Watson, Frank (2019)
Gazing out the living room window from his home on Washington Avenue in Portland, Frank Watson overlooks the baseball field built by John Haverty. It undoubtedly prompts reflection on a baseball career that spanned parts of 4 decades and achieved more state titles and individual honors at all levels than most of us can even dream of.
Frank Watson’s baseball journey began on Bedford Street in Portland. His father George, who played college and Twilight League ball, would pitch BP and hit flies and grounders to young Frank, instilling in the lad a passion for the game that never waned throughout his career. Frank recalls having to try out as a 9-year old for the Portland Little League 4 team. Back then the names of the boys who made the team were published in the newspaper. After tryouts, Frank’s name wasn’t in the paper. After a day of inconsolable dismay, Frank was informed by his apologetic coach that his name had inadvertently been left out of the paper and he was indeed the first player picked for the team.
Frank made sure his name didn’t get left out of the paper thereafter, blossoming into a young star in George’s footsteps. He was a 2-time Little League All-Star and played on a Portland Babe Ruth All-Star team that twice won state championships coached by the legendary Lou Tripaldi and assisted by Tom Dibiase and Rollie MacMillan. Frank credits Tripaldi with instilling a healthy respect for the fundamentals of the game.
Frank played for another coaching legend at Portland High School. The stern demeanor and sage baseball mind of Edson Hadlock further shaped Frank’s baseball development and his career took off, culminating in All-Telegram and All-State selections in 1977 and two state championships for the Bulldogs in 1976 and 1977.
Paralleling his success at Portland, Frank also played on two state championship teams for the Andrews Post American Legion team. Frank’s coach was the crusty Frank Archer whose memorable bunt signal was either a bluntly obvious verbal command, “make the third baseman field it”, or a thinly-disguised bunting gesture with his cane.
In the late 1970’s John Winkin was developing a national-caliber team at the University of Maine. He was keenly interested in Frank and recruited the fleet centerfielder to come to Orono on a baseball scholarship. “I think Winkin saw a little bit of himself in me,” says Frank. “Being small in stature, we both had to scrap like hell to get noticed.”
Frank was the starting centerfielder as a freshman in 1978. He hit .299 for the nationally ranked Black Bears and won the Bobby Winkles Hustle Award at the Riverside (California) Invitational Tournament.
Following the 1979 season in which he batted .280, Frank decided to transfer to the University of Southern Maine. After sitting out a year, he finished his collegiate playing career under coach Dusty Drew, hitting over .400 in 1981 and 1982 and earning NAIA All-American honors. Frank was inducted into the USM Husky Hall of Fame in 1992.
Frank enjoyed a long and productive second baseball career in the Portland Twilight League. He played from 1979 until 2003, and is acknowledged as having the longest playing tenure in league history, winning several batting crowns and league MVP awards and numerous (“I’m guessing 10, maybe more, maybe less”) team championships. He played for Sportsman’s Grill, Olympia Sports, Intown Portland Associates, Forest Gardens, and Coastal Athletics, and later sponsored teams under the Mortgage Network and Lender’s Network banner. At various times, Frank served as President, Commissioner and Treasurer of the Twilight League and was instrumental in keeping the league credible as a serious baseball option for over 30 years. “I can remember when the Twilight League was stacked with either ex-pros or Division 1 college players,” recalls Frank.
Frank continued to contribute to the game even after his active playing days were over. He won 3 state titles with the Portland Babe Ruth All-Stars, making 2 World Series appearances and served as assistant coach at Deering High School, Nova Seafood American Legion, and most recently, with Ed Flaherty at USM from 2012 -2016, where he was part of two teams making College World Series appearances.
USM Athletic Director Al Bean said: “Frank Watson has baseball in his blood and has committed a large part of his life to the game.” With his induction today into the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame, Frank, along with his wife Jen and children Frankie, Matt, Katie and Lily, will really enjoy that view of Haverty Field.