HAMPDEN – Jonah Normandeau had to confess: Given his wish, he would turn back the clock. “I’d like to be 12 years old again. Just to play baseball.”
Baseball by Little League rules, when 12 of a league’s best players are selected to all-star teams in June and spend the rest of the summer chasing the dream of reaching the Little League World Series. Which as any young-at-heart ballplayer will tell you, might be in Oz or Never-Never-Land rather than Williamsport, Pa.
Rest a little easier, America. Rub away the tarnish and find the magic that baseball can still hold.
Normandeau was on the sideline Tuesday, watching Cumberland-North Yarmouth stay alive in the state Little League tournament for 11-and 12-year-olds hosted by the Hampden-Newburgh Little League. His father, Mike, is a first-year manager. His younger brother, Caleb, is one of the 12 on the team.
“It was so much fun that summer,” said Jonah. “I didn’t know it at the time. It took a while to settle in.”
Jonah turns 15 in October, when most that age are anticipating the driver’s permit that will allow them to get behind the wheel of a car. He’s not so sophisticated that he can’t look back over his shoulder and remember when playing baseball with teammates that became better friends was all that mattered.
His all-star team didn’t make it to the state tournament. Caleb’s has. Cumberland-North Yarmouth lost its first game of the double-elimination format but now has won two straight. Will Bryant broke open a taut game with Dirigo (China, Jefferson, Vassalboro, Whitefield, Windsor) with his second home run of the night that looked like it could have cleared the fences at Portland’s Hadlock Field.
Calvin Soule and Zak Novack also homered, backing up the pitching of starter Ethan Grove, who eventually gave way to Novack. Cumberland-North Yarmouth won 10-2, sending Dirigo home.
“The boys played well,” said Mike Normandeau, who is prone to understatement. He was a catcher for the University of Southern Maine team that won the NCAA Division III national championship in 1991.
“He has the ring somewhere,” said Jonah. “I think it’s in a safety box or something. I’ve seen it once. He never wears it.”
Derek Soule, the Greely High head coach, works with Normandeau. It’s an astute if low-key combination.
“They’re pretty calm and their players are calm,” said Todd Grove, father of Ethan. Todd Grove has the title of league player agent, not that he knew exactly what that job entailed when he volunteered.
You think of Little League parents as cartoons sometimes. Eyes bulging, mouths spewing invective at umpires or parents of opposing players.
Tuesday night this group of several dozen family and friends wrung their hands with anxiety, applauded or cheered.
“I’m a nervous wreck,” Grove said before his son took the mound for the first inning. Jeff Bryant, father of Will, admitted to his own butterflies. Until Will nearly bopped a snack shack worker in the head with a drive that landed about 35 feet beyond the center-field fence.
For the parents, this was a sense of discovery rather than entitlement. Gee, our sons really did play well. Maybe they can win the tournament.
Early in the game, outfielders Jordan Merrifield and Matt Pisini ran after a long line drive, waiting for the carom off a center-field sign. “My throw, my throw,” said Merrifield, almost conversationally. He gathered up the ball, wheeled and threw to his cutoff man, trying to get the baserunner.
The throw home was a little high, Dirigo scored its first run, but it was a good, defensive play, especially for 12-year-olds. The communication skills were startling.
“You saw that? It’s all on those two outfielders,” said Mike Normandeau. “Give them the credit.”
Tuesday night marked the 81st game this spring and summer Normandeau has coached or otherwise been involved in, with two sons and a daughter. He’s a mortgage broker by day.
He doesn’t have to turn back the clock.
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org