Damon, Dennis (2017)
“I have always regarded the game as being bigger than any who played. It needs to be respected and honored. The way for me to do that was to work at it and give it my best. My teammates, my players, the game deserved no less.”
- Dennis Damon
“Baseball is not a religion, but it was our church. And we attended faithfully.”
- John Doyle
Whether you talk about Dennis Damon and baseball, or Dennis Damon and life, you always mention dedication, work, love for the game, recognizing what needs to be done and doing it. He came by these qualities, especially the work ethic, naturally.
Damon’s parents, Dorothy and Llewellyn, were born at the beginning of the last century to farming and fishing families in Penobscot and Deer Isle respectively. They met and married in 1923 in Seal Harbor where they settled and started their family. The normal challenges of this undertaking were soon made more complicated by the onset of the Great Depression.
Lew, a fisherman by birth and preference, and Dot, a renowned cook for summer families and homemaker, had to make do as they raised their growing family. Lew was forced to come ashore and work for Mr. Rockefeller building the carriage roads on Mt. Desert Island oftimes using only a pick and a shovel. He could also dig clams. He would walk on the ice from Seal Harbor to Little Cranberry Island dragging a flat bottomed punt behind him, “because there was an open spot a couple of hundred yards wide out in the middle.” He undertook this extraordinary journey not for fun, rather, in search of unfrozen flats where he could dig clams. He had quit school after 8th grade on Deer Isle to go clamming with his father because the price of clams had risen to 25 cents a bushel! Lew knew how to work, and he was good at it. He dug clams to sell and clams for Dot to make a chowder with so the family could enjoy a break from potatoes, rabbit and porridge.
Twenty-five years after their first child was born, Dennis, their last, came along. The family had moved to the village of Northeast Harbor, four miles west of Seal Harbor, by then. That is where Dennis grew up.
It was toward the end of the year in 1948 when his mother brought him home from the hospital in Bar Harbor. As the story goes, Dot was a large woman. She had not planned on having more children. Somewhat embarrassed she did not let on that she was with child and her pregnancy wasn’t noticed. Apparently she told her friends she was going to the hospital because of a tumor. Dennis likes to say, “The tumor was so cute, she decided to bring it home and name it Dennis!”
By this time Damon’s two oldest brothers, Robert and Clifton, had returned from World War II, his older sister, Lorraine, had died, his other brother, Sheldon (Snick to most), had married leaving only himself and his remaining sister, Natalie, at home.
He remembers 1957 as the first time he was introduced to baseball. A new teacher had moved into town who was also the coach at the high school. He soon started a summer recreation program for the children of the Town of Mt. Desert. It was this teacher/coach, Bernard “Bunny” Parady, who formed two baseball teams as part of the recreation program and Dennis was put on the “Braves” team. “I didn’t know much about the game and there was little ‘coaching’. The first time I hit the ball I ran to third-base because I batted left and that’s the way I was headed. Looking back on it, I think the baseball teams were formed to keep another twenty or so kids occupied during the recreation program.”
From those feeble beginnings, Dennis continued his interest in baseball and later basketball. He developed his skills and when he entered Mt. Desert High School as a freshman he was selected to both varsity teams. His high school did not have a football program. Nonetheless, he later went on to play four years of football at the University of Maine lettering in his last two. He says the first football game he ever saw in person was at Maine and he played in it!
Following high school graduation, Dennis played on the Lamoine town baseball team. It was the last year of that storied team. Two memories stand out with him about that experience. “We were playing some team from Massachusetts. In the second inning I hit a towering home run to right … actually, had it been a foot shorter it would have bounced on top of the fence … and we took the lead. Soon after that two sheriff’s cruisers drove into the parking lot at Tracy Field. As the game continued we noticed the deputies talking with the coach and other players from the visiting team. As I was about to lead off fourth inning, certain I could hit another dinger, the home plate umpire, who by that time had been called to the dugout discussion, came out onto the field waving his hands over his head yelling, ‘game over’! Apparently the visiting team had trashed a couple of motel rooms in Ellsworth the night before and they were now being brought to task.”
The second memory of that Lamoine baseball summer was the end-of-season tournament. As Dennis recalls, “I was shagging in the outfield during pre-game batting when I notice this white Corvette convertible drive in. The guy in it walked into our dugout and was talking with a lot of the guys. It seemed like they knew him. I could see them pointing out toward me. Pretty soon the Corvette guy comes strolling out to me wearing baseball pants, a sport shirt and loafers. He tells me his name, says he played for Lamoine before I came along and that he’s taking my place in the line-up. As he’s walking back to the dugout he turns and says, ‘Oh, I can’t seem to find my glove, mind if I borrow yours for the game?’”
He went O-fer with three strike-outs, made two errors and Lamoine lost.
At the Univ. of Maine Dennis played on the freshman baseball team. He did not make the cut for the varsity team the following year. He claims it was the only mistake Jack Butterfield ever made!
During his undergraduate years at Maine he formed a town team based in Northeast Harbor. He named it the “Acadians” a name that has perpetuated since for other baseball teams in the area. That town team consisted of players in college, some high schoolers and some men pushing the end of their playing careers. The common denominator was they loved baseball and they wanted to play. Their opponents in the Northeast League were Bangor, Orono-Old Town, Mattawamkeag, Dixmont and occasionally a team from the Quoddy League downeast.
Following graduation from college, Dennis returned to the new regional high school on the Island to teach and coach football, basketball and baseball. During the baseball try-outs 45 young men tried for 20 openings. Coach Damon realized 25 people were going to be disappointed. He also realized they would not play organized baseball again before they tried out next year. There was a well organized Little League baseball program on the Island but that ended once the player reached age 12. This would not do.
To fill the void, Damon, with the help of some other adults, formed first one, then two and finally three Pony League teams for boys and girls ages 13 to 15. There were three or four other teams in the area to play in addition to the three MDI teams; Clippers, Dolphins and Islanders. At the height of that program there were 63 players involved in Pony League baseball on MDI. It was also at this time that Damon recognized a need for a JV baseball program at MDIHS. His friend and school colleague, Earl Moser, who coached the Clippers, agreed to coach the JV team. Another new team was born.
Recognizing some of his high school players had ability sufficient to play beyond high school and that there was no opportunity to play in the summer if you were older than 15, Damon saw American Legion baseball as the best opportunity. The closest team was Bangor. Some of his players wanted to try-out for that team but they could not because the rules of American Legion baseball limited the total school enrollments to 3,600 students. That rule prohibited MDIHS from joining the Bangor team. What to do?
There was only one answer as Damon saw it. Start an American Legion team. In 1979 with the tiny little Lurvey-Wright Post 103 in Northeast Harbor agreeing to be the sponsor, Dennis and Ellsworth HS baseball coach Jack Scott (85) collaborated to form the ‘MDI Acadians’ American Legion baseball team. During the time Dennis coached them, the Acadians made it to the state tournament 4 out of 7 years.
In 1987 Damon had left teaching and started his own business. With the responsibilities of a new business start-up to shoulder he decided to step away from coaching. He was not willing to give baseball less than his full effort. It was not fair to the players. It was not fair to the game.
He did continue to be actively involved with the Department of Maine – American Legion Baseball program however. He became Zone 1 Commissioner and later Field Director. He continues to hold that position today. Every year since 1979 he has been involved with American Legion Baseball. Dennis Damon continues to work hard for baseball in Maine. He doesn’t shy away from hard work, loves the game, does what needs to be done … and he tells a good story!