WATERVILLE, Maine — As the years pass since Dr. John Winkin’s 2014 death, fewer and fewer young baseball players around the state have recollections of the iconic coach.
Orono High School senior Jackson Coutts is somewhat of an exception, with his father Mike having played baseball and served as an assistant coach under Winkin at the University of Maine.
So when the younger Coutts was awarded the Dr. John W. Winkin Award symbolic of the state’s 2017 Mr. Baseball during a ceremony between Friday’s Maine Senior All-
Star doubleheader at Colby College, the honor meant even more to its recipient than a mere reflection of athletic success.
“It’s pretty special seeing Dad played for coach Winkin and coached with him for a while and they had a great relationship,” said Coutts, who played pitcher, catcher and in the infield this spring while leading Orono to the Class C state championship.
“I knew coach Winkin a little bit, but I was pretty young. I wish he was around a little longer so I could get to meet him some more, but this is an honor.”
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Coutts was selected from a field of 10 finalists for the 26th annual Winkin Award, presented by the Maine Baseball Coaches Association.
Other finalists were Alex Maxsimic of Brewer, Zach Nash of Hermon, Barrett Grant of Searsport, Cam Guarino of Falmouth, Jared Brooks of Cheverus of Portland, Trevor LaBonte of York, Dustin Crawford of Madison-Carrabec, Nate Howard of Erskine Academy of China and Brandon Burnell of Sacopee Valley of South Hiram.
Coutts, the Penobscot Valley Conference Class C player of the year, batted .700 with an even greater on-base percentage because he was walked intentionally more than 25 times — including three times with the bases loaded — as a sometimes frustrating sign of respect for his home-run hitting power.
“It was frustrating toward the end of the season but everybody behind me started hitting well and we moved Nate [Desisto] behind me in the lineup and that protected me a little bit,” said Coutts after helping the North C-D all-stars to a 3-1 victory over the South.
“I scored a lot of runs with Nate hitting behind me all the time so it worked out for the better.”
Coutts also was a dominant pitcher for coach Don Joseph’s Red Riots, but it was his overall presence that most impressed his coach.
“Jack has never been arrogant, he works with everybody and he’s always the first or second kid on the practice field and always the last to leave,” said Joseph. “He’s just smooth, really smooth and meticulous, and he’s very serious about baseball yet he doesn’t take himself too seriously and I think that’s what the rest of the kids love about Jack. He’s very jovial.”
Coutts’ final high school game at Orono may have represented his career in microcosm. The right-hander pitched a complete-game four-hitter with 10 strikeouts, one walk and one hit batter while getting two hits, including a leadoff double in the bottom of the seventh inning that ignited a four-run uprising that lifted the Red Riots to a stunning come-from-behind 4-3 victory over Lisbon.
“The state game was unbelievable,” said Coutts. “That ending was wicked, it was pretty incredible how that happened. But sometimes things just happen, that’s the way it goes.”
Coutts gives much of the credit for his baseball success to his father, now the head softball coach at UMaine.
“My dad’s been a great influence,” said Coutts, whose mother Lynn is a former softball pitcher and coach at the university. “No matter what the situation was for anything he’d talk to me as a coach and not as a parent, which was really helpful. I got some great pointers from him.
“He’d always throw [batting practice] to me, play catch with me, hit ground balls, do everything baseball-related with me whenever I’d ask so it was pretty helpful. I love him.”
Coutts, who will continue his baseball career at the University of Rhode Island this fall, is the first Orono High School player to win the Winkin award but the third consecutive Greater Bangor player to receive the honor. Eric Hoogterp of Old Town was the 2015 recipient while Bangor’s Trevor DeLaite was selected in 2016.
In the A-B all-star game, the South defeated the North 5-2.