AUBURN — These days, Rick Lashua is right back where he began and belongs.
The Auburn native is active in coaching both baseball and softball in Auburn Suburban Little League. It is the place where he got his start as a young athlete.
In his real life, he’s a general contractor, but most of the time, you’ll probably find him at the ballpark.
“I’m mostly coaching,” he says. “You do it because of the kids and stuff, but I think I’m probably having more fun now than I did when I played. To watch a young player improve over a two or three year period and watch the excitement of them getting a hit or something, it’s like watching your son or daughter take those first steps.”
Years ago, it was Lashua evolving and learning from others as a promising young athlete. He was the seventh of eight children and grew up living a life filled with sports. It led to being recruited by the University of Maine and participating in four College Word Series with the Black Bears.
“I guess I get good genes from my parents,” he said. “I come from a good athletic family. We either played sports or watched sports 24 hours a day.”
This week Lashua will be among the new inductees into the Auburn-Lewiston Sports Hall of Fame. It is an honor, he says, but also a tribute to those that helped get him there.
“When you have kids, you get so busy that you don’t really have time to reflect on years ago,” said Lashua. “So it’s good to be able to reflect back, and it’s really going to be a time to recognize all the people that helped along the way — coaches, family, friends — all the mentors that you had. It’s a good time to show appreciation for that.”
Lashua grew up in an atmosphere where sports were played all the time. Baseball and football were the sports he stuck with and both led to rewarding careers at Edward Little. He was an All-State player in both sports and started to see just how good he could be.
“You hear athletes talk about the game slowing down,” said Lashua, who graduated in 1980. “I think it was my junior year in high school playing football and baseball. The game slowed down and everything started coming a lot easier at that point.”
He started drawing the attention of scouts and even began thinking about a possible career as a pro baseball player. He was so serious that he was convinced a name change might be in order.
“My name wasn’t cool enough to be in Major League Baseball,” said Lashua. “So I was thinking about changing my name so that it would help if I made it to the Major Leagues. I wanted a name like Juan Beniquez because it sounded like a baseball player.”
He was recruited by John Winkin at Maine and was a starter by the time his freshman year ended.
“What stands out is making the team as a freshman and playing a lot,” he said. “Leading off that first game of the first World Series game against Neal Heaton, that was a highlight for me.”
Another moment he remembers fondly is a three-run homer his junior year against Stanford as his team made another push toward the World Series. He began toying with the idea of being a switch-hitter and decided to try that his senior season. Early in that campaign, he had a walk-off homer in a game in Texas.
“In the fall leagues, it went well,” he said of his switch-hitting experiment. “So I tried switch-hitting my senior year and was the Division I Player of the Year in New England. I regret now not doing it my sophomore or junior year.”
After college, he spent some time in the New York Yankees’ farm system but eventually returned home where he started his business. Now he’s back at the ballparks but in a different capacity. He coaches his 12-year old son, who plays on the same Little League team he did. He also is the assistant coach for his daughter’s Little League softball team.
“My mother, who is now 82-years old, often reflects on how those nights at Auburn Suburban Little League were the funnest years,” he said. “We spend four or five nights a week at the ballpark. It is fun. You meet a lot of good people and the kids make a lot of good friends.”
The person who will serve as Lashua’s presenter Sunday at the banquet is Tim Turcotte, a lifelong friend that he met in Little League.
“There’s so many good people that you meet through sports,” he said. “Most of my close friends today are people I met through sports.”
It is an atmosphere that served him well as a kid and is now benefiting his own children. He tries to take all that he learned from those before him to give back to those that follow.
“They were just nice men or women that gave their time and just made sure you were at the field and made it a pleasurable experience and made it so you wanted to come back and play some more,” said Lashua.
That’s the goal he now has as a coach. Between the Internet, videos and coaching clinics, coaches have greater resources now than they did when he was younger. There a greater opportunity to teach and develop talent as a result, but Lashua also still sees the need to keep it enjoyable.
“Today we do a little more skill teaching, but you want to make it fun so they want to come back,” he said. “If the kids leave at the end of the year and they say, ‘Coach, we’ll see you next year,’ then that’s all you can ask for.”