As the Machias Memorial High School baseball team traveled to its final practice of the spring Friday, the Bulldogs were intent on adding to their already historic 2021 season.
Fresh from winning the school’s first regional championship in the sport Wednesday with a 13-8 win over Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook fueled by a dramatic 10-run rally in the top of the fifth inning, coach Sam Whitney’s club is set to face Searsport in Saturday’s 3 p.m. Class D state final at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor.
“This is pretty huge for us,” Machias sophomore infielder Ethan Foss said. “We’ve all been playing together since Little League, we’ve all played against each other, with each other and in all-stars and this is a pretty big deal not just for us but for the whole town.
“We’ve all seen this coming for a long while, and now it’s our time. Hopefully we can bring it home.”
Mansfield Stadium in Bangor is a bucket-list destination for high school baseball players throughout northern and eastern Maine, and it became a second home of sorts this spring for Machias.
The Bulldogs not only won their Class D North final there, they also teamed with Downeast Athletic Conference rival Shead of Eastport to travel from Washington County for a regular-season game at the Queen City landmark on May 29.
But before making one final trip to the baseball field horror writer Stephen King built, there was one more van ride to the team’s primary home this season, the baseball field Willie Corbett built.
Work to upgrade the drainage for Machias’ baseball-soccer field left it unplayable this spring, leaving the Bulldogs in search of a temporary home base.
They found that a half-hour away from school on a field with its own storied baseball history in Cutler’s Willie W. Corbett Field.
Once home to a legendary Down East semi-professional club, the Cutler Cardinals, the field has been used sparingly over the past 25 years.
But a little restorative work enabled the old-school diamond with its all-dirt infield and open-air dugouts not only to return to full use this spring, but to host another championship entry 33 years after the Cardinals won their last Quoddy League crown in 1988.
“They did it up pretty well, actually, from what it was,” said Machias junior shortstop Kashman Feeney, one of two Cutler residents who play for the Bulldogs. “It’s come along pretty good. The field drains real well and it’s been awesome that we could play there since our field had drainage put in this year.”
Willie W. Corbett was a longtime lighthouse keeper along the Maine coast who was based at the Little River Lighthouse at the entrance to Cutler Harbor for some two decades beginning in 1921.
He also was an avid baseball player and enthusiast of the sport. According to a 2002 edition of Lighthouse Digest, he paid $1 to take the ferry from Rockland to Boston, then paid another 50 cents to watch the final game of the 1918 World Series, the last World Series won by the Boston Red Sox until 2004.
Corbett made another $1 transaction after World War II when he sold the land where the Cutler baseball diamond subsequently named in his honor is now located to the town for that amount, and when the field was built in 1948 it began hosting a team in the semi-pro Quoddy League as it reemerged after the war.
Corbett’s son, Neil, became instrumental in the growth of that Down East baseball league, first as a player but also as a coach and commissioner of the league, which included teams from up and down Maine’s northern coast.
Among those teams were the Cutler Cardinals, who won 14 league championships under Neil Corbett’s guidance between 1962 and 1988, including 13 during a 15-year stretch during the 1960s and early 1970s. Both Neil Corbett and Cardinals’ pitching ace Steve Cates, a Cutler native, are now in the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame.
“We used to play a doubleheader Saturday, a doubleheader Sunday and Wednesdays, so we played five games a week,” said Machias Memorial High School athletic administrator Bob Sinford, who played in the Quoddy League for the Machias Bruins and Jonesboro Jets during the 1980s.
“I will tell you, Cutler loves its baseball. They always have, and the older people loved coming out and watching it.”
The Quoddy League ceased operations during the mid-1990s, and the Willie W. Corbett Field hasn’t seen as much action since then.
A baseball game still is played each year during Cutler’s annual Fourth of July celebration, and other area teams have used it as a practice facility from time to time.
When Machias approached the town about using the field this spring, school officials were greeted with immediate support from the community and the old ball field created in 1948 was given a quick facelift.
“The town was more than accommodating so it was an easy decision to play down there,” Whitney said. “They got that field ready to play on within two days. A lot of parents, local businesses from Cutler, family members and the players all helped get that field ready.”
The 30-minute school van ride up U.S. Route 1 from Machias and then down state Route 191 to Cutler for practices and home games has offered an additional daily bonding opportunity for the 11 players on the team, and the coastal conditions proved more than comfortable for baseball on most afternoons.
“It was beautiful to play down there because there never was an overly hot day,” Whitney said. “Even when we had those 90 degree days it was probably 80 or 85 with a light breeze coming off the harbor, and the best part was there were no black flies — not a black fly or any bug to be found down there.”
The return of regular baseball to the community this spring also has fueled a renewed interest in the national pastime among Cutler’s 500 residents.
“A lot of the community is within walking distance of the field, and we’ve had some tremendous crowds out there for regular-season games. Then with the playoff game we had there [against Bangor Christian], there were a ton of people there,” Whitney said.
“So many people have asked me, ‘Even though your field will be done for next year, do you think you could play a couple of games down here once in a while?’”