The Trenton Acadians’ Austin Snow throws the ball to first base to attempt a double play against the Hampden R.H. Foster Riverdogs during the American Legion state tournament at Husson University on July 31, 2019. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

The 1975 Old Town-Orono American Legion baseball team, in just its second year of existence, won the state tournament and came very close to winning the Northeast Regional Tournament.

The Twins found themselves needing to beat the host Morrissette Post team twice in the championship round in Quincy, Massachusetts, to claim the title.

They won the first game 6-4 but lost a heartbreaker in the final, 4-2 in 11 innings.

David Paul was a 15-year-old pitcher-first baseman on that team.

The team was comprised of players from more than six different high schools and was coached by future New York Yankees manager Stump Merrill. Gabby Price — who went on to become the football coach at Bangor High School and Husson University — was one of his assistants and former University of Maine College World Series Most Valuable Player Joe Ferris was the other.

Paul is a member of the state’s American Legion baseball committee these days and is closing in on 40 years of involvement with American Legion baseball. Paul’s enthusiasm for the program has never waned even though the state has gone from having one zone in southern Maine with 17 Senior American Legion teams alone to the entire state now having a total of 16 Senior Legion teams, none farther south than Brunswick.

David Paul is a member of the state’s American Legion baseball committee and is closing in on 40 years of involvement with American Legion baseball. Credit: Courtesy of David Paul

That is a trend across the country.

Oklahoma has only two American Legion teams. Georgia has seven, Texas has eight, Tennessee and Arizona have nine apiece.

“I’m not surprised. There are so many different options for kids nowadays. Kids are being pulled in a bunch of different directions,” Paul said.

Summer lacrosse, soccer, football, hockey and basketball are among the options in addition to other travel baseball teams. Some kids decide to take the summer off from sports and just work.

“I don’t know if there are as many kids involved in baseball as there used to be, either,” said Paul. “A lot has changed.”

Paul can not only name all of his teammates from that 1975 team, he can also tell you where each player went to high school.

They would win the state title again in 1978 but suffered a pair of one-run losses to Rutland, Vermont, and Rome, New York, in the Northeast regional.

Paul went on to play college baseball at Eckerd College in Florida, and his summers were spent in the prestigious Shenandoah Valley League in Virginia and then the Cape Cod League.

The Orono native eventually returned to Orono and began coaching Old Town-Orono with David Gonyar in 1987. Gonyar moved on after three years to coach the Brewer team.

Paul, who was the head baseball coach at Old Town High School for 11 years, guided the Twins to consecutive state tournament titles in 1992, ’93 and ’94, and his Twins were runners up in ’95 and ’99.

He became the Zone I commissioner in 2001 after former commissioner Dennis Damon became a member of the Maine Senate representing Hancock County.

“He asked me to take it for a year while he got settled in. I’ll have to ask him if he got settled in,” said Paul, who remained the commissioner until the position was eliminated as the state went to just two zones [North and South] and formed a baseball committee to run the program.

The 62-year-old Paul doesn’t blame other travel baseball programs for the decline in Senior Legion teams.

“Some of them have beautiful facilities and can hold showcase tournaments where you can bring in 40 teams for a weekend tournament. You’ll have college coaches there,” Paul said.

That gives the players valuable exposure.

“You have to be realistic. I’m all for kids playing as much baseball as they can. What we can do is offer opportunities for the ones who want to participate,” Paul said. “No matter what league you play in, [college coaches] are going to see you play.”

He enjoys watching the games, especially the eight-team, double-elimination tournament, which will again be held at Husson University in Bangor beginning July 24.

“There is something to be said for tournament baseball. It is quite different than everything else,” Paul said.

Bangor Legion coach Dave Morris said they are “lucky” to have Paul involved.

“He is the driving force behind Legion baseball. He is a great ambassador for the game of baseball,” said Morris, who has been coaching for 23 years. “He has helped keep Legion ball alive and he has been able to keep it special.”

Morris also said he has been a valuable resource for coaches and has been a “great advocate” for them.

“He loves the game of baseball and I fed off his love of the game,” said former Lincoln Lumber coach John Montgomery from Millinocket, who played for Paul with the Twins. “He made the game so much fun at a highly competitive level.”

Montgomery went on to play for him when he was an assistant at Husson University under the late Hall of Fame coach John Winkin.

“His memory is amazing. He can remember every big play, every big pitch in any big game he was involved in. He can tell you what happened, pitch by pitch. We still talk about those times. They are great memories.”