BREWER, Maine — Spencer Valley grew up on a baseball field like so many other youngsters, playing in the local Little League as well as in middle school.
But when other athletic interests began taking priority — in Valley’s case soccer, hockey and track and field — he simply ran out of time for the national pastime.
Valley flirted with a comeback two summers ago, playing on Brewer’s entry in the 2011 Senior League World Series.
And now as a senior at Brewer High School faced with one final chance to play competitive baseball, Valley has come all the way back to the sport with the Witches.
“I did play in the World Series two summers ago and we did have a pretty good team, so some of the guys came to me,” said Valley. “I did track the last two years, but the guys said we could throw a good [baseball] team together and see what we can do, and since it’s my last year of high school I decided to give it a run.”
Valley isn’t alone as a standout athlete opting to give baseball one final shot as graduation approaches.
Fellow seniors Garet Beal of Jonesport-Beals and Garrett Libby of Old Town normally would be focusing on AAU basketball during the spring in their quests to compete in that sport at the collegiate level.
But with both Bangor Daily News All-Maine honorees already successful in landing locations to play basketball next winter — Beal on scholarship at the University of Maine and Libby at Maine Maritime Academy — they’ve returned to baseball for the first time since their junior high years.
“I’ve always enjoyed baseball,” said Libby. “It just came down to the fact I love basketball and if I wanted to get to where I wanted to go in that sport I had to make a choice.”
All three have been impact players for their respective baseball teams.
Valley starts in center field and leads off for Brewer, while Beal’s debut this spring included a double, single and an RBI in Jonesport-Beals’ 13-6 win at Shead of Eastport.
And Libby has emerged as one of Old Town’s top pitchers, beginning with a five-inning, one-hit shutout in the Coyotes’ season-opening 12-0 victory over Orono.
“Pitching-wise I’ve been playing catch-up with arm strength and endurance,” said Libby, a lefthanded player who also plays first base and right field for coach Brad Goody’s club. “It was very hard to get going the first couple of weeks of practice without my arm being sore.
“But I’ve felt great ever since the Orono game. My arm feels like it did the last time I played.”
Regaining that arm strength was one of several challenges faced by these second-chance baseball players upon their return to the diamond.
“The biggest challenge is just trying to fit in with the team,” said Valley. “Hitting obviously was, too, but being like a new guy on the team and kind of like a freshman, I’ve got to get the guys’ respect under my belt.”
Valley’s stature as a student-athlete at Brewer who will have earned letters in five sports — soccer, football, hockey, track and baseball — before he graduates minimized the respect issue, while practice has helped address any batting concerns.
“From day one I’ve been batting leadoff, and in preseason, too,” said Valley after a two-hit game Monday in Brewer’s 6-3 loss to undefeated Hampden Academy, “so coach [Dana Corey] gave me some confidence, and I’ve been trying to run with it so far.”
While a righthanded batter in baseball and a lefthanded shooter in hockey, Valley said he has been able to apply some of the basic principles of his winter sport to his baseball comeback.
“Focusing on the puck is the big thing, and it’s the same with baseball,” he said. “I have to focus on the ball all the time. It came back fairly quickly, though. It’s been pretty good, and hopefully it continues.”
Libby similarly had to cope with the considerable upgrade in the pitching he will face this spring compared to the offerings he batted against at the middle school level four years ago.
“Not having seen live pitching in quite a while it was a lot different,” he said. “But for the most part I’ve started to find a groove lately and have been getting the ball in play. We had a doubleheader against Caribou on Saturday, and after a full day of playing, I felt like I was right back in the game, both on the field and at the plate.”
There’s also been a surprise or two along the way, particularly Libby’s late-game emergency stint as a catcher during Old Town’s recent loss to John Bapst of Bangor after starter Tyler Young was injured and his primary backup also was unable to play.
“At first when coach told me to put the gear on I thought he was kidding,” said Libby. “I wasn’t nervous, but I was a little wary because I hadn’t done it since middle school and even in middle school I did it for a total of probably three or four innings.
“But it didn’t go that badly. I think the first pitch was a passed ball, but after that I kept everything in front of me.”
A new website has been established to keep Penobscot Valley Conference Class B baseball and softball fans up to date on the league.
The site, pvcspringstats.webs.com, was developed by John Bapst of Bangor athletic administrator Rick Sinclair, chair of the PVC Class B baseball-softball committee, and John Bapst assistant athletic administrator Dan O’Connell.
Included on the website are team and individual statistics, conference news, game calendar, results and a coaches directory, with the statistics as current as possible based on when they are received from coaches.