ORONO — Paul Mitchell glanced over his shoulder. For a moment he looked like a youngster sneaking a peek at something too fabulous to comprehend.

“I’m still shocked to see my name up there,” said the 86-year-old former University of Maine second baseman. “Welcome to the Paul J. Mitchell Batting Pavilion. Let’s go inside.”

Pick up a bat. Try it out. Mitchell would get the first swing. Suddenly the eldest child of a remarkable Waterville family was that kid again. Truth be told, before all the speechmaking began under a summer sun, he did sneak into the new pavilion to take a cut. Or two.

The newest addition to the University of Maine athletic facilities was dedicated Tuesday, a brick building with room for two indoor batting areas. It was a grand building in its brick-and-glass warmth. But not grandiose.

You can say the same for the Mitchell family and its extended clan. Yes, Paul Mitchell is the oldest brother to John, better known as Swisher for his basketball prowess at the University of Rhode Island. Then there’s George, the youngest brother and former Senate majority leader and peacemaker in places like Northern Ireland.

They and their sister, the baby of the family, grew up in the blue-collar section of Waterville knowing they had little money but plenty of everything else. Family love sustained them then and does so now, passed down to another generation.

Paul Mitchell is a successful businessman in Waterville and a member of the university board of trustees. That alone didn’t put his name on the handsome brick pavilion. His son-in-law and daughter, Stuart and Linda Price, led the fundraising for the $454,000 project. Call it a gift to dad and by extension, the university.

“There’s an Oklahoma saying,” said Stuart Price, a former gas and oil executive. “If you ain’t giving, you ain’t living.”

By that measure, the Mitchells have done a lot of living. “We did everything we could to make 50 cents or a dollar,” said Paul Mitchell. “We lived in circumstances that were tough. We picked beans if that meant we could earn money.

“Then you start thinking, what have you done for others who need more than you.”

Some seven years separate Paul from his youngest brother, George. Their father was an Irish orphan who had the equivalent of a fourth-grade education. Their mother was a Lebanese immigrant.

The family lived near the Boys and Girls Club. Paul and Swisher, the closest in age, were always there playing sports. When Swisher was in the eighth grade, he went to see Paul play baseball for Waterville High on a day that made history, or certainly a good family story.

It seems that young Paul hit triples in each of his first two at-bats. Both times he was picked off third base. After the second time the head coach gruffly took Paul out of the game. The hitting star was benched.

Both times, Paul had strolled off the base with a smile that stretched from Waterville to Winslow, said Swisher. Family research could not find another ballplayer anywhere else doing the same or topping it.

Tuesday, Paul Mitchell tried to live down the roasting and the toasting.

“I’m really not certain I recognize the person we’re talking about.”

“This is a great legacy day,” said Kevin Mahaney. The name of his father, Larry Mahaney, is on the baseball clubhouse. “We’re just caretakers. The diamond here at the University of Maine continually needs to be polished. We have the responsibility to keep it bright.”

The crowd of nearly 200 was with him. John Winkin, who did so much to give Maine baseball a national profile in the 1980s, was present. So were other friends of the university, the baseball program and family.

Sen. Susan Collins and her new husband, Thomas Daffron, a former vice president of the Baltimore Orioles, were in the crowd. So was former governor John Baldacci. And former Sen. George Mitchell, of course.

George Mitchell, once considered a candidate for baseball commissioner, smiled when I asked him about Roger Clemens’ desire to pitch again in independent baseball at age 50. The former senator also authored the Mitchell Report, the independent investigation into the illegal use of steroids and performance-enhancing substances.

Clemens was in that report.

“I haven’t seen the story yet. I must read it. But no, I have no comment.” His grin widened. Tuesday was a day for good news.

After years of negativity, struggles and finger-pointing over lack of progress in building and renovating facilities, there was a we-can, we-did-it feeling.

“It started with Stuart Price talking to (university president) Paul Ferguson,” said Steve Abbott, Maine’s athletic director. “We had committed parties who came together. This was started over the winter and open on August 21.

“I think it sends a message to everyone. We have a vision. We know how to leverage your gifts.”

The Memorial Gym and Field House stood behind Abbott. The first stage of its $14 million upgrade is due to start next spring. The project seemed stalled. Tuesday, there was hope.

“My father told me once,” said George Mitchell, “if you do well in life, you have an obligation to help others. I don’t know if he told my brothers the same thing. I know I believe it.”

 

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

Twitter: SteveSolloway