May 25, 2013

Steve Solloway: Long drives, off the field

APPLETON, Wis. - Nick Douglas put out the word: Anyone driving 1,300 miles from the Portland area to the NCAA Division III baseball championships this week? Anyone want to watch the University of Southern Maine play ball?

click image to enlarge

Jerry Case supplied the vehicle for the trip from Maine to Wisconsin for the NCAA Division III tournament with two other men and, of course, his 11-year-old sheepdog, Bear.

Graham Washatka/Special to the Press Herald

"Call me," Douglas said. "I can help."

Friday morning he walked into Fox Cities Stadium with traveling companions Lance Chadwick, Jerry Case and Bear, Case's 11-year-old Old English Sheepdog. It took about 24 hours of nearly nonstop driving.

"We took a little detour to Williamsport (Pa.)," said Case, who supplied the vehicle. "I wanted to see where they play the Little League World Series."

Douglas might have been on Wednesday's flight to Wisconsin with the USM team. He was the team's closer last year. Then he wrenched his knee playing an impromptu game of flag football, he said. He tore just about everything there is to tear in a knee.

"These are my teammates," said Douglas, who grew up in the Maine town of Poland. "I'll be on this team next year."

Chadwick, from the Gardiner area, is Forrest Chadwick's father. Case is a friend of Lance Chadwick. Bear, said Case, had a role in the 2005 movie "12 Dogs of Christmas" filmed partly in Bethel. "The dogs could only work so many hours and they needed a double," said Case.

The three men and the big dog share a room at a Super 8 motel near the stadium.

Forrest Hunt and his wife, Karen, formerly of Damariscotta, left their home in Florida for Wisconsin earlier in the week for the drive north. Their grandson is Forrest Chadwick.

"We started packing 20 minutes after the last out (in Sunday's New England regional)," said Forrest Hunt. "We couldn't miss this."

Maybe 200 people were in the grandstands when the first pitch was thrown shortly after 10 a.m., local time. There is nothing bigtime about the NCAA Division III baseball championship, except the hearts.

Moms and dads, girlfriends, major league scouts and a smattering of pure baseball fans were scattered throughout a minor league stadium that seats 5,500, about 2,000 fewer than Hadlock Field in Portland.

A very young David Ortiz once played here. So did Alex Rodriguez.

The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, now an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, play here. The community owns the team. Like the players? Like watching them chase dreams? Buy some shares. The ownership model is similar to the Green Bay Packers, who play about 30 miles north.

ESPN isn't here to broadcast all the games, like it does at the College World Series for Division I teams in Omaha, Neb. The big crowds of 20,000 certainly won't be seen, although the Wisconsin-Stevens Point team is here and will draw a crowd.

USM and the seven other teams in the tournament are staying at the Radisson Paper Valley in the city center. It's not near the Super 8.

None of that bothered the USM players. This was their big-league tournament. Thursday afternoon, John Carey of South Portland and Chris Bernard of Scarborough talked of being impressed by staying at a first-class hotel. They talked about flying instead of riding a bus on this trip.

Then some teammates met a couple of Millsaps players at the hotel pool. They rode a bus from their campus in Jackson, Miss. The ride took more than 16 hours. They did stop in Chicago to watch the White Sox play the Red Sox.

In the lobby a solitary banner over the gift shop announced the tournament. Hotel lobby staff wore offical blue NCAA tournament polo shirts.

Other than that, you wouldn't know a national baseball tournament was about to start. "We walked to a sandwich shop and the guy asked us what we're doing in town," said Carey. "He didn't know about the tournament."

The hotel gift shop was well stocked with Green Bay Packers and University of Wisconsin shirts and souvenirs, but nothing connected with the national tournament. The manager said energy drinks were the big seller.

A mile or two away, the campus of Lawrence University was deserted. Its students, of course, were gone for the summer.

None of that mattered to the USM players. "Baseball is a game you play because you love playing," said Coach Ed Flaherty. "You don't care if nobody's watching."

Every year Flaherty goes to the College World Series. He served a term as president of the national college baseball coaches association. "It's changed. It's gotten much more corporate. I kind of like (the Division III tournament) better. It's baseball. Pure and simple."

Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter: SteveSolloway

 

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