The Willard School baseball team on the steps of the school, circa 1920. Photo courtesy of Jody Thompson Hill Collection

In a column in February of 2017, I first mentioned our desire to document a South Portland Sports Hall of Fame at our historical society. At the time, we were in the midst of cataloging the Davis Collection, which contained a lot of material on the Portland Sagamores, a semi-pro football team made up of many South Portland natives.

For a relatively small community, South Portland seems to have a high percentage of young people who have made it to playing at the professional level.

Over the course of 2019, we continued work on the hall of fame with the help of Alan Livingston who is a significant figure in the history of baseball in South Portland. Not only was Al a star athlete in Maine baseball, but he went on to play an important role in the development of baseball talent in our community.

One might quickly point to his role as a high school baseball coach, especially when looking at an album of players that he’s worked with and seeing Billy Swift’s face among the team members. However, his involvement in American Legion baseball and in the Portland Twilight League have also provided added ways for young people to develop their skills.

We are particularly grateful to Al because he has also spent time writing and documenting some of this history himself, and no one would be better able to write about South Portland’s baseball past than Al Livingston (our athletic director at the high school, Todd Livingston, is his son).

Another special person in our community’s history of baseball would be Vinnie Degifico. Vinnie was a star athlete in high school, also developing his skills in American Legion ball and the Portland Twilight League, and while attending the University of Southern Maine in the 1980s. He was drafted by the Boston Red Sox. He played for five seasons in the Red Sox organization and when an injury finally ended that career, he chose to return to Maine and lend his talents to the development of new and upcoming players. He has been the assistant baseball coach at USM for about 27 years now.

Our new exhibit at the museum for 2020 will cover the history of baseball in South Portland. We’ll highlight some of our own sports figures who have played at the professional level, like Billy Swift, Jim Beattie, Harry Lord, Mike Howard, Fred Howard, and Charlie Furbush, as well as other local players, and the coaches, teachers, managers, and other people who have made a difference in the lives of our kids, from Little League on up.

If you have a special piece of South Portland-related baseball memorabilia that you would be willing to donate or put on loan for this exhibit, please let us know. You can reach us by phone at 207-767-7299, email at [email protected], or message us on Facebook at South Portland Historical Society. Thank you.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of the South Portland Historical Society.

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