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A baseball story, starring Regan Flaherty

Sports

A baseball story, starring Regan Flaherty

By Eric Carson

Regan Flaherty is one of the good guys.

A fine young man indeed, with several characteristics that will most certainly help him as he shuffles through this thing called life. But these are the sports pages of the Portland Forecaster, and this is a story about a young prospect lighting out to carve his own little place in this game we call baseball.

Between the white lines, the Flaherty baseball story begins and ends with one thing: his smooth, yet powerful, left-handed swing. It's one of those skills that just can't be taught. Sure, he can work on it, refine it, and he does, but for the most part he was born with it. Now 18, the Deering High School senior already stands 6-foot-2 and tips the scales at 190 pounds, and with some serious pedigree in the sport, he's begun to make some noise on a national scale in this game he so dearly loves.

Last summer, Flaherty stepped out beneath that ancient white frieze at the real Yankee Stadium and impressed enough to earn a spot on the East Coast Showcase team, a gathering of the top 30 high school players each year in Lakeland, Fla. That led to a spot on the Area Code team, where Flaherty raked, driving in a pair with a bases-loaded single in his first at-bat with over 200 scouts on hand at Long Beach State University in Southern California.

And as the hits and accomplishments, both team and individual, continue to pile up for Flaherty, he's begun to inch ever closer to realizing the most ultimate of American boyhood dreams, a shot at someday digging his spikes into a Major League Baseball batters box.

Flaherty is eligible for the MLB draft this June for the first time, and lately he's been busy fielding phone calls and e-mails from several big league clubs. The Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees, and San Francisco Giants have all sent scouts to at least one Deering game this spring. The Yankees and Giants went to the Rams' game at Scarborough in early May and set up video cameras to record that classic lefty swing during pregame batting practice. They picked a good day, Flaherty launched a towering blast over the rightfield fence that bounced in the street and made its way to the parking lot across the way before rolling to a stop. The blast, like a Hollywood producer after that perfect take, was one of those "that's a wrap" type shots for scouts on the scene. They left after Flaherty's first at-bat of the game. He was intentionally walked.

The Mariners, as of now his top suitor, invited Flaherty out to their pre-draft workout this June at Safeco Field, but his obligations to the Purple-and-White, namely the Rams' (14-0) chance to win their third straight Class A state title, won't allow him to attend. That's just fine, Flaherty and the Mariners have already had the "signability" talk, but it just won't happen this year. This young prospect has a previous engagement.

This fall, Flaherty will pack his bindle and continue chasing his dream down in Nashville, Tenn. Don't worry. His voice doesn't carry quite like a baseball does after running into his barrel, and he's got no plans of auditioning for Hee-Haw. The Vanderbilt University Commodores, an elite Division I program, decided before his junior season in high school to sign him to a full-scholarship, where he'll ply his trade in the powerful Southeastern Conference and room with one Mike Yastrzemski, the grandson of Red Sox legend and Hall of Famer, Carl Yastrzemski.

And though this is a baseball story about Regan Flaherty, it would be remiss not to mention one of the reasons that Vandy was so confident in signing him before his junior year, which by the way he missed almost entirely with a knee injury they knew all about. That would be big brother Ryan Flaherty, nickname Flash, who just finished four stellar seasons for the Commodores in 2008.

Ryan Flaherty's baseball resume reads like something out of a dream. He led Deering to a pair of state titles in 2003 and 2004 under coach Mike D'Andrea, the architect of this Deering baseball dynasty. After his junior season, Ryan helped the all-Deering High Nova Seafood American Legion team to the 2004 World Series in Spokane, Wash. D'Andrea and the Portland boys did more than hold their own, beating a Greater Denver all-star team to capture the national title.

Aye carumba.

Ryan then went off to Vanderbilt and continued to shine. Like Regan, big brother is a left-handed hitter with a beautiful swing, but throws right and plays shortstop. We can skip how impressive he was in college by simply stating he played one summer for Team USA, and then with the following proclamation: The Chicago Cubs selected shortstop Ryan Flaherty with the 41st pick in the 2008 Major League Baseball draft.

This season, his second in the minors, Ryan has advanced to Single A ball for the Cubs in Peoria, Ill., and has played well enough for the Chiefs that Baseball America has projected him as a regular at Wrigley Field by Opening Day, 2011.

Reached via telephone in Midland, Mich., moments after climbing off a seven-hour bus ride for a three-game set with the Great Lakes Loons, Ryan took the time to reflect on his little brother that he still speaks with at least once a day.

