He has won more than 700 games — 718, to be exact, after Wednesday’s win over Bates.
That makes him one of the nation’s winningest baseball coaches.
But former University of Maine star Eddie Flaherty isn’t impressed by his win total, which he has accomplished in 24 years as the head baseball coach at the University of Southern Maine.
“I don’t think much of it. I’ve been here a long time,” said Flaherty, a Portland native and former Deering High School standout.
The 55-year-old has already been inducted into three halls of fame — the University of Maine Sports Hall of Fame, the state of Maine Baseball hall and the NABC (National Association of Baseball Coaches) hall — and there is no retirement in sight.
“It’s nice to know I’ve been successful,” said the humble Flaherty, who has guided his Huskies to two NCAA Division III national championships (1991, ’97) and six World Series appearances.
His teams have been to 17 NCAA Tournaments and Flaherty is sporting a 718-304-3 career record.
The 2009 team is 29-3 and ranked No. 1 in the nation in one poll and No. 3 in another. The Huskies have won 17 games in a row.
Flaherty admits he enjoys coaching as much now, if not more, than he ever has.
”I enjoy the game, I like the kids. As I get older, the more I appreciate it,” said Flaherty. “The more you like it, the more you win and the more you put into it.”
You would think the national championships would be the highlights of his remarkable career, but not necessarily.
They are among the highlights but Flaherty will tell you every season is a journey and there’s a lot to be enjoyed coaching a team that maximizes its ability.
“Last year, I was so proud of our team for making the regional finals. That was as far as we could have taken it. We couldn’t go any further,” said Flaherty, speaking like a proud father. “I’m not taking anything away from those national championship teams but there have been other teams that have been just as enjoyable as that.”
He says players have changed, as has he.
“Kids have changed for the best,” said Flaherty. “They’re involved with more things like iPods and video games. And they look for answers. Instead of just doing what I tell them to do, they want to know why. And I have no problem with that.”
He says players are bigger and stronger nowadays but they don’t understand the game as well as his generation of players did. He rationalizes that it’s because they don’t play as much sandlot or pickup ball.
“The other day at practice, I suggested that they play a game of ‘pepper.’ They didn’t know what ‘pepper’ was,” Flaherty said of the traditional close-range bat-and-catch drill.
Flaherty is still old-school in his philosophies. His players are clean-cut and wear their hats and uniforms properly.
“But I’ve lightened up over the years,” said Flaherty.
As a strategist, he wants his players swinging the bats. He doesn’t have a take sign.
He doesn’t like to bunt, saying “I hate to give up an out,” but they work on bunting regularly in case they need to.
“I think we’ve tried 10 sacrifice bunts this year and been successful on nine of them,” he said.
Flaherty coaches a baseball class and a coaching class at USM and is quick to praise his assistants for their roles in this year’s success. He is assisted by former Bangor High star Eddie Boyce, Bob Prince, Kevin Smith and Vinnie Degifico.
Flaherty is a communicator and says he makes it a point to talk to every player on his team every day.
“I like to talk to them just like they’re my own kids. It may be just to say, ‘Hi, how you doing?’ or ‘how was that class today?’ But I try to talk to all of them,” he said.
“Coach loves to talk,” said USM third baseman Josh Mackey who noted he and his teammates cared more about Flaherty’s milestone 700th win than the coach did.
“Coach is unreal. He just tells us what to do and we do it,” said left fielder Anthony D’Alfonso.
He has looked into some Division I jobs at Dartmouth College and his alma mater but things didn’t work out.
“But things happen for a reason. I think we have one of the best programs in New England at any level,” said Flaherty. “Coaching is coaching whether it’s Division I, II or III or in high school. You’re doing the same job.”
He feels his current team is special.
“The special thing about this team is the way they all get along. I’ve never had a team get along like this one. Most of them live in the same dorm and they really associate with each other. You never hear them complain or grumble about anything,” said Flaherty. “They like being with each other and are very mature in the way they go about their business on the field.”
Flaherty has always received important contributions from eastern Maine players and this year is no different.
Penobscot’s Collin Henry is hitting .333 with three homers, 42 runs batted in and a team-high 14 doubles. He is also 2-1 on the mound with a 5.21 earned run average as he progresses after having a sore arm last year. Flaherty considers him “one of the best players in New England Division III baseball.”
Orland’s Lucas Marks (.316 in 19 at-bats) will be a “real good player for us” in the future according to Flaherty; Brennan Perry is a freshman lefthander (3-0, 6.16 ERA) who has a real good upside according to Flaherty and reliable reliever Andrew deBethune from Pittsfield is 1-0 with a 3.68 ERA in 12 appearances.