Credit: Stock image | Pixabay

BANGOR, Maine — As the tryout session was ending, most of the players attempting to land spots on the Quirk Motor City Senior American Legion baseball team were gathering their gear and heading home.

But Matt Cunningham? He was still waiting to get started.

Quirk Motor City coach Cam Archer had heard of the pitching prospect but had not seen him in action because as a homeschooled student Cunningham never played high school baseball.

“I approached a few guys to throw bullpen after practice, guys that I knew were going to be on our staff,” Archer said. “Matt’s a very quiet kid so I kind of overlooked him, but he hung around and was one of the last ones there so I was kind of wondering what he was still doing in the dugout.

“He finally said, ‘Coach, would you like to see me throw? That’s kind of what I do. I pitch.’”

So Cunningham went to the mound, and Archer watched the mini-audition from just behind home plate.

“It only took about 15 or 20 pitches and I said, ‘You’ve got a spot on the team,’” Archer said. “He had good pop on his fastball, a live arm, a nice slider and a good breaking ball. He was pumping the zone and impressed me right off the bat.”

That first impression has proven to be no aberration as Cunningham has evolved from an unknown Legion quantity to part of the starting rotation for Quirk Motor City, which was ranked third in the Zone 1 standings entering this week.

“I knew if they saw me pitch they’d like what they saw,” said Cunningham, who grew up in Eddington but now lives in Bangor. “I was a little nervous, but I was confident.”

Cunningham began the week with a 1-1 record and a 2.61 earned run average in a team-leading six appearances covering 18⅔ innings this summer.

“Matt is a kid that’s made the most of every opportunity and not backed down from any moment,” Archer said. “He just has that level of excitement about him. He’s a great teammate.

“One of the biggest things about Matt is you can’t tell if things are going good or if things are going bad. He has an even-keeled head on his shoulders. He stays very composed and relaxed, which even at this age is tough to come by sometimes.”


Cunningham took up baseball at age 7 at his father’s urging and came up through the Holbrook Little League system before taking his first crack at American Legion competition this summer.

He attended Holbrook schools through eighth grade and played on the middle school team, but with the decision to be homeschooled for high school the opportunity to continue playing at the interscholastic level faded away.

Cunningham never stopped working on his game.

“Whenever baseball season ends I go into the gym and lift, I lift every other day during the winter and spring,” Cunningham said. “But once the fields dry up I’m back on the field every day and throwing to get my arm back to 100 percent. Usually my dad will come with me, and we’ll throw and he’ll pitch to me and I’ll hit. It’s a good time.”

The routine of summer baseball was somewhat in limbo this year after Cunningham aged out of Senior League play, but at the urging of longtime Holbrook Little League coach and official Karl Ward, he turned his attention to the American Legion ranks and in particular the return of Quirk Motor City to the diamond after a year’s absence.

“I never pulled back from baseball; I’d never quit,” said Cunningham, who graduated from high school in June and turned 18 Wednesday. “I’d always found a way to play baseball, and once I heard about this Legion opportunity I figured I’d give it it a try.”

Cunningham began the summer as a supporting member of a pitching staff that featured Houlton High School ace Nick Perfitt, John Bapst of Bangor standout Ethan Newcomb and Old Town’s Ryan Hoogterp, who just completed his freshman year at Husson University in Bangor.

“In the beginning I saw Matt as a long-inning relief guy if one of my starters got in trouble,” Archer said. “But in his first three appearances out of the bullpen I think he only gave up one earned run, so I knew I had to give this kid a shot with the ball in his hand right from the get-go.”

Cunningham got that chance against Post 51/16 of Oakland-Skowhegan on June 30 at Colby College in Waterville.

In his first pitching start of any kind since the previous summer, Cunningham allowed just three hits over 6⅔ innings in a Quirk Motor City victory.

“I felt good the whole game,” he said.

Cunningham followed that appearance with another solid start against second-place Hampden, yielding just two earned runs during a 4-3 loss to the River Dogs.

“Matt’s a gamer, he’s excited to go every day whether he’s in the lineup pitching or even if he’s not,” Archer said. “It’s unfortunate he didn’t get the experience of playing high school baseball, because just looking around the greater Bangor area for most teams he would have been in their top three pitching rotation.”

Cunningham hopes the conclusion of this summer’s Legion season — the Zone 1 tournament begins next weekend — won’t mark the end of his organized baseball career, and he may be eligible to play at the American Legion level again in 2019.

“Any baseball I can get into I will play,” he said. “I just like going out and playing competitive baseball. I like playing teams that are good because it makes me better. I always have room for improvement, but this summer’s definitely lived up to expectations. It’s what I thought it would be.”

Follow BDN Maine Sports on Facebook for the latest in Maine high school and college sports.

Avatar photo

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...