ORONO, Maine — There is a gleam these days in Luke Morrill’s dark-green eyes.
It’s not because the South Thomaston native is having his best season as a member of the University of Maine baseball team. Nor does it have anything to do with his sense of satisfaction that he will graduate on Saturday with a degree in business management.
Morrill’s sense of fulfillment is instead a reflection of having a young family that includes his fiancee, Bri Hammond, and their 10-month-old son, Maddux.
“It puts life into a new perspective for you and baseball’s not the most important thing any more,” Morrill said Wednesday as he held his baby boy, who is named after former Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame Pitcher Greg Maddux.
Morrill and his fellow seniors hope to provide productivity and leadership starting Friday when UMaine opens a pivotal, three-game America East series against Binghamton with a 4 p.m. doubleheader at Mahaney Diamond.
Coach Steve Trimper’s sixth-place Black Bears (19-24, 5-9 AE) need victories if they hope to earn a spot in the postseason.
“I think we’re in a good position these upcoming weekends to get some wins and get ourselves into the tournament,” said Morrill, a former standout at Rockland High School.
UMaine’s third baseman has enjoyed an outstanding senior season after encountering challenges on and off the field during his career.
Despite being hampered by a balky hamstring, he leads the team with a .363 batting average that includes 13 doubles, two home runs and 26 runs batted in. He has five stolen bases.
Morrill worked primarily as a pitcher his first two seasons but was plagued by arm injuries. He broke into the lineup last year before becoming a full-time starter in 2015.
“Toward the end of last season, he got an opportunity to become an everyday guy and really shined,” Trimper said. “I think that’s a testament to how hard he works. He never gave up.”
Morrill played the 2014 season realizing that his life was about to change in a profound way. With Maddux due to be born in July, uncertainty abounded.
Trimper had concerns about Morrill’s desire to return to the team for his senior year, given the dynamics of the situation, but Hammond was determined to make sure Morrill got the opportunity to play ball.
The Greene native was a soccer player at UMaine. A week before learning that she was pregnant, she had relinquished her roster spot after three knee surgeries.
“The first thing I said is that he’s not going to stop playing baseball and that we were going to figure everything out,” Hammond said.
“I knew how much he really loved baseball and how much the team was important to him, so I didn’t want him to lose that, and I wanted Maddux to be part of that, too,” she added.
The couple has made sacrifices as they make the transition from college student-athletes to working parents.
Morrill took three summer classes a year ago to make sure he would graduate in four years. He calls it his biggest accomplishment at UMaine.
Hammond completed her degree in child development last semester and ever since has been working on UMaine’s student-athlete academic support staff.
Morrill has been balancing his class work with baseball commitments as both experience parenthood, including the still-frequent disruptions to their sleep cycle.
Morrill said becoming a father and family man have been instrumental in his on-field success this spring.
“At this level, you can put so much pressure on yourself. I just found myself able to enjoy the game and to make it fun again,” he said of his new-found perspective.
“He’s really having fun with it this year, and that’s very nice to see,” Hammond said.
Morrill expressed his love and appreciation for Hammond’s efforts in enabling him to finish out his career.
“The amount of work Bri puts in is unbelievable,” Morrill said. “There’s some weeks where she’s honestly like a single mother because I can’t be around. I couldn’t do it without her.”
The couple do have a good supply of potential babysitters in their teammates and friends.
“We know that it’s only temporary so we could get through it,” Hammond said.
Maddux is a frequent visitor to Mahaney Diamond, where he attends games with his mother and grandparents. He also has access to Mahaney Clubhouse.
“They’re great with him,” Morrill said of his teammates. “He definitely brings a smile to just about everyone that holds him or sees him.”
Morrill had a brush with the law in December 2010, when he and teammate Shane Bussey were initially charged with burglary after they allegedly broke into a university storage shed and removed tools.
Both were suspended from the team indefinitely, but they were later reinstated and sat out six games. The men pleaded no contest in May 2014 to disorderly conduct and paid a $300 fine.
Morrill declined to comment, other than to say he has put the incident behind him.
Trimper said Morrill has demonstrated considerable personal growth, in addition to improved baseball skills, while at UMaine.
“Luke has matured and grown up in four years,” Trimper said. “He’s one of those guys that if he’s made a mistake, he’s learned, and it’s made him a better person.”
Morrill’s short-term goal is to enjoy his last few weeks of baseball, especially alongside fellow seniors Scott Heath, Sam Balzano and Brian Doran, all of whom arrived at UMaine together in 2011.
Soon he and Hammond will move to the midcoast, where Morrill will continue a family tradition working as a lobsterman alongside his dad, “Casey” Morrill.
“I’ve worked with him my entire life,” Luke Morrill said. “This is the first time I’m going to be there every day. It’s a little more pay but a lot more work.”
Morrill and Hammond will be married in July.