Stinneford, Neil (2009)
Seven‑year‑old Neil Stinneford first knew baseball in the schoolyards, sandlots, and backyards of Oakland, Maine. He played in a kid’s league there, and when he arrived at Dixfield High School in 1948 he was hooked on the game. “I was a competitor,” he says. “I liked to run. I liked to win.” His freshman year at Dixfield High he started at third base and batted leadoff. He possessed the greatest of all athletic attributes—speed. Neither then nor during his entire baseball‑playing career was he content to stay on first base for more than a pitch or two. Someone said later that a three-ball count on Neil Stinneford was the same as having a runner on second base.
But Stinneford possessed the essence of baseball, as well. He hit and fielded well enough for the Dixfield High Dixies to spend his summers at third base for the Timber League Dixies, the first high school player to wear the town team’s uniform. The Timber League Dixies were a powerful team then with the Horne brothers, the Gordons, and the rest, perhaps Maine’s best: four consecutive years they were Yankee Amateur Baseball Congress champions, longest streak ever; four consecutive years they played in the Congress’ national tournament in Battle Creek, Michigan, once finishing third. Stinneford, though he had high school academics and sports activities to attend to as well, was a vital member of the Timber League Dixies, enough so to be noticed by major league scouts.
Following Stinneford’s high school senior year, Bill Bryan, Pittsburgh Pirates scout and Director of Admissions at Colby College, arranged a tryout for him in Pittsburg. Stinneford interviewed with General Manager Branch Rickey and Hall‑of‑Famer George Sisler, and worked out at Forbes Field. But he preferred to go to college, he told them, so Bryan took him in at Colby and introduced him to the now‑legendary John Winken, Colby baseball coach.
Stinneford played centerfield for Winken. He led the Mules in hits, home runs, and stolen bases over his three years of varsity eligibility. His junior year he hit .371 and was named All-American. These were heyday years of Colby baseball—games against Georgetown, Princeton, Villanova, Boston University, and all that. All‑American Stinneford, coach Winken, and the Mules savored every moment. Only school and conference rules kept them from playing for regional and national titles.
After his sophomore season at Colby, he and several of his teammates went to Rumford and played summer ball for the Rumford Pirates in the Pine Tree League. At the close of Stinneford’s junior year, the Kansas City Athletics (now Oakland Athletics) approached him. Wanted to fly him to Kansas City for a tryout. Neil was tempted, but he was married then, and an education was crucial to him. He said no to the Athletics, and he, wife Jo, and daughter Debbie traveled to Kentville, Nova Scotia, where he played Nova Scotia’s version of semi-pro ball for the summer.
Following Stinneford’s graduation from Colby, four years after he had talked with the Pirates’ Branch Rickey and George Sisler and two years after he had been named All‑American, Rickey was not interested in signing him. During the intervening years, Rickey had come up with Dick Groat, Roberto Clemente, Bill Virdon, Bill Mazeroski, and more. He had formed the team that would beat the Yankees in the World Series. Stinneford was no longer one of his prospects. Nevertheless, Bill Bryan invited him to Pirates’ spring training as a free agent. “Stinneford was the best two‑strike hitter I ever saw,” Bryan said later. But Stinneford turned him down. “It didn’t seem right to go,” Neil says. “I had a family. I needed a paying job.”
Neil Stinneford played his last baseball game in 1957 for the Colby Mules, a 10-8 loss to the Maine Black Bears that capped Colby’s second consecutive Maine State Series championship. His All-American award hangs on a parlor wall in Weld, where he has settled with Jo, his wife of fifty-some years, and, he says, “lives and dies with the Red Sox.”