OLD ORCHARD BEACH — Lucien Huot was the last fan to leave The Ballpark back in 1988 after the Maine Phillies’ final game. The Triple-A team would not return the following season, nor any other.

“I couldn’t believe it was over,” said the 80-year-old Huot, who used to sing the national anthem before Maine Guides games.

Sitting in the sun Thursday afternoon watching the championship game of the United States Collegiate Athletic Association, Huot added: “I can’t believe it’s back.”

Baseball did return to The Ballpark. And as the USCAA national tournament ended with Briarcliffe of Long Island beating Cincinnati Clermont 16-4 to win its second title in five years, everyone from the players and their parents to the coaches and the tournament organizers called its return a huge success.

“This week has been awesome,” said Tom LaChance, the Old Orchard Beach High baseball coach who spearheaded the volunteer effort to restore The Ballpark after it fell into disrepair. “Everyone is leaving here with a good memory and they’re enjoying themselves.

“That’s what it was like back in the day.”

The big question, of course, is where does The Ballpark go from here?

“What’s next is that we’ve still got work to do,” said Jack Turcotte, the OOB town manager. “The volunteers were very diligent to get the field and clubhouse ready for this tournament. But there are still seats that need to be fixed, the skyboxes need to be refurbished. We need to replace the lights with more energy-efficient ones.

“In the meantime, I imagine there’ll be some baseball played here.”

The Can-Am League will hold two exhibition games between the Brockton Rox and the Quebec Capitales — former Red Sox pitcher Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd will throw out the ceremonial first pitch – on May 22 and 23.

In addition, the local over-25 and over-30 baseball leagues will play games there.

Three local AAU teams will play weekend games, and local high schools are being offered an opportunity to play games.

“My goal is to let every kid feel like a major league player,” said LaChance. “We want to spread the word that it’s back alive.”

The Ballpark will have a field-use fee of $125 for day games, $250 at night. The local high schools will get a one-time discount on that fee.

“The more people who see this, the more it will sell itself,” said Turcotte.

There’ll be other events: a car show, maybe a barbeque cook-off and, said LaChance, maybe a strong man competition. And music likely will return, though not on the magnitude of Aerosmith or New Kids on the Block.

“We’ve got to remember, this is a facility that seats 5,500,” said Turcotte, wearing a Sanford Mainers baseball cap. “So there will definitely be events other than baseball.

“I’d love to see activities here at night. People leave the beach at 4 p.m. What are they going to do? This will be a great opportunity to keep those families in town with an atmosphere that is family oriented.”

Turcotte said the town will take its time deciding what events to bring in. “My philosophy is that we need to take it one step at a time and go slow,” he said. “I think there’ll be some cautiousness on how to move forward.”

This first event went almost perfectly.

Bill and Charleen Stoughton of Slippery Rock, Pa., whose son Billy played for third-place Penn State Beaver, liked their experience so much that, said Charleen Stoughton, “We could live here.”

“I imagine we’ll be back,” said Bill Stoughton, “whether the team comes back or not.”

Billy Stoughton, a utility infielder, said the team plans to come back next year when the USCAA national tournament returns. “We’re already talking about how we should be back.”

The winners also plan to be back. Third baseman Dave Darcy, who drove in five runs in the championship win, said: “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”

Tournament MVP Reggie Smith, Briarcliffe’s second baseman, said all his team has to do is “hit, field and pitch. That’s it.”

That’s what Briarcliffe did Thursday. Tim Coglietta drove in three runs with a home run and double, and Sam Braverman had two RBI. Three relievers pitched shutout ball over the final 52/3 innings after Briarcliffe scored four runs in the fourth for a 9-4 lead.

“This was an overwhelming experience,” said Smith. “It’s incredible how the town came together.”

And, said Coach Gary Puccio, playing at The Ballpark made the championship even more special.

“It’s mindboggling what they did here,” he said. “I’m very proud that we were the first team to win here.”

 

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

[email protected]