"Regan has always stood out," Ryan Flaherty said. "Even as a younger kid. We grew up playing in a neighborhood with a lot of kids around, older kids, older than me. So these guys were five or six years older than Regan, and even then he held his own. He has that tall, left-handed swing. He's at a pivotal point in his career, but he'll go down to Vanderbilt and be just fine. It's a process, and the more you prepare yourself the smoother the transition will be. We have two great parents that prepared us well. But Regan is the type of kid that will figure it out for himself. He's going to be fine."

After watching Ryan for four seasons, Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin, a New Hampshire native, tends to agree with his former shortstop. He's looking forward to penciling another Flaherty on the card for the next three seasons, at least, before Regan's eligible for the MLB draft again in 2012.

"We were able to see Regan play at a very young age," said Corbin. "He came down to our baseball camp and we watched him this summer in the showcase tournaments. Much like Ryan, we felt he had a very nice swing and was versatile defensively. He's very advanced for a New England high school player. I've always liked his social skills and his mental approach to the game of baseball. We're very excited he chose to come to school at Vanderbilt. I expect him to have an impact on our program, not because of what his brother did, but because of what he is capable of himself. Regan is a gem."

Speaking of pedigree, if you haven't figured it out yet, the Flaherty brothers have a Hall of Fame coach to lean on at home. Dad is indeed the legendary Ed Flaherty, now entering his 24th season as skipper for the University of Southern Maine baseball team, where he took a state-run commuter school and put it on the map as a national power. The Huskies have won two national titles under Flaherty, the last one in 1997. In 2005, he received the highest honor a college baseball coach can when he was inducted into The American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Impressive? You bet, considering of the 209 coaches ever inducted at that time only four had come from the D3 ranks.

Back in the day, Coach Flaherty was a fine ballplayer for John Winkin up in Orono. As a matter of fact, he's also a 1992 inductee into the University of Maine Baseball Hall of Fame. He was of course, a left-handed hitter. Like Regan the old man throws left-handed, and just like Ryan, played a summer for Team USA. The point: Dad is a major asset to the Flaherty brothers as they pursue their major league dreams.

But all of this talk can wait. For now, Regan, the prospect with that sweet left-handed swing, is preparing to cap a remarkable high school career with one more state championship. The core of this group has been teammates dating back to their Little League days in North Deering, and has always found winning baseball games quite to their liking. Top-ranked and undefeated once again, they sit on the cusp of a third straight Class A title. And like all true champions, they expect to go out on top.

"Even though most of us already have plans to play in college next year we still want to get No. 3," said Regan. "We've been together for a long time and been through a lot in baseball. We went to the Babe Ruth World Series in upstate New York, and we still have the same batting order one through five that we had then. It's crazy to think about it. But we definitely want to go out with a state championship. We just have to stay focused."

After that, this Deering team still has one final, final hurrah. They will play another summer together, and take one more shot at duplicating the amazing feats of the 2004 Nova Seafood team. They'll be reunited with D'Andrea, a former farmhand for Bobby Cox and the Atlanta Braves, and be expected to win the New England regionals and advance to the national tournament in good old Fargo, N.D.

D'Andrea, the winning pitcher in two of Portland High's state championship games in the mid-80s, and a record-setting hurler for the University of Maine, has uncanny instincts for the game of baseball. Regarded as one of the fiercest competitors of his era, he's witnessed Flaherty display that same quality time and time again over the years.

"First of all, Regan is a real competitor," said D'Andrea. "He's the type of athlete that wants to be up there when the game is on the line. And he delivers. His upside is tremendous. He's still getting bigger and he's still getting stronger. He's got very good hands, like Ryan. It's one characteristic of being a Flaherty. It's pretty evident they get that from their mother. He's got the ability to adjust in-pitch, get extended or stay in tight to get his barrel to the baseball. He wants to get better. He knows that he has to get better. And when it comes to baseball he still has a smile on his face. When you put that all together you got a pretty good product right there. There's a reason he's going to Vanderbilt. He has a dream. And he's a competitor. He'll rise to the challenge."

This is a baseball story about Regan Flaherty, but it's only the first chapter. Next fall he'll head out on his own for the first time, toting that sweet swing down south and chasing all those promises wrapped up in his dream. The prospect shuffles along, the Portland kid with family in his heart and baseball in his blood.

And yes, that one recurring dream.

 

 

Photo:
Regan Flaherty celebrated during Deering's exhilarating Class A state championship game win last spring, one of his countless memorable moments in purple and white. (File photo)