You know what I miss caring about this time of year? Other than the Celtics, a relevant Indianapolis 500 or a heavyweight title fight featuring two guys you could actually identify in a police lineup, I mean.

University of Maine baseball.

Yeah, I understand that’s like missing rabbit ears, American Top 40 or Max Headroom. But growing up along the flooded banks of the Androscoggin and Kennebec rivers, Maine baseball was as much a rite of spring as crossing off the days on your Christie Brinkley calendar until the end of school.

Reaching the Sunday before Memorial Day on that grid meant that the Black Bears were getting ready to manhandle Clemson, St. John’s, Rutgers and Holy Cross like a resin bag and start loading their charter flight to Omaha for the College World Series.

Nowadays, it means Maine is a few hours away from clean lockers after a spring of dropping doubleheaders to Stony Brook. What was once the dominant Division I program northeast of the Mason-Dixon line barely raises an eyebrow away from the flagship campus. Hockey and women’s basketball reign.

The collapse is sad and inexcusable, and I don’t buy many of the prevailing explanations and excuses for it.

Our weather’s too cold. It’s more conducive to basketball and hockey nine months out of the year.

Whew, it’s a good thing Bill Reynolds, Rick Lashua, Mike Bordick, Mike and Mark Coutts, Bruce Lucas and friends each owned a freaking jacket.

There are too many options. The best athletes in a small state play three or even four sports.

Yup, all those men I just mentioned played whatever game was on the school calendar. So did Ryan Flaherty, Andrew Giobbi and Charlie Furbush.

Who are they? Oh, merely three recent graduates of Greater Portland high schools who were involved this weekend in a crucial Southeastern Conference series between Vanderbilt and Louisiana State.

Flaherty (son of University of Southern Maine coaching great Ed) is hitting .355 for Vandy. His teammate, Giobbi: .333. Furbush leads the LSU staff with 88 strikeouts in his first season with the Tigers.

Maine was not even a legitimate option for those three.

Orono’s allure has faded such that most top area players aim for Division III, instead. USM beat Maine like a drum two weeks ago. Heck, Furbush pitched at Saint Joseph’s before booking to Baton Rouge. And do you think Maine could have benefited from trotting out Tip Fairchild every fifth day for four years?

A fistful of natives were all Dr. John Winkin ever needed. He supplemented the homegrown talent with a few hard workers from Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey. The result was magic.

Winkin’s successors, Paul Kostacopoulos and Steve Trimper, have worked magic, too. Under their watch, University of Maine baseball has vanished.


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