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  • Writer's pictureMaine Baseball HOF

Ionta, Ted “Bitsy” (2000)

Ionta, Ted “Bitsy” (00)

Western Maine’s fabled Pine Tree League proudly presents another of its “town team” legends — Dixfield’s Ted “Bitsy” lonta — for induction into the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame.

Rarely has an individual's career been so identified with a league's history, but Bitsy’s 43-year involvement as player, manager and co-commissioner of the Pine Tree League bespeaks both a consistently superior level of pitching prowess and an unswerving devotion to the league which allowed him to display his skulls.

Born and raised in Mexico, Maine, Bitsy graduated from Mexico High School in 1952. Stationed in Wichita Falls, Texas while serving in the United States Air Force, Bitsy literally taught himself how to pitch. “We never had any formal coaching growing up,” says Bitsy. “It was all sand-lot. When I was in the Air Force, I’d play pass behind the barracks every chance I got.” Bitsy discovered he was blessed with the gift that most kids dream about — a good arm, pinpoint control and an insatiable love for the game of baseball.

Upon returning to Maine in 1957, Bitsy brought his untested skills to the Rumford Rams of the Pine Tree League and vividly recalls his very first pitching experience in organized baseball. “We were playing the Auburn Asas at Pettengill Park. | came into the game in relief with the bases loaded and nobody out. I was too dumb to be nervous. I struck the first two guys out on curveballs and the next guy, a left-handed hitter, hit a grand-slam. But I struck out the next guy.”

So began the education and remarkable career of a pitcher that spanned SIX decades -from Warren Spahn to Kerry Wood — and saw Bitsy toe the slab in virtually every town in Western Maine that had a ball-field. And what a career it was. Bitsy was an active player in the Pine Tree League from 1957 to 1996 playing for a number of local town teams, most notably the Dixfield Dixies. He compiled an impressive 223-41 pitching record over that span. The durable right-hander often pitched two, sometimes three, games a week and completed 90% of his starts.

The high-water mark of Bitsy’s career was probably 1962 when he posted a 12-0 record with a 0.47 ERA. Bitsy also won two games for Norway-South Paris in the Yankee American Baseball Congress Tournament that year held in Battle Creek, Michigan. The Pine Tree League entry finished 3-2 in the tournament, good for 3rd place for teams east of the Mississippi. Bitsy returned to the YABC the following year while pitching for Livermore.

As eye-popping as the career pitching statistics may be, Bitsy lonta's enduring contribution to the Maine baseball lore is the respect he gained while posting those numbers and the lofty standard of sportsmanship and professionalism he set for the Pine Tree League. “He played the way baseball is supposed to be played,” says Pine Tree League co-commissioner Mark Thurlow, who himself coached the West Paris entry for 16 years. “He’s steady, he’s consistent, there’s nothing complex about it. He just loves the game of baseball.” Thurlow points out that the league’s MVP trophy has been known as the Bitsy Ionta Award since 1964.

Emblematic of the small-town appeal of the Pine Tree League and its quirky ballparks was the day Bitsy and Lewiston Sun Journal sports writer Bob McPhee jumped into a van and visited all the old ballparks of the Pine Tree League. “We went up and down Franklin County -Rangeley, Phillips, Strong, Rumford, Mexico, Dixfield, Jay.

Livermore, Wilton and several others. We got out and measured all the distances — some of them were unbelievable!”

The measure of the man, and his lifelong love affair with baseball, was taken that day as well.

Bitsy taught 6th grade science in the Mexico and Rumford area for 40 years and is now retired. Many of his days are spent working one-on-one with young pitching hopefuls who have sought the master’s advice.

“Any kid who’s ever played baseball in Maine should know the Bitsy lonta story,’ says Thurlow.

“I know the South Portland area is very proud of Billy Swift, and Stephen King has done great things for Bangor, but in our neck of the woods, from Norway to Farmington, Bitsy Ionta is Mr. Baseball.”

24 Ted Bitsy Ionta Bitsy lives in Dixfield, ME.

He was discharged from the United States Air Force in July of 1957.

Shortly after that, he joined the Rumford Rams in the Pine Tree League in Dixfield, ME.

Bitsy became an accomplished pitcher, winning 225 games and is a member of the Maine Baseball Hall Of Fame.

At 70, Bitsy is a member of the Rumford Cardinals of the Men's Senior Baseball League.

"It is amazing that Bitsy can still do what he does at his age," said a fellow baseball player, Paterson, a mere 45. "His passion seems to be fueled by the desire to do something that few people have accomplished, and because he can. It is impressive, and it has definitely rubbed off on all of us. It is great to be around a bunch of guys that have similar backgrounds and interests and be able to relate."

"Every one has a hobby that they enjoy doing," says Bitsy ,“mine happens to be baseball. I've been fortunate to have played for as long as I have, and I'll continue to play until I'm not competitive any more. When will that be? Who knows?"

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