Kilbreth, Don (Tink) (2015)
“Tink, when did your love of baseball start?”
“Day One, I think.”
- Donald Kilbreth
“Don Kilbreth was undoubtedly the best ball player to come out of the Town of Turner, and possibly all of Androscoggin and Oxford County.”
- Stan Timberlake
Donald “Tink” Kilbreth of Turner carved out a remarkable baseball career that touched all aspects of the game that Mainers embraced in the 1950’s and 60’s: high school phenom, college star, service ball and town team icon.
Like most ballplayers of that era, Tink’s passion for baseball was ignited early on. When an interviewer asked Tink, “When did your love of baseball start?”, Tink’s answer was swift: “Day One, I think.” He recalls rounding up the kids in the neighborhood, finding a dry field on Route 4 or 17, and playing ball all day. If they were lucky, they would have a taped-up bat, a scuffed ball and perhaps a glove or two, though bare hands were often a small price to pay for the opportunity of playing on a field of padded down grass and a rock-strewn infield. Nevertheless, Don says, “A lot of good baseball started right there.”
Don Kilbreth is one of Leavitt Institute’s finest athletes, playing three varsity sports during all four years, as well as serving as captain of all three during both his junior and senior years. Although his high school pitching stats are not available, a conservative estimate is that he won between 80% and 90% of his games for Leavitt. Kilbreth further honed his baseball skills in the summer playing for Cushman-Hollis in the Twin City League and the storied Auburn ASAS.
His outstanding career at Leavitt attracted the attention of several college scouts and with the help of the Leavitt Principal, Dr. Ellis, “Tink” was given a baseball scholarship to attend the University of Connecticut. As a freshman, he pitched a no-hitter against Rhode Island, narrowly missing a perfect game when he walked the 27th batter! Another memorable day in Don’s Yankee Conference pitching career was during his junior year against the University of Vermont. Called in as a relief pitcher, he finished the first game, also getting the game winning hit! He followed that with a one-hitter in the second game – the winning pitcher in both games of the UVM doubleheader! However, Kilbreth maintains his best college performance “was when I pitched against Steakhouse. It was 1954 – 10 innings, 4 hits, and UConn won 1-0.” (“Steakhouse” was actually Dave Stenhouse of Rhode Island, who went on to pitch in the big leagues for the Washington Senators). During his college days, Kilbreth also pitched summers in the highly competitive Connecticut semi-pro league in the Hartford area.
Although Tink’s outstanding career in both college and semi-pro ball in Connecticut attracted the attention of several major league scouts, he was unable to pursue a professional baseball career at that time due to a two year ROTC commitment. Upon graduating from UConn in 1956, Don joined the army as a 2nd Lieutenant and was stationed at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, where he spent most of the next two years playing baseball for the United States Army – and winning two Southwestern championships. Military service ball in the 1950’s was highly competitive and comparable to high-A or AA pro ball. Military bases packed their teams with players already under professional contract and often played over 100 games a year against other base teams. Kilbreth went 11-1 in 1957 for the Brooke Army Medical Center Comets. He was able to play weekends for independent teams in Texas and Arizona against teams that featured a number of both former and future major leaguers.
Playing for these independent teams could be very “interesting”. There was heavy betting on these games, and recruits like Tink “were asked not to show up until 10 or 15 minutes before the game started and the betting was over”! Also, “on more than one occasion, the players got a police escort out of town”!
In 1959, Tink returned to Turner and played for eight years for the Turner Townies, but usually as the second baseman. By this time, his pitching arm was feeling the effects of all those pitching outings he had throughout the 1950’s. Comparing pitching in his day with today’s pitchers, Don recollected that in his day, there was “a totally different attitude about pitching.” He said that in the 1950’s no one was concerned about a “pitch count” and that “when you started a game, you were expected to finish it. Typically, you pitched nine innings, averaging about 120 pitches per game. You pitched until you couldn’t stand up.”
Don did do some relief pitching for the Townies over the next several years, but he was an excellent infielder and hitter, usually batting third in the lineup. The Townies had successful teams in the 1960’s, especially in 1965 when they won the Yankee American Baseball Congress, championship and went to compete in the New England Tournament held at New Haven.
Kilbreth retired from the Townies after the 1967 season, and by then his Hall of Fame credentials were solidly established. Hi legacy is best summarized by Harold Small, his Townies teammate: “Tink used his experience, winning attitude, hard work and love of baseball to instill the importance of being a team player and always giving the game your best. Don was always a good teammate who was a lot of fun to play with and was the epitome of a solid, all-around ballplayer. He has certainly earned Hall of Fame recognition in the State of Maine.”
Fellow Townie Stan Timberlake, as usual, had the final word: “Don Kilbreth was undoubtedly the best ball player to come out of Turner and possibly all of the Androscoggin and Oxford County area.”
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