ORONO, Maine — The way his brother tells it, Paul Mitchell holds a unique distinction in the annals of baseball.
Former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell joked that his eldest sibling began his Waterville High School baseball career by hitting triples in his first two at-bats, only to get picked off third base both times.
It was among several anecdotes shared Tuesday during the dedication of the Paul J. Mitchell Batting Pavilion at the University of Maine.
It was a celebration of family — the Mitchells along with the extended family of UMaine baseball — as UMaine unveiled the $454,000 athletics facility at Mahaney Diamond. The indoor batting cages will be used by Black Bear baseball and softball teams, along with youngsters from the community.
“Today is about honoring Paul Mitchell,” said UMaine baseball coach Steve Trimper, who cited some of the numerous advantages to the new facility.
“It’s going to be a great tool for our players to get in there and develop,” he said, also pointing to recruiting benefits while thanking the donors, UMaine administrators and employees for making it a reality.
There were several dignitaries among the more than 200 people in attendance, including George Mitchell, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and former Maine Gov. John Baldacci, along with longtime UMaine athletics benefactors Bill Alfond, Kevin Mahaney, Dick Collins, Tom Savage and Paul Hannigan.
UMaine President Paul Ferguson, athletics director Steve Abbott and Trimper represented the university, while former UMaine coach John Winkin, along with America East Conference Commissioner Amy Huchthausen and former UMaine Athletic Director Blake James also made appearances.
Paul Mitchell played baseball at UMaine from 1946-48, went on to graduate and then earned a master’s from Columbia. George Mitchell joked that his brother’s batting average, like inflation, seemed to creep up as the years progressed.
Paul Mitchell went on to establish the GHM Agency in Waterville and is serving a term on the University of Maine System board of trustees.
“I am greatly pleased. I think it’s been wonderful,” said 86-year-old Paul Mitchell. “I think it’s going to do so much for the baseball and softball programs.”
The lefthanded-hitting Mitchell officially opened the building by hitting a pitch thrown by UMaine junior Mike Connolly.
“I thought it was inside the line and I could have beat it out for a hit,” quipped Mitchell of his chopper.
The pavilion, constructed in the brick style of UMaine’s oldest buildings, is attached to the Larry K. Mahaney Clubhouse that houses the Black Bears’ baseball locker room and offices.
Stuart Price and his wife Linda, who is Paul Mitchell’s daughter, were the catalysts for the pavilion project. Price was determined to honor Mitchell in a meaningful way, and when Trimper voiced the baseball program’s need for an indoor batting facility, the concept began to take shape.
Price calls the concept of his gift “flowers for the living.”
“The guy is a beautiful human being and he’s a great role model to my children and my grandchildren,” Price said of Paul Mitchell.
“He deserves this honor because of his life’s work and also his life’s love is the University of Maine and the baseball program,” he added. “It’s all about family, everybody coming together.”
The athletics department combined the Prices’ initial gift with contributions from some of UMaine’s most loyal donors, including Mahaney, Savage and Hannigan, to raise all the money privately.
Price spoke to those efforts, mentioning that in his native Oklahoma there is a saying, “If you ain’t givin’, you ain’t livin’.”
Mahaney, who along with his late father provided the financial backing to construct the clubhouse, the Mahaney Dome and install FieldTurf on Mahaney Diamond, said supporters must continue to serve as caretakers of the program.
“For me, it’s a great legacy day,” said Mahaney, who introduced sons Chris and Chan and challenged the community to hold them accountable for future support of UMaine athletics.
“To me, people have to remember that many times in Maine we just have an aiming problem, we just don’t aim high enough,” he added.
Ferguson said the project links UMaine constituencies while promoting excellence in athletics as part of university life.
“I think athletics is an essential aspect of our vision,” he said. “Our Blue Sky Plan, which is our new strategic plan, really tries to include athletics as part of the overall university experience.”
Ferguson spoke to the speed with which the project was completed.
“It’s been a very good example of teamwork, commitment to a real goal, working together in a very cost-effective approach,” he said, “wanting it to be quality, wanting it to honor Paul Mitchell’s legacy and then celebrate the whole lifetime of service by the Mitchells.”
UMaine student-athletes, who previously had done some of their hitting in dilapidated outdoor nets or inside the field house, are excited.
“I think it’s awesome for the future of our program,” said sophomore Sam Balzano of Portland.
“Everything’s brand-new. It’s first-class in there,” he added.
It features a “ProBatter” simulator that shows a video of a pitcher throwing the pitch to help enhance the experience of machine-propelled balls.
“It’s amazing,” said senior Mike Fransoso. “We can come in the clubhouse, walk through a tunnel and have two cages where we can hit whenever we want.”
UMaine softball head coach Lynn Coutts looks forward to having her players use the pavilion, especially to teach in small-group settings.
“Everyone’s going to want to be in there,” Coutts said.
“We’ll do some live pitching and hitting in there as well,” she said. “We can go live more than they (baseball) can, because our pitchers can throw more than they can (without risking injury).”