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Bernier, Kevin (2013)

Bernier, Kevin (13)

When asked to talk about Kevin Bernier as a candidate for the Maine Baseball Hall Of Fame, his former coach at Oxford Hills High School and an accomplished man of letters, Hank Burns, probably summed up what those who know and played with Kevin would say. His response was, “Ah, Kevin Bernier!”, as if remembering a rare jewel. Kevin certainly sparkled from many facets on the baseball diamond though you will never hear it from him.

Kevin’s baseball roots go back to the 1950’s and 1960’s when a quick look at The Lewiston Daily Sun would reveal no less than six amateur baseball leagues flourishing in the Lewiston/Auburn area. In fact, if you check a box score from the West Minot teams of that era, you will find a Bernier patrolling the outfield. That would be his dad. The West Minot / Hebron area had many accomplished role models for a young man to learn from. In addition to Kevin’s father and grandfather, he was around some great baseball men -The Gammon brothers, a Clough or two, and the Trundys. One of those Trundys, his uncle Jeff, will be going into the Hall today with him, and that is appropriate. Their baseball lives have always been intertwined. His uncle recalls, "I vividly remember pitching to Kevin for hour after hour in a little makeshift ball yard that was constructed in the field next to my parents' home. Even from the start, he loved to play, and he loved to hit." Coach Trundy goes on to say, "Even in those early years it was apparent that Kevin was a throwback of sorts, because he would constantly want to play and hit, and not just wait for an organized game." When you talk to those who played with him, they will all talk about Kevin’s work ethic, his leading by example. And his penchant for playing the game the right way." There is not much doubt that Kevin sunk his baseball roots in very fertile ground.

From the dusty fields of West Minot, it was on to Oxford Hills High School. It was there Kevin met the aforementioned Coach Burns. His former coach describes Kevin as being, “a bit too small with a swing that every coach remarked on. ‘sweet’, they said.” Coach Burns also recognized Kevin’s strong baseball roots and his understanding of the game. His uncle, a long time coach at Cony High School, got a chance to see Kevin’s skills from the other side of the diamond as did Mike Coutts as he competed against Kevin both on the high school level and in American Legion ball. Later they would be teammates on some of the most storied UMaine teams.

Then it was on to the University of Maine. Though Coach Winkin did not recruit him heavily, Kevin journeyed to Orono to pursue degrees in Wildlife Biology and mathematics with the idea those degrees would allow him to follow two of his other passions, hunting and fishing. Coach Winkin certainly had an eye for potential, and the ability to develop it. He spent his freshman season toiling on the jayvee team. After a summer playing for the Auburn Asas in the Twilight League, however things took a very sharp turn upward. You could say that playing for his uncle that summer Kevin really blossomed. Though he did not make the spring trip with the Black Bears, Kevin suddenly got the call to swing the bat, and swing he did. After a surprise call to hit in the second game of a doubleheader with Vermont, he was off to the races, playing a major role throughout Maine’s playoff run that year by hitting .438. In a 1980 article from The Bangor Daily News received heavy praise from Ed Pickett who called him "A pinch hitter supreme", from Pete Adams who said that Kevin was, “the best clutch player we've got” and from former opponent Coutts who simply called him, “Unbelievable”. Coach Winkin observed, “Kevin has a good, quick stroke. All he needs is experience. He runs well and is a pretty good fielder.” Coach Winkin would provide that experience. The Bears were off on what stands as one of the most remarkable runs in Maine baseball history. The next year he shared first base with Jon Perry. After that, he laid claim to it. 1982 saw Kevin hit .347. He also became one of five players ever to be named to the College World Series All Tournament Team. In 1983 his teammates recognized his quiet leadership and his position as a role model by naming him captain. Kevin is quick to cite the powerful influence Coach Winkin was on his career and his knowledge of the game. However, Coach Winkin was not the only one who had an appreciation for Kevin’s talents, so did his teammates. In the words of Mike Coutts, “Above all, Kevin was a great teammate. You could always count on him to do his very best - day in and day out. He was passionate about playing, and always played not to let his teammates down. The desire to be a great teammate was a driving force for all of those CWS teams.” Kevin not only left Orono with a goodly number of personal records, he also left with the respect of his coaches and teammates.

Kevin has continued to give to the game of baseball. He has been very active in the Lincoln Little League, leading two teams to regional titles and into the state tournament. While his son Lance was a player at Mattanawcook Academy, Kevin was a volunteer coach sandwiching work around baseball and daughter Megan’s tennis matches. In the fall after the 1982 CWS, Kevin returned to West Minot to speak to a group of young players from the West Minot Athletic Association. When he finished his talk, he was most likely surprised, and probably a little uncomfortable if yon know Kevin, when one of the organization’s leaders produced an essay entitled “Why I Like To Play Baseball” written by Kevin in 1974. In part he wrote, “Baseball is a game of skill, speed, strength and much more, but to me, the friends you make, the things you learn, and the places you go are the most important.” Leave it to a great hitter to meet it right on the screws. “Ah! Kevin Bernier.”

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