Jake Gardiner remembers getting to South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, for the Little League World Series, stepping off the bus and into the world of a baseball bigshot.

There were the kids asking for autographs. The media asking for interviews. The fans, hundreds of them, ready to watch him and his teammates play. The national cameras, ready to broadcast their actions to millions more.

“You’re a celebrity down there,” said Gardiner, now 30. “You’re treated like kings at this top-notch facility. You are literally living the baseball dream.”

Gardiner and the rest of the 2005 Westbrook Little League team got to experience it. Now, after 18 years, another Maine team is finally getting that chance. Gray-New Gloucester/Raymond is in the Little League World Series after winning the New England regional tournament, which gives its champion the chance to compete with 19 other U.S. and international teams for a world championship.

The 2005 Westbrook all-stars, made up of 11- and 12-year-olds, were the last team from Maine to make it to Williamsport.

Jake Gardiner, left, and Sean Murphy are former players of the last baseball team from Maine to play in the Little League World Series – the 2005 Westbrook all-stars. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“I feel like it’s been a long time coming,” said Joey Royer, 30, a pitcher and outfielder for the team who now lives in Northford, Connecticut. “It’s really cool to see another small-town Maine team make it this far. We were all a little anxious to have it be another team come out of Maine and kind of step on that top tier with us.”


“I’m proud, I would say, that another community gets to experience Williamsport,” said Sean Murphy, 30, who pitched and played outfield and now lives in Scarborough and works as a health teacher at Bonny Eagle Middle School. “Everyone wants them to do well, and I think they’re going to have a really good run here.”

The Westbrook players enjoyed their distinction – for a while. Now they’re happy to see another team take over.

Zach Collett, a former player from the last baseball team from Maine to play in the Little League World Series – the 2005 Westbrook all-stars poses for a portrait at Westbrook Little League Complex on Tuesday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“I feel like we’re all in the same boat, that there were numerous years afterward where we didn’t want it to happen,” Royer said with a laugh. “We made history. Being selfish as a younger kid, similar to pros, no one wants anyone to break a record. But at 18 years, absolutely. This is incredible.”


The Westbrook players know what the Gray-NG team has to look forward to. The Little League World Series is like a trip to baseball fantasy camp. Players are around their teammates for all hours of the day, and there are events scheduled for them from the time they wake up in the morning to the time they go to bed at night.

“It feels like it never ends,” said Tom Lemay, 30, a catcher and second baseman now working as a product engineer and living in Boston. “I think we had probably three or four weeks straight where it was just us 12, and no parents. … We had a lot of freedom to just be kids.”


Westbrook earned its trip with a spirited run through the New England regional tournament, losing its first three games (the tournament started with pool play back then) before rallying to stun Rhode Island, Connecticut and Rhode Island again to win the championship. Connecticut, the tournament host, beat Westbrook in the first game behind hard-throwing pitcher David Wiegard, but rested him for the rematch and tried to beat the Maine representative with its second-best pitcher.

Westbrook made Connecticut pay, winning 6-4 in front of a boisterous crowd. Two days later, they won the regional championship game and a trip to Pennsylvania.

“We knew Rhode Island didn’t stand a chance,” said Gardiner, who now lives in Windham. “We were riding that wave.”

Upon reaching Williamsport, the Westbrook players got to bask in the national scene. Before their first game against Louisiana, Boston Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek gave them a call to wish them well.

“You had to pinch yourself,” said 30-year-old Zach Gardiner, Jake’s brother, who played shortstop and now lives in Quincy, Massachusetts, and works as an HVAC technician. “I didn’t really soak it in until I got there. On our opening night, there were thousands and thousands of people that just packed that stadium. You literally felt like you were in the major leagues.”

Westbrook acquitted itself well in Williamsport. The Maine representative went 1-2, losing to Louisiana (3-2) and California (7-3) before finishing by beating Kentucky, 3-2. Even the losses didn’t ruin the majesty of the moment; Royer gave up a grand slam in the California loss that went 260 feet, landing 50 feet past the fence.


“I gave up probably one of the longest home runs in Little League history that night, and I distinctly remember waking up the next morning and we had the TV on and (saw) the reruns of the home run on ESPN all day long,” Royer said. “Even though it sucked, it was pretty cool to see me on there.”

The games, though, were only part of the experience. The time spent together is what has lasted with those players.

“It creates that lifelong bond,” said Zach Collett, 30, a second and third baseman who still lives in Westbrook and works as an accountant. “The people who I played with in the World Series are my best friends, to this day.”


Several of the Westbrook players have a group chat going, where they stay caught up on each other’s lives and careers. Messages are frequent, even daily, and every August, the conversation returns to a familiar topic.

“Every year, when the Little League World Series comes up, we always talk about it,” Zach Gardiner said.


This year, the annual topic took on a different note. Murphy, who taught at Gray-New Gloucester Middle School last year, had several of the Gray-NG players in his health class. He had seen them play. And he told his former Westbrook teammates to keep an eye on them.

“He’d always say ‘Hey guys, you’ve got to check this team out. These guys have a chance,’ ” Jake Gardiner said. “We went ‘Yeah, whatever Murph.’ He’s like ‘No man, they have some pitching and they can hit, too.’

“He kept saying this, and as we were following them through (the New England tournament), we were like ‘Oh wow, this team has a chance.’ That’s when our conversation started picking up.”

Now those Westbrook players have watched this Gray-NG team. And they like what they see.

“They seem to have multiple pitchers who can go out and shove,” Lemay said. “It’s super, super important that you have multiple people who can go out and throw hard.”

Royer, who lives 40 minutes from where the tournament was played in Bristol, joined Murphy to watch the final game, a 2-1 victory over Canton, Massachusetts. In watching the Gray-NG team, he saw shades of his own.


“They were all about playing their game and getting down to business,” he said. “Similar to us, we weren’t a flashy team or anything of that nature. We just played the game the right way, got down to business and tried to get the job done.”

Murphy, who along with Royer congratulated the Gray-NG players afterward, sees the same embracing of the “us versus them” mentality in both teams.

“We were looked at down at regionals as kind of a write-off. ‘Oh, Maine never wins. Maine’s a joke of a team coming in here. We’re going to run right over them,’ ” Murphy said. “(There are) extreme similarities. … They just work hard, they’re very disciplined.”

The Westbrook players know just how much a trip to the Little League World Series can lift a community. The players were treated to a parade upon their return, and Westbrook’s Little League fields got lights as a result of increased donations because of the attention generated by their run.

“It’s enormous,” Lemay said. “Maine takes its local sports and Maine representation to another level. Everyone gets behind them.”

Some former players and Coaches from the last baseball team from Maine to play in the Little League World Series – the 2005 Westbrook all-stars stand on the pitcher’s mound at Volunteer Field within the Westbrook Little League Complex on Tuesday. From left: assistant Coach Harold Bettney, first baseman Jake Gardiner, starting pitcher Sean Murphy, third baseman Michael Boothby, head Coach Rick Knight and assistant Coach Don Meserve. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

A trip to Williamsport, Collett said, can help the Gray-NG players see a baseball future beyond the tournament as well.

“Hopefully they can see that the dream is a possibility,” Collett said. “That dream’s a reality. If they want to go get it, they can get it. No better time to learn about it and start that dream than when you’re 12 and you understand ‘Hey, I can compete with the kids from California, Florida, all around the country.’ I think that’s really the magic that it brings.”

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