Maine Baseball HOF
Loren Ritchie (2019)
One does not have to be an archivist to find a wealth of background material on Loren Ritchie. An article entitled A Maine Life written by Emily Adams in 2011 and Jim Baumer’s book When Towns Had Teams were very important sources for this piece. I can, however, tell you that nothing beats a sit down with him in his Greenville living room. In the words of the late songwriter Harry Chapin, “I spent a week there one afternoon.” For those of a certain age who remember the heyday of town team baseball in Maine, there is not a more pleasant way to pass the time. The fact that Mrs. Ritchie makes outstanding cookies and sandwiches adds to the experience.
Loren was born in Presque Isle, Maine in 1932, the son of Wallace Ritchie (1911-1990) and Reta (Craig) Ritchie (1913- 1990). As an only child, Loren admits to being, “spoiled right to the core”. A great many folks would agree that the final product turned out fine. The Ritchie’s were farmers in a time that many of us have only read about. The Ritchie homestead featured neither running water nor electricity. There were no tractors. Work in the fields was done with horses. The family knew the meaning of hard work. In addition to being a homemaker, Reta also worked at Newberry’s. Loren was active in sports at an early age. Travel to practices and games was a chore, yet his father made certain he got there and nurtured his son’s interest in spite of the challenges. I will not be the one to steal Loren’s thunder, but I suspect those who listen to his speech will hear about a certain catcher’s mitt.
The family moved to Caribou where Loren spent his junior high years and his first three years of high school. He was active in baseball, basketball and track. Track meets and baseball games were scheduled on the same day. That meant, “So, I would run the mile and the baseball coach would come over and haul me off the track and get me back to the baseball field where I’d warm up. I was a pitcher, so I’d pitch a game after running a mile.” His experience at Caribou was a very good one. Many of his schoolmates have remained lifelong friends. Farmers know that life is a field full of rocks, and Loren’s life hit one at the end of his junior year. Wallace had gotten a position at the Greenville branch of the Guilford Trust Company, necessitating a move. It was not a move Loren was anxious to make. In retrospect, it was a good one. It was there he met and married Liz. He is quick to say, “I love that woman profoundly.” They are blessed with four sons, Kevin (Kendra), Kirk (Carrie), Kent and Rob (Nikki) and eight grandchildren – Aaron, Arika, Edwin, Isaac, Jordyn, Grady, Natalie and Connor. Gramp has had the opportunity to see two grandsons square of as opponents on the ball field
The move from Caribou also put him in the right spot to be involved with some top-notch baseball and also what some might say was a calling. Loren has said that he has “defaulted his way to success.” He never had contemplated a career in education, but he got a call from Ed Hackett, principal of PCHS in Guilford who was also brother of MBHOF member Al Hackett. The call resulted in a teaching position that evolved into a nine year stay. Ed gave him a piece of advice that stayed with him through stops at the newly minted Warsaw High School in Pittsfield, Katahdin High School in Sherman Station, and the Maine State Department Of Education. That advice was, “ If you have to chew a kid out, and he or she gets down, before the day is over, find that kid, hug ‘em and talk soft and honest to him or her and restore your relationship.” It is pretty clear Loren applies that to more than school kids. Loren’s stay at Katahdin lasted eighteen years. He then spent six years working with the college of education at UMAINE while also traveling about the state working as a private consultant.
After graduation in Greenville, he spent two years at Husson where he played basketball and baseball. He also volunteered for the draft that resulted in his time in Korea with the 31st Infantry. After the armistice in 1953, Loren returned to graduate in 1957. He worked in downtown Bangor to support his family and to fund his education. He was involved with the Greenville Lakers in The Tri County League. Loren says it was a good team that gave him the opportunity to play with college players as well those who were local. That first job at PCHS allowed him to stay active in baseball on a pretty high level. Teachers at the high school got together to play basketball. The logical next step was baseball. That brought about the Davis Brothers team that later became The Guilford Advertisers. By 1966-1968 the Advertisers were as good as any town team in the state. The roster included Maine Baseball Hall Of Famers Roger Clapp, Ted Clark, Willie Boynton, Dave Gaw, and Ron Marks, who was no slouch at UMaine. During those years they were regular contestants at the YABC tournament then held at Auburn’s Pettengill Park. In fact, in 1968 they won the tournament earning a trip to the regional in New York. They were the whole package -the arms of Clapp, Gaw and Boynton, the speed and defense of Marks, and the power of Ted Clark, Gaw, and Ritchie. In 1968 they hit 52 home runs in 38 games. One contest began with five straight Advertisers homering. They came up against the best pitchers in that ’68 tournament. Bitsy Ionta who held them in check and Bob Baumer, who did not. Marty Roop from Baumer’s Roberts 88ers had this to share, “Saw the list of new inductees. Glad to see Ritchie made the list- very deserving. They batted me lead off in a game at Greenville. Ritchie was pitching. He had a very good curveball. I had never seen one. It didn’t take him long to figure that out. He struck me out three or four times. Totally embarrassing.” The Advertisers had a great chemistry. Loren cites Clapp, Clark and Gaw as having a profound influence on him. “Their conduct, attitudes and respect for the game helped me to no end.” There was also an edge to this group. They were not above a well-placed needle to an opponent or a teammate. Gaw and Ritchie often kept up a play by play from their outfield positions. One night at Pettengill they were having a discourse out there that would have been rated parental discretion advised at the minimum. They were chagrined to learn that the damp night air and the acoustics of the park had made their words reach the grandstand with amazing clarity that precipitated a rousing ovation from the fans as the two players headed to the dugout. The main character of this piece gained fame (notoriety) for taking the opportunity to moon a vehicle they passed on returning from a game. The other vehicle contained the school board chairman. If you read Baumer’s book, you may notice that other rules of safe driving were bent or studiously ignored. Yet the Gas House Gang was not totally irresponsible. They waited until catcher Flip Thompson graduated from high school before they involved him in the transgressions. I will let Loren’s words finish this paragraph. ‘To my teammates -It was a great run. It was pure fun, the way baseball is supposed to be. And a beautiful way to become friends for a lifetime. You are all pretty precious to me. I wish we could do it all over and over again. Baseball has been special and good to all of us, but remember, we too, have been good for baseball.”
Now, a conclusion I think Loren will appreciate; these guys played basketball all winter. They played baseball all summer. Liz will be the closer for this. “You guys are never home! You don’t get paid.” This refrain has changed a bit. Now it goes like this-“You’re always home!”