They’re supposed to be just the “Happy to Be Here Gang” from Maine. They’re supposed to shrivel on the big stage, take their beating against their competitors from the big city like men, pack up their equipment and go home after a couple of days.

But the Monmouth American Legion baseball team isn’t going to have any of that when they start the Northeast Regional today against the New Hampshire state champions.

“We’re not going to play just to stay alive,” coach Chad Drouin said. “I really feel that if we get the same type of pitching that we got in the state tournament, plus the offense, and if our defense holds up, we’ll be fine.”

Monmouth should be more than just fine with a deep and versatile lineup, a pitching staff that has more lefties than the Daily Show studio audience, and a coach who knows how to get the most out of every individual on his roster.

Still, the players heard the doubters before heading to Burlington, Vt., yesterday. Game 1 starting pitcher and clean-up hitter Mike Eaton told me he’s been hearing the same old tired argument about how kids from Maine don’t belong on the same field with the big boys from Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Eaton noted that the naysayers must either have short memories or no knowledge of the history of Maine American Legion baseball. As he’s had to point out all too often, Nova Seafood, a collection of players from Deering High School, won not only the regional crown but the national championship only three years ago.

“I played with three guys (Chris Burleson, Jeff Skillin and Josh Stowell) that were on that team at USM, so I know it can be done,” Eaton said.

The roster is overflowing with players who have thrived in big situations. A handful of the players won multiple Babe Ruth state championships together, and the Oak Hill contingent is just a year removed from a Class B state title. It’s not a group that will be overwhelmed by the pressure on a regional tournament.

“That’s the part I’m not worrying about, to be honest with you,” he said. “I feel like we are taking a very experienced team to this regional.”

They’ve dominated Zone II for the last seven years, and until they lost to a Bessey Motors team that was clinging for life in the state tournament, they hadn’t lost a game this year.

“We’ve got winners on this team,” Drouin said. “When I look down through the entire roster, the only two guys that really haven’t won some type of big championship on this team are Sean Holbrook and (University of Maine outfielder) Tavis Hasenfus, and you’re talking about two team leaders there who are just eating this up right now.”

And they just may have their doubters eating crow by next week.


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