APPLETON, Wis. – Ask Tucker White why he left his small hometown in New Hampshire four years ago to attend the University of Southern Maine.
Ed Flaherty, he says, without much thought.
White, who was just named the nation’s best small-college baseball player, wanted to be coached by the man whose teams have won more than 800 games in his 28-year career. Two Flaherty-coached teams have won national championships, in 1991 and 1997.
Ask Nick Grady, who was recruited by no one, including Flaherty, why he enrolled at USM after graduating from Erskine Academy, near Augusta.
He says he had something to prove to himself and to Flaherty, the best coach he knew.
USM begins play Friday morning in the 2013 NCAA Division III baseball tournament in this quiet Midwestern college city of 70,000. The Huskies open against Millsaps College from Jackson, Miss. They are two of only eight small-college teams in the country that still have a shot at the national title.
Flaherty’s long record of success and his reputation with players make it clear why USM, a no-frills state university in a cold-weather climate, fields teams that can compete on a national level year after year.
The players are the sons of small towns, mostly. Flaherty recruits, but many high school players in New England seek him out. Through social media or interactions at baseball camps and showcases, Flaherty’s players talk him up.
“He’s honest,” said Grady. “I know when a coach is blowing smoke at me, and Coach Flaherty never has.”
Flaherty once told Grady that he didn’t think he was good enough to play at USM. He gave Grady a chance to play his way onto the team as a freshman.
Now, Grady is the team’s senior third baseman and, along with White, was named to the first team of NCAA Division III All-Americans. Grady broke USM’s 22-year-old record for most hits in a season this year, with 89.
The coach will admit his mistakes in evaluating high school players. Not that he makes them often.
“I know I can coach,” he said, “but you need talented players to win. These are mostly Maine kids, and that makes me feel good.”
Players like White, from New Hampshire, second baseman Anthony Pisani, from Massachusetts, and pitcher Logan Carmen, from New Hampshire and previously California, have adopted the so-called Maine work ethic.
“I have had teams I thought were a little selfish,” Flaherty said. “Not these kids. They root for each other. They pick each other up if they’re having a bad day. They care about each other. I don’t have to worry about curfews. I don’t have to worry about what they’re doing in the classroom.
“That all said, we wouldn’t be here if they weren’t talented,” Flaherty said. “I’ve got five or six who could have played on Division I teams in New England.”
Like Forrest Chadwick of Gardiner, who went to USM partly because a brother and an uncle (hockey player Rob Chadwick) attended the school.
The Flaherty factor was important, too.
With the baseball draft coming up in June, Chadwick has been approached by several major league teams.
“I think people who don’t know see Division III baseball as second-rate somehow,” Flaherty said. “That’s not true. This is good baseball.”
This week is USM’s payoff for a remarkable season of 42 wins and only eight defeats.
“This gives us visibility we don’t get every day,” said Al Bean, USM’s athletic director. “We’re all in the business to educate kids, but the kids who play for Eddie, or don’t play much, really grow up.
“For many people, it isn’t what they’ve heard academically about a school that gets attention first. It’s what happens athletically,” said Bean. “And this is exciting.”
Flaherty has now taken seven teams to national baseball tournaments. He said he’ll always be competitive, but he doesn’t see it as the personal achievement he once did.
“When you’re younger, you’re in it to move along” in a career, he said. “I don’t need that anymore.
“It’s not about me anymore. It’s about these players.”
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: