April 17, 2013

Dave McConnell: From the beginning, a guiding force

The former Kennebunk High headmaster and college professor might have found his true dream job at Hadlock Field.

By Glenn Jordan gjordan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

From headmaster to head usher isn’t much of a stretch.

click image to enlarge

Dave McConnell listens to the national anthem prior to a Sea Dogs game earlier this month at Hadlock Field. McConnell has been the head usher for all of the Sea Dogs' 20 years.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

As the former, Dave McConnell directed a staff of teachers as they guided hundreds of students through the busy world of Kennebunk High School.

As the latter, McConnell directs a staff of ushers – many of them with teaching certificates – as they guide hundreds of fans through the busy world of Hadlock Field.

He’s been head usher at Hadlock Field since the Sea Dogs played their first game in April 1994. Afterward, Charlie Eshbach – current team president and then general manager – asked McConnell how things went.

“Charlie, I think they went pretty well,” McConnell said. “There are five or six things that I’d like to do a little different, but I want to check with you to see if it’s all right.”

Eshbach – who knew of McConnell’s background (a former athletic director and coach in Connecticut and professor of education at the University of Hartford) – told McConnell to do as he saw fit.

“He said, 'We don’t have to meet. Try them. If they don’t work, you’re bright enough to think of something else,’” McConnell said.

There’s a word for that style of management, McConnell said. It’s called empowerment. Eshbach and Sea Dogs owner Dan Burke knew how to hire good people and get out of their way.

McConnell grew up in Kennebunk, as did his father (who is enshrined in the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame as an umpire) and grandmother. His wife, Carolyn, was in the same graduating class of 1956. McConnell went to Springfield College to play baseball, but as a freshman hurt his arm – a torn rhomboid muscle – and never put on a uniform.

He coached basketball for 16 years and baseball for three at Lewis Mills High in Burlington, Conn., where one of his best players signed a letter of intent for UConn in McConnell’s living room, under the watchful eyes of Huskies head coach Dee Rowe and his enthusiastic young assistant, Jimmy Valvano.

The headmaster job at his old high school in Maine lured McConnell away from a tenure-track position at Hartford in 1990, and he remained at Kennebunk High for 11 years. He might have stayed longer if not for a visit to Viera, Fla., where former Sea Dogs manager Fredi Gonzalez and farm director John Boles gave him a tour of Space Coast Stadium and the Carl Barger Minor League Complex, where the Florida Marlins held spring training.

“It was fascinating to me,” said McConnell, who soon learned from Boles that the fellow who was head of security and operations planned to stay only one more year.

“You’d be perfect for this,” said Boles, and introduced McConnell to Mike Parkinson, the man on his way out. Parkinson and McConnell hit it off so well, an offer was made and accepted that afternoon, which surprised Carolyn McConnell when her husband returned to the car with news that he planned to resign as headmaster.

“I told her, this is what I want to do, come down here,” he said. “Every kid aspires – no matter how good you are; I did, you did – to be a major league ballplayer. I said I’ve made the major leagues in a different way.”

 

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:
gjordan@pressherald.com
Twitter: GlennJordanPPH

 

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