This story was updated at 10:05 a.m. on 9/18

DAMARISCOTTA – It’s easy to miss among the autographed baseball jerseys, the vintage photos, the hands-on display showing how baseballs are made, the 38-ounce bats, the pristine Ted Williams baseball cards …

But down there in one corner of Bud Elwin’s sidewalk shrine on Main Street, right next to the jaw-dropping photo of Shoeless Joe Jackson, Ty Cobb and Nap Lajoie, you’ll find an anything-but-baseball bumper sticker.

It reads, “It Shouldn’t Hurt to Be a Child.”

“I love that saying,” mused Elwin, dressed in his finest Boston Red Sox whites, as this postcard-perfect midcoast village came to life Saturday morning. “I just think that’s so appropriate.”

Actually, Elwin, 72, does a lot more than just think about it.

Every Friday and Saturday for the last four months, he’s laid out his treasure trove of baseball memorabilia with one simple goal in mind: To raise $5,000 for Healthy Kids Damariscotta, also known as the Child Abuse and Neglect Council of Lincoln County.

“So far I’ve raised a little over $3,500,” Elwin said, as passing motorists and pedestrians all paused to holler “Hey, Bud!” (To which he invariably waved and hollered back, “Howaya, Kid!”)

Why baseball? And why kids at risk of being abused and neglected?

Let’s start with the baseball.

Elwin grew up in Somerville, Mass., just north of Boston.

He can still remember hopping aboard the trolley with his buddies in the late 1940s, waiting first-in-line for a few hours at the bleacher-tickets window at Fenway Park and then staring in awe from the front-row bleachers while the legendary Ted Williams played left field in the shadow of what we now call the Green Monster.

“He was our hero,” recalled Elwin. “In the morning you’d wake up and first say, ‘How did Ted do?’ And then you’d say, ‘How did the Red Sox do?’ “

But then came 1960. Teddy Ballgame homered one last time in his final at bat and retired to a life of fishing and hunting before passing away in 2002.

And Boston’s often-merciless sportswriters, who for most of his 19-year career portrayed Williams as a brooding anti-hero, moved on to the next generation of Red Sox legends.

“Life moved on,” said Elwin, who married his wife, Janet, raised a family and spent a 32-year career with Hewlett Packard in Massachusetts.

Fast forward to four years ago, when Elwin stumbled across a book titled “It’s Only Me — The Ted Williams We Hardly Knew” by author and longtime Williams confidante John Underwood.

Tucked inside the book’s front cover, Elwin found an hourlong CD with excerpts from Underwood’s many interviews with Williams over the years. The recordings changed Elwin’s life.

“I had never heard Ted talk before,” said Elwin. “Just to hear him talking — from his childhood to crash landing his fighter jet in Korea to his .406 (all-time-high batting average) season to his last at bat — it was like being with him. Like I was sitting there with him.”

Elwin devoured Underwood’s book and went on to digest 33 more tomes about the man they also called “The Splendid Splinter,” “The Thumper” and “The Kid.”

“I now claim I know more about Ted than he knew about himself,” said Elwin, who shares his newfound expertise on the local lecture circuit.

He’s also become a collector: The array of relics surrounding Elwin Saturday morning included a genuine Red Sox jersey with Williams’ autograph on the front and his legendary number “9” on the back; a framed photo of Williams and New York Yankees rival Joe DiMaggio, signed by both; another of Williams and Yankees slugger Mickey Mantle, also with matching autographs; a signed Williams bat; and a pair of Red Sox windbreakers adorned with patches commemorating Williams’ service as a Marine fighter pilot in World War II and Korea, his .388 lifetime batting average and his .406 batting miracle in 1941.

Add to that another batch of memorabilia from the Red Sox’ annual Fantasy Camp in Fort Myers, Fla. — Elwin has attended the last two years and plans to return this winter — and, well, let’s just say the man’s got a small museum on his hands.

Now for the kids.

Several months ago, a board member for Healthy Kids Damariscotta stopped by the Wawenock Golf Club in nearby Walpole to inquire about holding a Labor Day golf tournament to benefit the nonprofit agency. Elwin, who works at the golf course, said he’d be happy to help put it together.

“But that was back in May,” he recalled. “And I thought, ‘That’s a long time to go without money. There must be something else I can do.”‘

Hence the spectacle that’s greeted visitors to this vacation hot spot every Friday and Saturday this summer from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.: a noticeably fit septuagenarian in a spotless Red Sox uniform (his own from the camp) standing right smack in the middle of downtown, selling $5 tickets to a weekly raffle on behalf of area kids who need all the help they can get.

Weekly prizewinners get their pick from a rack of modern-day Red Sox jerseys (all purchased by Elwin) with names like “Ortiz,” “Varitek,” “Ellsbury” or “Papelbon” on the back. Or, if you’re from you-know-where, you can opt for a Yankees jersey commemorating “Ruth,” “Maris,” “Mantle,” “Gehrig” or “Berra.”

You can also get your photo taken wearing Teddy Ballgame’s jersey and wielding his signed bat or take in Elwin’s show-and-tell on how major league baseballs are made (right down to the Lena Blackburne Original Baseball Rubbing Mud umpires still use to take the sheen off new balls).

And get this — even if you win a weekly drawing, your ticket goes back into the bucket. Meaning you’re still in the running for the grand prize — a framed, autographed photo of Williams worth an estimated $2,000 — to be awarded at the end of Damariscotta’s Pumpkinfest & Regatta on Oct. 9.

All this because Elwin, who’s become well known in local charity circles since he and his wife moved here 22 years ago, lives by one simple rule.

“I get involved with any organization I can help,” he said with a smile. “You have to give back.”

(Among his many other efforts, Elwin recently donated an autographed picture of Red Sox great Bobby Doerr to help a local bank raise $1,200 for the Jimmy Fund.)

Leslie Livingston, executive director of Healthy Kids Damariscotta, noted last week that it’s been a rough few years for the agency since it lost $100,000 in state funding (almost half its annual operating budget) three years ago. Hence, she said, Elwin’s willingness to step up couldn’t come at a better time.

“We are extremely appreciative of his monetary help,” Livingston said. “But also his energy and passion for what we’re doing. And for his humor.”

One last thing about that humor: Elwin never bids goodbye to people. Instead, he holds out his hand and, with a twinkle in his eye, says, “I’ll see you when you’re older!”

Turns out that for some kids in these parts, that’s no longer just a clever farewell.

It’s a promise.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

[email protected]


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