Tom LaChance’s life seems intrinsically tied to the Old Orchard Beach Ballpark.

As a child, he lived near the property before it was developed, playing with his friends in a tree fort on what is now center field.

When The Ballpark opened in 1984, LaChance worked there as a parking lot attendant, usher and sometime catcher in the Maine Phillies bullpen, where he interacted with many up-and-coming major league players during the minor league AAA team’s games.

The minor league franchise folded in 1988, and after several years of serving as a concert venue, The Ballpark fell into disrepair, its grandstand besieged by rust, decay, fire and vandalism, its field overgrown by weeds and trees.

But the park is coming back, and LaChance, 40, has a lot to do with it. He’s been at the heart of a group of volunteers who have slowly resurrected the stadium, which will host a national college baseball tournament on Memorial Day weekend.

“It’s been a dramatic transformation,” said Town Planner Gary Lamb. “Tom is the driving force behind this, and he’s doing an incredible job of getting a lot of free labor and materials that are saving multiple thousands of dollars on the project.”

Following a 2007 fire that destroyed a section of The Ballpark’s sky boxes, the Old Orchard Beach Town Council recommended selling the stadium. But voters rejected the sale at referendum by a vote of nearly 2-1. That’s when LaChance and a group of volunteers stepped up to the plate with a dream of restoring The Ballpark to its former glory.

The group has invested nearly $240,000 in goods, services and their own free time to restore the fields and stadium buildings, with the town contributing $50,000 for specific jobs.

More than 425 volunteers have converged on the complex to help since the project began. They include electricians, plumbers, painters, construction and white collar workers who travel from just down the road or across the state to donate their time and skill for the effort.

Some come in groups for weekend intensives, while others put in a few hours each week as a solo effort. LaChance is there daily doing odd jobs and works directly with town officials to conduct weekly site inspections and confer about future upgrades.

The gradual reconstruction has been a source of satisfaction for LaChance, who often returned to walk the property as it sat vacant.

Sometimes he sat in the empty stands, surveyed the tangled mass of brush and weeds that all but obscured the field lines, and imagined bringing The Ballpark back to its former glory for area residents to enjoy.

His dream is inching toward fruition now, but LaChance deflects the credit to others.

“One man has spent hundreds of hours just restoring the fence,” he said. “Last spring, D.M. Furtado Roofing of Old Orchard re-roofed all of the buildings. The town provided the materials and he and his crew donated the labor. And Brian Payea, owner of The Irrigation Doctor, has spent countless hours putting in a new irrigation system to water the field, saving us about $35,000.”

The payoff for all the hard work comes May 9-15, when teams from the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III play a week-long tournament. The event will kick-off with a parade, starting from town square and proceeding to The Ballpark for other festivities in the parking lot.

But there’s still much work to do before opening day.

“This has been a great volunteer project,” said LaChance. “We get down to bare bones (in funding) and then someone steps up to the plate to donate. And, it’s been a positive partnership with the town. This has been a win-win situation for all of us.”

Staff Writer Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at:
[email protected]