Friday, May 6, 2016

The boys of summer are back in town - By Walter Lunt

Ciccarone Field in East Windham bustled with activity as over 200 residents gathered for the opening day games of Windham Little League. Four games were played, but the day’s highlight was the visit of 26 special guests, members of the six 1967 inaugural teams: Bears, Lakers, Tigers, Seals, Hawks and Cubs. The veteran players returned to celebrate, rekindle memories and cheer on this season’s young players.
Perhaps it wasn’t surprising that the Bears outnumbered visitors from the five other teams. The Bears were the league champions of that inaugural year. Sporting a record of 14-1 with three undefeated pitchers under coach Art Stevenson, the memories had not faded as several of the Bears engaged in good-natured ribbing with members of other teams.

“If those (baseball) experiences weren’t special, you wouldn’t see (all these guys) come back for a reunion,” said Gary Smart, who pitched 5-0 in 1967 including a no-hitter, and remembers a different time.

“Back then we found a field and played. We played just because it was fun – no trainers, no clinics or seminars – it was simple. Coaches wanted kids involved. Winning was not a priority. It was competitive but not too serious,” he said.

During the ceremony Little League Board member Shaun Morrison acknowledged the 50-year history of the league and introduced each veteran player, which was followed by enthusiastic applause from Little League players, parents and visitors. 

Singled out for outstanding dedication to the league was Bill Ciccerone, field caretaker of the Lowell Farm field that now bears his name. Perfectly manicured base lines and a pitcher’s mound framed healthy, thick grass. “It’s our own Fenway Park,” observed league vice-president Jason Farley.
After the call to “Play Ball,” shouted out by the 26 guests of honor, the first season game began: Dairy Queen vs. State Farm. The ceremonial first pitch was delivered by Dick Southard, a founding member and coach of Windham Little League.

“This is a nice set-up” he said later, referring to league work on behalf of the kids. “It’s (youth baseball) not going to die,” and then lamented the shorter season of modern times. “We used play all summer,” he said.

Seals player John Worrey remembers Southard as a “…good guy! He gave everyone a chance to play. No pressure – just go out and have a good time.”

In addition to handshakes and endless reminiscing, Bears utility player Alan Hodgton handed out photographs he had reproduced from their winning season. “(Baseball) played a key role in our lives,” Hodgton said.

Former Seals player Barry Jordan, who declared the games had forged “…a lifetime of friends,” has since served with Babe Ruth League baseball for 35 years, and is now a New England regional commissioner.

Lakers teammates Mike Bridges and Bob Smith said they enjoyed reconnecting with old friends. “We haven’t seen some of these guys in 50 years,” they said, “That was a fun time and (it developed) a love of baseball forever.”

Oddly, the most memorable game of that ’67 season did not involve official Little League play. It occurred after the season had ended. Because it was Windham’s first year of league play, charter regulations prevented the league from participating in All-Star play. South Portland had qualified to participate in the state championship game and needed a challenging team for a practice scrimmage. Windham’s Bears stepped up, and won 5-3.

In the category of most unusual memories, Bear player Hodgton remembers a game at Field Allen School. Play had to be stopped with the arrival of an unusual visitor. A goat, named Nanny, had wandered over from a nearby farm. Players chased Nanny around the field until it was finally corralled and escorted home.

Looking ahead to the 2016 season, league board member Morrison said, “It’s going to an exciting year, competitive for the Majors and field improvements for the Minors.”

While the veteran players were exchanging memories, the 2016 teams were making them. Winning teams for the day included State Farm, MPM Sealcoating and Camp Care. Ice Cream Dugout and C.R. Tanberg played to a 7-7 tie.

Drew Mathieu, age 12, playing for C.R. Tanberg said, “On the 50th anniversary of Windham Little League I hit my very first home run…I hope to be back for the 100th anniversary.”
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On his first day in Windham Little League, Kyle McCleese, age 11 (MPM Sealcoating), hit an inside the park home run, a triple and pitched three shut-out innings. “It was amazing. Coach said he didn’t care if we won or lost, just give it our all. I gave 100 percent,” said Kyle.
Sam Foley, with C.R. Tanberg, was impressed with the officiating: “Hey,” he said, “did you see the ump – he was in the Little League World Series.”

The day’s games and festivities were summed up by a Windham Little League Facebook visitor posting: “So proud to be part of this community. Amazing job everyone. Success!”

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