While the Major League Baseball pennant races have just heated up (along with the Maine weather), a historic and much smaller baseball league’s playoffs have just concluded.
Patriot Insurance won the Portland Twilight League championship last week with an 8-3 victory over Aero Heating and Ventilation at Deering Oaks.
It’s practically a sin not to know about Twilight, as it’s been in existence for an amazing 107 years.
The Twilight League is arguably the oldest continuous amateur baseball league of its kind in the country, with the Boston Park League being the only contender.
Southern Maine, specifically the city of Portland, has been rich with baseball tradition for decades upon decades, which is the underlying reason why the Twilight League has experienced such longevity. The league undergoes changes as the years pass depending on variables.
What started as games between Portland neighborhoods with bragging rights at stake, grew to a full-fledged league which drew crowds in the thousands back in the early to mid 1900s. However, the world and the league have drastically evolved for better and for worse.
The number of spectators for a regular season game at the landmark Deering Oaks ballfield (built in 1948) usually don’t even exceed 30 now. But one thing that has never changed about the league, is the raw competitiveness and passion for the national pastime that its players have and display day in and day out.
The games are played on Wednesday and Friday nights, with Sunday afternoon doubleheaders. It’s set up so players miss as little of work as possible. Rain can certainly wreck havoc on schedules, as it did this year, but that’s just part of the game.
Who exactly plays Twilight?
That’s where things get a bit interesting. Players must be out of high school, but there is no age limit. A typical Twilighter is talented baseball-wise, extremely dedicated and has a strong respect for the game. Each player pays a $220 league fee at the beginning of the season, too. Not only do players fork over some money, but they dedicate numerous hours to baseball between traveling and playing. That gives you a feel for the type of person who plays in the Twilight League.
The Twilight League is a level below the New England Collegiate Baseball League, which features a plethora of Major League prospects. The Twilight players are definitely solid all across the board, but not Major League caliber.
That said, a majority of Twilight players are between the ages of 18-23, which is prime college age. Many of these guys play with aluminum bats at Division III colleges around the northeast region in the spring. Some don’t play on a college team, but stay active throughout the year to prepare for the summer season. Come early May when they come home from school, they’re looking for more live action, so they turn to the Twilight League for local and competitive wood bat ball.
There are certainly other types of players as well. The 24-29 age group covers men who played and graduated from college but still love the game far too much to simply hang up their cleats. These are the veterans, who despite having jobs, families, and nagging injuries, continue to enjoy baseball to the fullest. Their leadership and masterful skills are extremely valuable to the spreading of knowledge. While there are 25-and-over leagues in the area, the quality of competition they feature does not even compare to Twilight.
The last age group is the 30-and-older bunch. These “old timers” are rare and valued commodities. Much like the 24-29 year old guys, the knowledge these elders bring to the table is remarkable. The old guys have been around the block a few times and have seen and experienced things around the game that younger guys for sure haven’t. These guys’ work ethics are phenomenal, not to mention their ageless skills.
Now shuffle those three age groups together and you have the Portland Twilight League.
Last year, there were six teams: Patriot Insurance, Aero Heating & Ventilation, Maine-LY Mobile Home Financing, Lenders Network, Bonanza of Sanford Steakhouse, and Pine State Plumbing and Heating.
This year, there were only five, as Pine State Plumbing and Heating folded.
Over the past few years, the league has seen a dynasty emerge in the form of the Patriot Insurance squad. This year’s championship made it four in a row. They capped off an 18-6 season after being 6-5 halfway through the year.
Yep, that’s back-to-back-to-back-to-back championships.
All were earned with a close and similar core of players, too.
The tandem of Miles Hunt and Adam Lemieux were at the helm for all four, with Hunt being more in charge with the managerial and paperwork duties.
However, Hunt is stepping down from coaching, as is Lemieux.
Hunt recently moved to Oxford to be closer to his job, so the lengthy drive to Portland for a game is just one of his reasons.
“Part of the reason Adam and I have been so successful is we show up to every single game,” said Hunt. “We’ve made baseball our focus, our families have always scheduled their time around baseball. We’ve really sacrificed, our families have sacrificed.”
Hunt, 27, and Lemieux, 28, have been best friends since childhood, graduated from Greely High School in 2000, and were integral players on Greely’s 1999 Class B State championship team.
Both played in the Twilight League as soon as possible after high school. After a few years of playing, they decided to step up once manager Jim Baumer moved on.
The duo drafted well their first year, 2006, grabbing some of the best pitching available. Both coaches see eye to eye on virtually every baseball decision, too, which makes things quite easy. Over the years of drafting well and compiling the perfect blend of youth and veterans, it’s actually not that surprising that Patriot Insurance is so dominant.
“Younger guys tend to latch on to older guys and their stories, and I tend to think they learn from their experiences,” Hunt said. “I think we’ve provided an atmosphere that the rookies mature a lot faster because we have older guys.”
The Patriot Insurance team is always a notch ahead of the competition, that’s just what the coaches have stressed. When other teams sometimes scavenge barely enough players for a game, Patriot Insurance always is there early warming up and has a handful of extras on the bench.
They are unique in the sense that they feature players from primarily Class B schools and smaller towns, such as Cumberland, Falmouth, and Gorham, as opposed to Portland. That’s a reflection of the coaches as well.
Playing major roles throughout the championship years have been Spike Einsiedler, Chris Donaldson, Luke Myers, John Carriero, Brent Lemiuex, Sam Green, and Will Barns. Certainly there are many other players who have played in past years, or are new to the squad this year, but listing them all is impossible.
The Twilight League promotes good ol’ fashioned ball for players of all ages, that’s the sheer beauty of it.
The league will have one huge change for its 108th year though, that’s for sure. Hunt has had his glory and it was a great ride.
“I just think it’s time for someone else to take the reigns,” said Hunt.
Whoever steps in will surely have some big shoes to fill and it’ll be interesting to see how it all pans out. Whatever happens though, you can guarantee another exciting Twilight season next summer.