Libbey, Sr., Kenneth (2011)
The former major league pitcher Jim Bouton once said, “You spend a good part of your life gripping a baseball, and it in the end it turns out it was the other way around.” Kenneth Libbey Sr. would agree with him. From the days Ken and his brothers Herbert and Dennis spent days watching their father, Herbert Sr. play the game on town team fields throughout Eastern Maine, during his high school days in Mattawamkeag and postgraduate days at Higgins classical Institute, his days in service to his country, his own stellar town team career with the Mattawamkeag Merchants and his countless hours as a youth baseball coach in his hometown, Baseball was a focal point of Ken's life. The grip the game had on him shaped him as a teammate, a coach, a mentor of young coaches, and a father. The inner qualities which baseball brought out in Kenneth made him a success in all facets of life. His values and the example he set as a role model continue to positively influence young men today. A former colleague said of Ken, “I'm sure his most favorite day would have involved practice with his Babe Ruth team in the morning and an afternoon doubleheader with the Merchants.”
Ken's life in baseball began in Mattawamkeag as he and his brothers traveled to watch their father play the game. While Herbert Sr. never pushed his sons to play the game, the hold the game had on their father and his love for it was passed on to his sons. Herbert Sr. did everything in his power to enable the involvement of Ken and his brothers in the game, even if it meant some significant sacrifices on his own part. Surely those lessons of perseverance, hard work and dedication were not lost on the sons. The brothers often started their work day at 2:00 AM in order to make their schedule of woods work fit their baseball schedule.
Kenneth played four years of varsity baseball at Mattawamkeag High School, graduating in 1955. After his graduation from high school, Kenneth attended Higgins Classical Institute where he was a standout athlete in basketball and football as well as baseball. Marriage and a subsequent tour of military duty in Germany followed. While in the military, he continued to be involved with baseball, but his return to his hometown and its team was always on his mind and in his heart.
It was the heyday of town team baseball, and the Mattawamkeag Merchants were a major force statewide. The team routinely played fifty five to sixty games a season, even seventy five in the summer of 1964. Throughout his twenty year career as a shortstop and second baseman for the Merchants, Kenneth was not only a stellar player, but a leader as well. He served as captain of the team. Kenneth was described by teammates as “ a definite team leader” and a man who “ would do anything to help anyone at anytime.” He was an excellent hitter who averaged over .300 for his career and who was not afraid to crowd the plate to add to his superb on base percentage. Although he was a very good hitter, teammates say it was on defense that Ken truly excelled. The record shows that he completed the entire 1969 season without making an error. He played with soft hands, a strong arm and a fearlessness on the double play pivot. It is for this courage that some of his teammates best remember him. There are stories of beanings that lead to concussions followed by speedy returns to the lineup, a broken leg as the result of a home plate collision only to see Ken rise and return to the dugout. One of his mates paid him a high compliment when he said, “His dedication to detail and hard work made everyone who played with him better.”
That same dedication to detail, his strong work ethic, love of the game and infinite patience made Kenneth an excellent coach and teacher. His Babe Ruth teams consistently defeated teams from larger towns. His players were drilled in the fundamentals of the game. They learned to hustle. When he saw a starting not hustling out to his defensive position to start an inning, one of his practices was to tell a bench player that if he could outrun the starting player to the position, he could play it and the starter would sit and watch. Many of Ken's former players continue to pass on his lessons as youth coaches in the Mattawamkeag, Lincoln area. They teach his code of, “Work hard, no excuses, make a mistake and move on.” As one former player now a coach himself puts it, “He not only coached baseball; he taught it.”
So, Jim Bouton was right; baseball gets a grip on us. It enfolds us into its core, and it carries those we touch with us. It is fitting that baseball carries Kenneth Libbey Sr. into the circle of the Maine Baseball Hall Of Fame to join his brothers Herbert Jr. and Dennis.