SANFORD — Anthony Gomez caught a fly ball in shallow left field for the third out and the crowd got to its feet, applauding and cheering. The summer of 2010 and a city’s love affair with its baseball team lives on for at least one more day.

The Sanford Mainers beat the North Shore Navigators, 5-1, Tuesday night to extend their best-of-three playoff series for one more game. The next game is in Lynn, Mass., tonight.

“If they had lost you would have seen a truckload of tears because these kids would be packing up and leaving for home,” said John Webb, the team’s GM. “Now they’re leaving (for Game 3) and we know they’re coming back.”

Yes, this is hometown boosterism of the first order, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The signs on city streets that tout the pride in their baseball team isn’t an exercise in civic backslapping. Here, they appreciate their young ballplayers.

The Mainers play in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. Players are recruited off college campuses throughout the country, stay with host families and play baseball.

“It’s 45 games in 60 days,” said Joe Wendle, from West Chester University in suburban Philadelphia. “It doesn’t give you much time to think about anything else.”

Wendle is the team’s second baseman. He received a team award before the game as the best example of spirit. As the crowd cheered, he didn’t know what to say.

“I appreciate the award. But my head was on the game you know what I mean?”

Here, everyone would.

Here, $5 got fans into the game Tuesday night. T-shirts, warm-ups and other bits of clothing in Sanford Mainers green and gold were selling at 10 percent off. The discount wasn’t deeper because people expect the playoffs to continue to next week.

Here, even the Mainers’ general manager gets acknowledged. “Saturday night, a little kid asked me for my autograph,” said Webb, a native who left to study law. “I said, I’m nobody.”

The kid disagreed, telling Webb he was the Theo Epstein of the Mainers.

“When you’re a 300-pound lawyer with no legs hearing that well, it made me feel real good.”

Saturday night, during the final game of the short regular season, Webb took a breath, relaxed and looked around. Goodall Park was standing room only. More than 800 tickets were counted.

Here, even an umpire gets a round of applause. Kevin Joyce heard the noise when it was announced he had been inducted into the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame this summer. Put him in an awkward spot, though. How does he acknowledge the gesture? He didn’t.

Every player hears his first name, not his number or last name.

“I didn’t know the names of anyone when I got here,” said Wendle. “It took me no time at all to learn my teammates’ names and even the fans.”

Kenny Treadwell is a pitcher from Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif. That’s where Clint Eastwood was mayor. Treadwell attends the University of Santa Clara and was told by his coach he’d play his summer ball in Maine.

“I didn’t have to look at a map, but Maine? It’s been the funnest summer I’ve had. Me and three others live with a host grandmother. We’re family.”

It was a little bit of culture shock for Gomez, who lives in northern New Jersey, the land of the best pizza, bagels and diners. In the Portland home of Mainers and Vanderbilt teammate Regan Flaherty he has a bed, good food and access to the family’s pool.

“The chemistry of these kids has been unbelievable,” said Aaron Izaryk, a former assistant baseball coach at the University of Maine, managing the Mainers for a second season.

“You give them a role and they grab it. Even more than that, they truly like each other, which is good with a schedule like ours. It’s tougher than the minor leagues.”

Play the game, get back on the bus and return home. There are no three-game overnights in one small city or another.

One more game together, maybe more. The goal isn’t to fill the team’s coffers. The goal is to break even.

The Sanford Mainers will do better than that this summer said Webb. He wasn’t talking about the money.

 

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or: [email protected]