OLD ORCHARD BEACH — It was nearly the perfect birthday present. What was supposed to be a seven-inning first game of a doubleheader moved on to its eighth inning of play, and Raging Tide first baseman Trevor Fink led off the bottom of the frame with a double. Odds-makers would tell you that the probability that the Raging Tide would score ”“ and win ”“ was high. And on the day The Ballpark was celebrating its 30th year, the fans of the present-day tenant were on the verge of celebrating in style.

But the winning run never came for the Raging Tide. Pinch runner Mark Mainini was put out at third on a well-played bouncer by North Shore shortstop Stanley Susana. Two more grounders turned into two more outs, and a game that was seemingly over, wasn’t.

The Navigators then scored nine ”“ yes, nine ”“ runs in the top of the ninth, as they won the first game 12-3.

A pitcher’s duel in the second game also went North Shore’s way, a 2-1 affair.

The would-be celebration for a fledgling team and its three-decades old ballpark went quietly into the Old Orchard Beach night.

It’s been a rollercoaster ”“ and sometimes rough ”“ 30 years for The Ballpark. A place Sports Illustrated writer Steve Wulf once said “may be the prettiest ballpark in creation” (July 1984), was nearly extinct 20 years later. It’s been nearly five years since The Ballpark’s rebirth in 2009, and the Raging Tide of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League are trying to bring back what the Triple-A International League’s former Maine Guides once provided 30 years ago.

The Guides used to sell out the 6,000-seat stadium, and when they didn’t, it was close to capacity. Well, that was in the team’s first year at The Ballpark ”“ 1984. The team drew more than 180,000 fans in that first year, but dropped to less than 140,000 the next, and to an IL-low 105,000 in 1986.

The Guides changed to the Maine Phillies in 1988, then were gone in 1989.

It was a slow near-death over the next 20 years, so celebrating a 30th birthday with a fully-functional ballpark is in itself a cause for celebration.

The Raging Tide made the playoffs for the first time in its short existence last year. The team is fun to watch, led by a former Detroit Tigers draft pick in manager Chris “CT” Torres ”“ but really, try calling him by his first name. Torres calls himself a character, and he is, and he wants his team to be full of them. Torres has heard about what The Ballpark used to be like ”“ in its good days ”“ and he said he wants his team to bring that back.

Bringing a lead-off runner at second home will help Torres’ cause. So will bringing a sometimes forgotten ballpark back into the conscience of Old Orchard Beach’s many tourists.

For being 30 years old, The Ballpark is still young, just five years removed from dormancy. The facility is a work in progress, and there are signs of that progress. Who knows, maybe the 40th birthday will be a celebration to remember. Maybe Sports Illustrated can come back and marvel once again.

The fans are waiting.

— Staff Writer Wil Kramlich can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 323 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @WilTalkSports.

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