It’s likely that you are reading my blog for the first time, sent here from the Sun-Journal’s website, or the print version of today’s Explore! feature I wrote on the town of Turner. These monthly features are fun to do—they allow me to scout around a town for an afternoon, talk to locals, and uncover a bit of the local history, along with some color and flavor.
I often have “left-over” material, and in this case, it relates to some writing and research I did on Turner a decade ago. The subject was baseball.
Back in 2004, when compiling information, box scores, and research on town team baseball in Maine for my first book, I spoke to a number of former players, some of them former members of the Turner Townies, or chief rivals of the talented local baseball team that drew fans out on many a summer night to watch them play. Back in the 1960s, they played their games at the field that was located in front of Leavitt Institute—what is now the village green, where the gazebo is.
Speaking of rivals, the rivalry that existed between Turner and the Roberts 88’ers from Lisbon Falls was the town team equivalent of the current Major League rivalry existing between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. Both of these towns fielded outstanding ball clubs, and during the late 1960s, every time the Townies and 88’ers squared off, it seemed like first place was on the line.
While working on my first book, When Towns Had Teams, I interviewed several players that had starred for the Townies. One of them, Jeff Trundy, was actually from West Minot, but when their town team ceased operations in 1966, Trundy was recruited, along with his cousin Warren, and the Gammon brothers, to join the Townies.
I remember interviewing Jeff back in 2004 (he was inducted into the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame in 2013), and he told me about the special time he had playing first in West Minot with many of his cousins, and then later, for Turner. It was a unique period, and much like the changes I touched on in my Sun-Journal article, related to farming and agriculture, many similar changes and shifts in local culture that once emanated around activities like town team baseball, have long since disappeared.
From When Towns Had Teams (p. 51), here’s Trundy on playing at the Leavitt Institute field and its unique ground rules.
“The field in Turner was at the old Leavitt Institute,” remembers Trundy. “There was a building out in right field and it was two different colors. If it (the ball) hit the bottom half of the building, then it was a double, if it hit the other color higher up, it was a home run,” he recalled. “You can imagine what kind of problems this presented from an umpiring standpoint,” laughed Trundy.
Trundy was inducted into the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame in 2013. The year before, Stan Timberlake, another name familiar to old-timers who know their Turner baseball, was also inducted, recognizing them as some of the elite players to grace a diamond in Maine during the past 50+ years.
The Maine Baseball Hall of Fame began in 1969 and has over 500 members from across the state. Until 2012, this organization, committed to recognizing and celebrating notable contributions made by Mainers on the diamond, lacked a permanent home. On April 14, 2012, the “Wall of Fame” was unveiled in the Portland Room, at Hadlock Field. This room is open before and during Sea Dogs’ home games, so the next time you’re at Hadlock, check it out.
The 2014 inductees, who will be honored today in a ceremony at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland, include Red Sox third base coach, Brian Butterfield (a Maine native), and Artie Taylor, from Rumford, one of the best catchers to ever grace a town team in the state. He played for both Rumford and Dixfield in the old Pine Tree League, and made several appearances with Maine clubs that made the trip out the YABC national tournament, in Battle Creek, Michigan.
If you’re a fan of baseball and you’d like to know a bit more about the golden age of local baseball in Maine, my book is a good introduction. There’s also a terrific book by Yarmouth writer, John Hodgkins, Our Game Was Baseball: Growing Up with Larry Boyce and Small-Town Ball Games. His book tells the story of coming up in Temple, Maine during the 1940s and 1950s, when this kind of baseball was as much a part of rural life as farming and the Grange. I highly recommend it.