It’s no secret that Stephen King lives and breathes baseball. He’s a lifelong Red Sox fan, and he isn’t shy about sharing his opinion on the team. He used to own a sports talk radio station. He and novelist Stewart O’Nan even wrote a book, “Faithful,” about the Red Sox’s 2004 World Series-winning season.
But nothing sums up Bangor’s most famous resident’s love of the game better than the ways in which he and his wife, Tabitha, have supported it locally. One need only look at Shawn T. Mansfield Stadium, the top-notch baseball facility that the Kings donated $1.2 million to have built, which opened in 1992 at Hayford Park on Thirteenth Street.
Little League season kicks off this weekend. Bangor West Little League, which with Bangor East comprises more than 20 baseball and softball teams in Bangor for players ages 5 to 16, will host an opening day party Saturday morning at Mansfield, complete with food trucks, live music and a first pitch ceremony.
Among the families, fans and former players who will be there will be Dave Mansfield, who for decades coached Little League for Bangor West, and for two years in 1989 and 1990, coached alongside Stephen King, while his son, Owen, played.
“There was always a bit of a mystique around it being Stephen, sure, but once they got to know him, he was just another of the coaches,” said Mansfield, now 74, who is president of the board of directors for Mansfield Stadium. “I know it was a great experience for the kids, but I think it was just as important for him.”
Mansfield didn’t treat his famous fellow coach any differently from anyone else. He had to help with facilities maintenance just like the rest of them.
“We had to show him what to do. He sure can write books, but he didn’t know much about field maintenance,” said Mansfield, chuckling at the memory.
It was Mansfield and King who 30 years ago hatched the plan to build Bangor a world-class baseball facility to NCAA specifications, while the two were helping middle schoolers run drills and practice fielding.
At the time, Bangor’s ball fields left a lot to be desired. Equipment was old, seating was cramped and everything was just generally run down. When the Bangor West Little League team advanced to the regionals in 1989, it became clear that substandard facilities were hampering the ability of those players — including Owen King — to advance in the game as they reached high school.
“It was something as simple as, ‘Boy, we really could use a better facility. We’ve got to do something about it,’” Mansfield said. “A year later, he presented the idea of a new ballfield to the city. And in 1992, it opened.”
In addition to hosting Senior League games, regional and state championship games, and Bangor and John Bapst high school baseball teams, Mansfield hosted the Senior League World Series between 2002 and 2016. After a two-year absence, Bangor this year will host the eastern regionals for the Senior League World Series, which will bring teams from as far away as Maryland north to Bangor to vie for a spot in the finals, now held in South Carolina.
Though youth baseball in general faces stiff competition from the growing popularity of sports such as soccer and lacrosse, according to Bangor West marketing director Sarah Smiley, 32 new players joined the league this year, representing a 16 percent increase from 2018.
“We asked a bunch of our former players what they loved about playing Little League, and the overwhelming response was that they loved the community atmosphere,” said Smiley, whose three sons have all played Little League. “You can come hang out here without your parents. You can ride your bike or walk here. Other sports don’t offer that kind of vibe. There’s a real social aspect to it. I think that’s what special about baseball in Bangor.”
At the field that King built — or the “field of screams,” as it’s informally known — Mansfield and fellow former coach Ron St. Pierre remain in charge of general maintenance.
Mansfield and King are friends to this day, and Mansfield is a bit tight-lipped when it comes to the details of their friendship — the Kings are private people, and there’s an unspoken rule among most Bangor residents that when they’re in town, you leave Steve and Tabby alone.
They’re also not ones to crow about their generosity. Though their contributions to the community are well documented, their names aren’t on many things. The ballfield is named for Dave Mansfield’s son, Shawn, who died at age 14 from complications due to cerebral palsy. The adjoining Beth Pancoe Aquatic Complex is named for a Bangor High School student who died from leukemia.
That said, it can’t be a coincidence that when the Kings are home in Bangor, they can simply look out their back window at the ballfield in the backyard of their iconic West Broadway house and watch the next generation of baseball players learn how to master the national pastime.
“I think there’s a whole new generation of kids that don’t know the history of this facility and the fact that the Kings built it,” Smiley said. “Not only is it cool for them to know that the guy that wrote ‘It’ built the field, but it’s also kind of their gift that keeps on giving. It’s keeping the tradition alive.”
Watch: ‘I can still bring it when I have to,” Stephen King says as he compares his writing career to baseball