Waiting for the connecting flight that would take them on to Alabama, the teenagers lost track of time in the airport arcade. Again and again they fed coins into the video games that allowed them to smash asteroids or turn back hordes of space invaders.

Their concentration was finally broken by a loud voice coming from the airport speakers: Will the baseball team from Portland, Maine, please report to your gate. Your plane is about to leave.

“I remember getting lost,” said Greg Conley of a summer day 30 years ago. “We ran. They held the plane for us. We made it.”

He was 15 years old, the catcher and unofficial captain of the Portland Babe Ruth All-Stars that captured their own lightning in a bottle and went all the way to the 1981 Babe Ruth World Series in Mobile.

For boys who felt they were about to become men, it was a magical ride they’ll try to relive Saturday at Crescent Beach in Cape Elizabeth.

In 1981, they beat a touted team from New Orleans in their first game. They beat a team from Honolulu. Then came losses to Kentucky and New Orleans, which completed a nice comeback to win the national title.

When Conley and his teammates returned to Portland, three teams remained in the tournament. Then, that fact couldn’t ease the disappointment. Today, they can find satisfaction.

“It’s just really cool what we accomplished,” said Conley. “It was phenomenal, especially when you’re just playing for the love of the game like we were.”

At 14 and 15, they couldn’t see where life’s paths would take them. They didn’t yet know what the game had in store for them.

Conley went on to Rollins College in Florida and a career that put him in that school’s sports hall of fame. He played four seasons in the San Diego Padres’ farm system.

Marc Powers pitched a perfect game in the New England championships, stamping the team’s ticket to Alabama.

Later he pitched for Maine in the 1986 College World Series and was imperfect, working in relief and giving up two home runs that enabled Arizona to cut into Maine’s 7-0 lead and eventually win, 8-7.

Gary LaPierre was Portland’s leadoff hitter and center fielder, and played with Powers at Maine. John McCartney pitched the University of Southern Maine into the NCAA tournament.

Shortstop Scott Littlefield had his baseball career curtailed by a football injury in high school but is now a scout for the Texas Rangers. His older brother, Dave Littlefield, was a coach on that Babe Ruth All-Star team and ultimately wound up as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ general manager for more than six seasons until he was fired in 2007.

Shaun Hawkins, an infielder and outfielder, would have greater success in football. Two years after Mobile, he won the Fitzpatrick Award and later had an All-Ivy League career at wide receiver for Cornell. It was Hawkins who organized Saturday’s reunion. His father, Brian Hawkins, a local lawyer, was the Portland Babe Ruth League commissioner in 1981 and organized the bus trip from Maine to Alabama for about 40 family members and friends. The ride took about 25 hours. The team, Shaun Hawkins remembers, flew from Boston to Atlanta on Eastern Airlines. It was his first time on a plane. He still has his boarding pass.

He was playing Space Invaders when the call came for the team to report to their gate. Hawkins laughs. He is only 45 and arcade video games are so in the past.

He remembers the second loss in Mobile and the trip home. “It was a bummer. We had felt like rock stars and it ended so quickly. It was such an emotional letdown. We had to think about going back to school.” High school football practice was starting.

Hawkins has returned to Maine after living elsewhere. Conley settled in Alpharetta, Ga., outside Atlanta, soon after his minor league career was over. He has memories to renew. Try as he might, he can’t recall much from catching Powers’ perfect game.

“Marc did all the work. I just called the pitches. I can’t remember if I got nervous. You’re asking me about something that happened 30 years ago.

“I do know, as the years go by, I cherish that summer more and more.”


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

Twitter: SteveSolloway


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