you’ve got 16 or 17 different ways of wanting to do it.

“The way Bob does it is he lets everybody have their say and then tries to reach some sort of consensus, and he’s been doing it for a long time.”

Late July and early August typically mark the high point of the year for Stevenson and the five other district administrators around Maine, with state all-star tournaments in baseball and softball either under way or soon to start — including the Little League baseball tournament for 11- and 12-year-olds in Bar Harbor that began Friday and the Junior League baseball tournament that is set to commence Saturday at Mansfield Stadium.

Those are among numerous postseason baseball and softball events sponsored by Little League throughout the country and around the world in five age divisions — 9-10, 10-11, 11-12, 13-14 (Junior League) and 14-16 (Senior League).

And that’s far more than when Stevenson, a Bangor native who grew up playing fast-pitch softball, first became involved in Little League as an umpire during the late 1950s.

“There was no Little League softball back then, and we only had two age groups for baseball,” he said.

Stevenson has remained involved in Little League for nearly 55 years, becoming a coach during the 1970s and ascending to the job of District 3 administrator in 1979.

It’s been an era of great change for Little League both locally and beyond with more age groups added, the creation of a softball division for girls beginning in 1974, and increased media attention on all divisions — particularly the 11-12 ranks whose regional tournaments now draw national live cable television coverage.

At its apex, Maine had seven Little League districts, including one that served the far northern reaches of the state. But that district was merged with District 3 in 1974, and the expanded region remained intact until 2001 when leagues from Hancock and Washington counties were formed into their own district, District 1.

Today there are six districts statewide.

Perhaps the biggest change in District 3 during Stevenson’s tenure other than the addition of softball has been the construction of Mansfield Stadium, which nearly two decades after its opening during the early 1990s remains one of the premier sites for youth baseball nationwide.

It serves not only as the base for Bangor’s Junior and Senior League teams, but routinely hosts district and state tournaments at both levels in addition to being home to the Bangor High School baseball program and numerous regional and state championship games annually.

“I never would have imagined it when I first starting doing this, but having Mansfield Stadium has really changed baseball around here,” said Stevenson, who is retired from the U.S. Postal Service. “It draws a lot of people to Bangor and it’s a big goal for a lot of kids, to get a chance to play there.

“When I coached Senior League in 1980 and ’81 we didn’t have Mansfield Stadium. If we did, I’d probably still be coaching.”

Not only has Mansfield Stadium made Bangor a desired destination for young players throughout Eastern Maine, but for a week each August since 2002 it provides the city some global exposure as home to the Senior League World Series.

“Having the Senior League World Series here is great,” he said. “My goal when I started in Little League was to get to the World Series as an umpire and coach, and now the World Series comes here.”

But while much is healthy about the youth baseball scene in District 3 and beyond, there are challenges.

Recent national studies suggest that not only is baseball losing its grip as the national pastime to football, but fewer youngsters are playing baseball than did than a generation ago.

And while those who still play youth baseball are becoming increasingly divided among several competing franchises that include Little League, Cal Ripken League, Babe Ruth and Junior American Legion, there’s also more and more competition from other summertime activities.

“There are just so many things going on these days, so many things for kids to do,” said Stevenson. “A lot more kids are playing soccer, and there are summer camps and a lot of other things to do, so if a kid doesn’t have a great experience when he starts playing baseball, he might drop out and go to something else.”

Stevenson and other state officials will meet during the 11-12 state baseball tournament and one topic of discussion will be to seek ways to draw more youngsters back to Little League.

“I’m a little concerned, no doubt about it,” said Stevenson. “Things are changing all the time.”

Stevenson’s current three-year term as district administrator concludes after the 2013 season, but he hopes to serve at least one more term — in large part because he works in tandem with his wife of nearly six decades, Yovanne.

“My wife loves doing this,” said Stevenson. “She probably loves it even more than I do.”

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