GORHAM — Ed Flaherty sat, arms folded, with his family next to him on folding chairs in front of the pitcher’s mound at the University of Southern Maine’s baseball field. He listened as several speakers praised him. He watched as current and former players, including many from his 1997 NCAA Division III national championship team, lined the basepaths.

If Flaherty, in his 32nd season as head baseball coach at USM, was excited or even a little nervous, he didn’t show it.

“No, it was just a regular morning for him,” said Debbie Flaherty, his wife. “Really, what was most important to him is that he wants to win. He said this morning that this is a big game.”

The Huskies defeated Western New England 4-1 to improve to 25-8 on the season. But Sunday was a special day for other reasons. For the first time, the Huskies played on Ed Flaherty Field. The field was finally given a name as university officials honored their longtime coach.

“Wow,” said Flaherty, moments after the new name was unveiled on the left field scoreboard. “This is something I certainly didn’t expect.

“I am honored and humbled. And I feel a little weird about it. I’m still coaching these guys, and if I stay healthy I’ll continue coaching them for a little more.”

Flaherty thanked everyone who has helped him, from school administrators (Athletic Director Al Bean in particular) to trainers and groundskeepers, his assistant coaches (including long-time assistants Ed Boyce and Vinnie Degifico), his players and the fans. “I only feel a part of this,” he said. “This could be the Southern Maine baseball field.”

HUMBLED TO BE HONORED

Those who know him best aren’t surprised at his low-key reaction.

Bean said Flaherty told him the honor was “nice, but not necessary.”

Bean felt otherwise. “I think what Ed has brought to this institution in terms of success of the baseball program and the quality of his teaching and coaching, both in his program and in the classes he conducts (Coaching Philosophy and Fundamentals and Coaching Baseball), is just exceptional,” said Bean. “He’s had an enormously important impact on countless students in this institution.”

“He feels blessed and fortunate,” said his wife, Debbie.

“He loves these players and he loves his coaches. When he says that, it’s not just talk. He means it.”

His oldest son, Ryan, a utility player for the Baltimore Orioles, wasn’t at the ceremony because the Orioles were in New York playing the Yankees.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Ryan in a phone interview last week. “He won’t admit it, but it’s pretty cool. I know I’m excited for him.

“Everywhere I have gone in baseball, people have known my dad. The further I have gone, the more I have realized what he has done for that program. This is a great honor.”

Flaherty, 63, was hired in 1985 as the women’s soccer and baseball coach.

He coached women’s soccer for seven years, and has transformed the’ baseball program into one of the best in Division III.

He has a record of 965-430-4, with two national championships (1991 and 1997) and eight regional titles. He has been named national coach of the year twice and New England coach of the year three times.

NOT JUST ABOUT WINS

But his impact at USM has gone far beyond winning baseball games.

“USM has a lot of assets and a lot of good things going for us, a lot of things to take pride in,” said Glenn Cummings, USM’s president. “But today, with this ceremony, we’re acknowledging very formally that Ed Flaherty is one of the best assets and the best points of pride that any university could ever have.

“There is the impact he has had in terms of victory and the impact in terms of character and guidance and concern and deep appreciation for his athletes that he’s always maintained. When I talk to people that played for Ed Flaherty, they don’t actually talk too much about the victories, they talk about the influence that he has had in making them a man and making them the person that they wanted them to be and that he saw that they could be.”

FOLLOWING HIS LEAD

Bob Prince, a three-time All-American and a member of the 1991 national championship team, is now the head coach at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, one of the Huskies’ top rivals. He spoke of the life lessons that Flaherty – a renowned storyteller – taught him and all the Huskies.

“Every story is wrapped around education, family, doing things the right way, respecting people,” said Prince. “Those are ingrained in this program and have been since 1985 plus. It’s evidenced from the kids who play for this program.”

Prince, in his sixth year at UMass-Dartmouth, said he often incorporates much of what he learned from Flaherty in his coaching. “One of the smartest things I did when I went to UMass-Dartmouth is I took one of his former players, Marc Ouimet, with me,” said Prince. “And I always talk to him, ‘What would Coach do right now?’ We have that conversation all the time. Just the way he runs his program … it’s always about respect, always about appreciating the moment you’re in, appreciating your opponents …. those things have certainly resonated with me and (I) really model our program after this one.”

Prince said naming the stadium after Flaherty simply means more stories will be told. Mentioning USM senior Paul McDonough, Prince said, “Fifty years from now, your kid’s kid is going to come in here and see Ed Flaherty Stadium and ask your son who Ed Flaherty is. He’s going to tell him and they’re going to start talking about those stories. And that’s going to be passed down years upon years.

“It’s almost like a great band that put out a great CD and it’s there for everybody to listen to the rest of their lives.”

Turning to Flaherty, Prince said, “This is your greatest hit.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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