The 1991 University of Maine baseball team was supposed to be recognized prior to last Saturday afternoon’s game between this year’s Black Bears team and the University of Massachusetts.
The ’91 squad won a school-record 48 games (48-18) and reached the championship round of the NCAA Northeast Regional held at Mahaney Diamond in Orono, losing to Clemson (South Carolina).
Instead, rain forced UMaine to push Saturday’s game, scheduled for a noon start, back to 7 p.m. That also helped facilitate a dinner for the ’91 team at Novio’s Restaurant in Bangor, which was moved from 6:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The 18 players were slated to be honored a half-hour before the game, but the ceremony never took place. Instead, they spent the evening reminiscing and never made it to the game.
UMaine baseball coach Nick Derba had encouraged the group to extend their dinner and enjoy themselves.
“It was about giving them a chance to get together and share time with each other,” Derba said. “I was happy they had such a good time together. It was a major success.”
The players appreciated the gesture and took advantage of their time together.
“It was incredible,” said Ted Novio, a pitcher on the team and the man after whom Novio’s Restaurant is named. Novio and restaurant owner Bob Cutler were fraternity brothers at UMaine.
Derba pointed out that many of the alumni went to UMaine on Friday and Saturday, visited the campus and the baseball facility, and chatted with the 2019 players.
Former pitcher Mike D’Andrea of Peaks Island called it a really special night.
“The stories never stopped, and there were a few new ones, too,” said D’Andrea, who lives in Falmouth and teaches at Deering High School in Portland.
He also owns The Edge Academy indoor baseball-softball training facility in Portland.
“I’m thankful to [Derba] for getting it rolling,” D’Andrea said.
“There were a lot of Wink stories,” Novio said of their stories about former longtime UMaine head coach John Winkin.
Novio also was grateful to Derba for recognizing the reunion, something that previously had been reserved for UMaine’s College World Series teams.
“We were still one of the best teams in school history,” said Novio, who added that they might have made it to the College World Series if D’Andrea had not suffered an elbow injury and wound up not being available in the regional.
Novio is the director of the New England Baseball Complex in Northborough, Massachusetts, and lives in nearby Millville. He and D’Andrea said it was an emotional evening as some of the former teammates hadn’t seen each other in 28 years.
“I love those guys. They’re my brothers,” D’Andrea said.
D’Andrea said walking around Mahaney Clubhouse was nostalgic.
“Just the pride we had in that locker room,” D’Andrea said. “It wasn’t just baseball talent that made us successful, it was the respect we had for each other on and off the field.”
Former UMaine assistant coach Jay Kemble and left-handed relief pitcher Lance Bogardus did attend Saturday’s game.
New York native Bogardus, who lives in Saco, came to Orono with wife Danielle and their daughters, Amanda and Sophia. Kemble and wife Karen stayed at Mahaney Diamond because their son, Peter, pitches for the Black Bears.
Bogardus still appreciates the special nature of the 1991 team.
“I’ve been around baseball and softball the last 25 years, and I’ve never seen a group of guys that dedicated who worked that hard or were as talented as that team,” Bogardus said. “It was an experience of a lifetime for me.”
Kemble marveled at the group’s resolve.
“They knew they were going to make plays. They never got down, even if they fell behind,” Kemble said.
UMaine had six all-conference players in All-America center fielder Mark Sweeney and All-America pitcher Larry Thomas, along with pitcher Ben Burlingame, second baseman Tim Scott, shortstop Brian Seguin and third baseman Shanan Knox. Sweeney and Thomas played in the major leagues.
Catcher Shawn Tobin, left fielder Chad White of Brewer and pitcher Rob Higgins were All-Northeast Regional picks.
Longtime UMaine fans Willy and Pam Pelletier of Old Town took a stack of 1991 UMaine baseball media guides to Mahaney Diamond for the players and were disappointed they weren’t able to see them.
“It was a really good group of kids, and we got to know all of their parents as well,” Pam Pelletier said.