This should have been a happy assignment.
Chatting up a baseball lifer who regaled me with enough stories to make me think my grandfather had been allowed to return from heaven for a day. Please, where do I sign?
Talking over the first sport I fell in love with and the one that still matters most with one of the game’s preeminent teachers in this neck of the woods. Is there a better way to spend an afternoon?
Playing phone tag and then sharing a hundred laughs with a guy whose baseball cards I owned in quadruplicate, memorizing each statistic with the passion Mom wished I’d harbored for Sunday School scriptures. You mean I seriously get paid for this?
Two days chasing down Stan Doughty, Mike Coutts and Peter Ladd promised to be the highlight of my summer.
In a world defined by microscopic agate type, these guys are giants in our two-lane, no-stoplight cranny of the universe. They represent what most of us dreamed as children and what we can only pray our own kids strive to become.
There are too many halls of fame in a day and age when “fame” is defined loosely and increasingly more dubious. But the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame is in the 99th percentile, and this year’s delegation — highlighted by locals Doughty, Coutts, Ladd, Steve LaPointe and Neil Stinneford — will provide more clout and class when it is enshrined two Sundays from now.
Great guys, all. So why did getting to know three of them a little better last week leave me morose and melancholy?
Because they represent Maine baseball, a concept so splendid, so tight-knit, so time-honored.
So dying.
It’s always a red flag when “back in my day” fodder is more plentiful than “back to the future” optimism.
There was Doughty reliving July 10, 1954, the day he cranked a game-winning home run and celebrated the birth of his son, hours apart.
There was Coutts, lamenting a younger generation’s learned behavior of hollow commitment and its obsession with being stretched like Gumby in eight different extra-curricular directions.
There was Ladd, still stunned by the unlikelihood of having two fellow Mainers as major league teammates in Seattle and another in Houston.
Stunned because it will never — no, neigh, never — happen again.
I know, I know. Mark Rogers was a top-10 draft pick. Ryan Flaherty went in the second round. A handful of our best and brightest have beaten the bushes over the last decade, and it’s a far cry from having to wear a suit and tie all through your 20s.
You’re comparing a dripping faucet to a waterfall, and its depressing.
The sad part is that we’ve allowed the excuses to creep in.
Too many choices and too many summer sports. Please. Coutts and Stinneford were multi-sport stars.
Too many toys. Stop. You’re telling me nobody owns a Wii or a Blackberry in Louisiana?
Too much foul weather. The snow never melted off Mahaney Diamond much before April 1 when Coutts, Bill Reynolds and Rick Lashua were playing at the University of Maine, either.
There’s seven months, minimum, of green grass in this state. Most of it’s free. Some of it is right in your neighbor’s backyard, I bet.
I don’t buy the argument that baseball itself is withering on the vine. Or that it’s too slow and full of arcane rules and spitting and scratching. Or that the big league steroid era turned our stomachs.
Those stadium seats are full of more fannies at $20 to $40 per cheek than ever. Time will reveal, if it hasn’t already, that the 2004 Boston Red Sox were as pinpricked as any team in The Show. It won’t strip away one scintilla of their popularity.
Maine’s dysfunctional baseball family is like a church in need of revival, that’s all.
My 30-something brethren need to stop straying to slow-pitch softball and get on board with the Pine Tree League, which appears reincarnated this summer after a slow and painful death that begin the 1980s.
Restless ex-jocks who are getting out of college and struggling to find a job need to volunteer at their local little league, even if they are years away from having their own progeny playing in it. Your love of the game does no earthly good if it’s all channeled into a pointless fantasy league.
And the youth leagues themselves must do something, anything, to stop catering to all-stars and extend the season for all the athletes. How many late bloomers have abandoned baseball for another sport or the chess club for a reason as insane as being born the wrong month?
If you don’t like my solutions, come with one of your own and put it in place. Preferably yesterday.
Time is of the essence, because at this rate in 20 years I can’t imagine a need for anything more than an induction ceremony every leap year, if there’s still such an animal as the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame at all.
Talk about depressing.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is [email protected]

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