Dirigo’s Derek Ducharme, left, Cole Brown, center and Dallas Berry will be playing together next year for CMCC. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

There was a domino effect to three Dirigo seniors choosing to continue their baseball careers at Central Maine Community College, but having their former coach leading the Mustangs made it a fairly easy decision.

Ryan Palmer, the head coach at Dirigo High School from 2011-19, was hired for his second stint as the head coach of the CMCC baseball team last year, but he hasn’t coached a game since because sports have yet to resume at the school since being shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic last March.

Throughout the dormant period, Palmer, who played at CMCC and coached the Mustangs in the fall of 2013, has continued to recruit new players and game plan for those already on the roster, and next fall that will include Cole Brown, Derek Ducharme and Dallas Berry, who signed letters of intent last week. 

Berry, a catcher, was the first player to decide to continue his baseball career at CMCC.

“I had made my decision a while back because of all the factors — paying, staying close to home — and I was able to talk to (Brown and Ducharme), and I feel like I got my point across, and they’re coming, too,” Berry said. “I really like having people that I know in places I’m not familiar with.

“The excitement that came with playing for Palmer, my coach for my first two baseball seasons at Dirigo and coach during summer baseball, was what made it an easy choice.” 

Brown — who said that he has played baseball with Berry since they were 6 or 7, and with Ducharme since middle school — was next to choose CMCC. He weighed the financial implications of college, his teammates and his former coach. When all three aligned, he decided to join the Mustangs.

“Palmer was our high school coach and summer ball coach, so we had that relationship built up,” Brown said. “When making my college decision, I kind of wanted to find my cheapest option, and then I thought going to CMCC for two years then transferring would be the best. Finances were a big part of it, and baseball is a sport that I love and if I could do that and play for a coach I really respect, it really seemed like a no-brainer.”

After Brown, Ducharme jumped aboard the CMCC bandwagon. The chance to play for his former high school and summer baseball coach made it an easy choice. 

“It definitely went that we didn’t talk about it until it became a thing. I’m going to CM to get my core classes for another year, and it’s going to be fun playing with them and playing for Coach Palmer,” Ducharme said. “I’m really excited. We had a good relationship with him. It hurt a little bit when he left, but I understand it and I’m glad to be playing with him.”

Palmer said his previous relationship with Berry, Brown and Ducharme made the recruiting process with them easier than usual.

“I’ve coached these kids for at least five years — high school, (American) Legion or Junior Legion, I’ve been around these kids and watched them all through middle school,” Palmer said. “It was Dallas that I knew was coming first, and then the others started asking questions and I had a hunch they’d end up here. I wanted them to come, but at the same time they were asking questions and I wasn’t going to trash talk another school. … So if I got them, great; if not, that’s fine.”

During his nine years at the helm at Dirigo, which was preceded by four seasons leading the program at Mt. Abram, Palmer has built quite the catalog of connections throughout the Mountain Valley Conference and the state.

When the three Dirigo seniors expressed interest, he knew they’d be perfect fits. 

Dirigo seniors Derek Ducharme, left, Cole Brown (20) and Dallas Berry (27) stand with CMCC coach Ryan Palmer, who coached all three players at Dirigo, after the they signed letter of intent to play baseball at Central Maine Community College. Submitted Photo

“Once we got Cole and Dallas, I figured Derek was right behind him,” Palmer said. “Three good baseball players, three great young men and they’ll fit in our system. I’ve always, you know, prided myself on being a players’ coach, and I try to relate to them. They’re all great young men and great players, that’s how I’m trying to mold the baseball program.

“The athletic director at CM, Dave Gonyea, says, ‘Make sure you get good kids.’ So why not go after great baseball players I know like the back of my hand?”

Current Dirigo coach Bob Karcher is happy for his seniors, said that their experience and leadership will carry over well to the college level. 

“They’ve been battle tested in that MVC competition, Dallas is behind the plate, Cole has pitched a few games, and Derek has played the outfield and infield. Just the veteran leadership,” Karcher said. “Ryan, they played for him for a couple years, and he’s been a staple in the baseball program. Now you see more kids doing the two-year community college thing to save money and go elsewhere, and all three love baseball, so I think it was just the right setup. You’ve seen a lot of them from the MVC going to CM. I think Ryan will have some good players.”

In the fall, CMCC will play a season in the New England Club Baseball Association, which features club teams from schools such as Brown University, Dartmouth College, University of Vermont. Palmer said the Mustangs participated in the league when he played for CMCC from 2000-2003, and he lauds the exposure it offers the players.

“It’s good baseball and good for exposure,” Palmer said. “The University of Maine had a team in it, and every time we went up there the coaches were at the game. A lot of the coaches come to the game.”

Ducharme is having shoulder surgery at the end of July and will not play in the fall, but he believes he will be ready for CMCC’s Yankee Small College Conference season in the spring.

“Dallas was going, then Cole was deciding and then he was going, then I planned on going somewhere else, but I’m having surgery on my shoulder so I figured it would be easier to be closer to home,” Ducharme said. “Palmer reached out and he said, ‘I’d love to have you there for the fall,’ and so I can be there for another year. It was kind of weird how it worked out, we didn’t talk to each other about it, we just fell in line like that.”

Three Dirigo players, from left, Derek Ducharme, Cole Brown and Dallas Berry, sign letters of intent to play at Central Maine Community College last week in Dixfield. Submitted Photo

Palmer is excited to coach the three Dirigo players again. 

“They know me and they played for me and they know what I expect, and the transition will be easy,” Palmer said. “They’ll be able to relay to the other players how we run things. They’re good kids and come from baseball families and I’m so excited they’re coming. I’m glad Cole will be there, on top of that, we will need more than one catcher so this will give Dallas a chance. If he’s fighting for the number one spot, the playing time will be there. Derek’s baseball IQ is just through the roof, even though he won’t play this fall he will be almost like an assistant coach — his baseball mind is that good. We will put him to work, whether or not he’s on the field.

“I’m over the moon that these three have decided to come, and their families are baseball families and now their kids are playing down the road.”

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