Watson, Royce (Tom) (2013)
Royce “Tom” Watson was taught the game of baseball as a youngster by his father, Royce “Pinky” Watson, a former star of the Portland Pilots. “We would play Pepper for hours,” said Tom. “My dad could really place the ball.”
Tom learned well as he went on to star, first, for Portland Little League Three in Riverton, Lincoln Junior High School, Deering Babe Ruth, Deering High and Ralph D.Caldwell Post. Watson signed a free agent contract by the Atlanta Braves out of high school and played one season in the Class A Pioneer League in Twin Falls, Idaho.
Taught and coached by his father with their careers both reaching the professional, level, it’s only fitting that Tom joins his late father today as members as of the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame.
Growing up in Portland, Watson was a star player for Little League Three. In 1966 playing for the Deering Babe Ruth League All-Stars in the New England Tournament, Watson went 2 for 3 against future Baltimore Orioles pitcher and Cy Young Award winner, Mike Flanagan of Manchester, N.H. At Lincoln Junior, Watson showed the dominance on the mound and at the plate that would continue at Deering. At Lincoln, Watson struck out Lyman Moore Junior High 14 batters in a game.
Watson was an outstanding pitcher and hitter at Deering in the 1968- 69-70 seasons. He was a two-time All-Telegram League selection as a utility player his junior year and then as a pitcher his senior year. Had there been all-state teams back then, Watson would have been a shoo-in for selection. Watson pitched and batted the Rams to the Telly title in 1970 with an 8-3 playoff win over South Portland at Presumpscot Field (now Harlow Field). Spectators were two to three rows deep down both lines as Deering added another of several league titles. In the first year of the Maine Principals’ Association that spring, Deering beat Edward Little, 6-5, in nine innings for the Western Maine Class A title. The Rams were poised to face the Eastern Maine winner (Fort Fairfield) for the state title, but never got a chance to play the game because the MPA forfeited Deering’s win because they played nine innings instead of seven innings mandated by National Federation guidelines.
Some of Watson’s achievements at Deering: Breaking Ricky Swan’s Telegram League home run record as a junior in 1969 when he hit six round-trippers. Swan, playing for Westbrook, hit five homers in 1964. Watson, was a two-time All-Telegram League selection as a junior and senior. His junior season, Tom went 5-4 on the mound and as mentioned, broke the league home run record. In a key game against Westbrook in the 1969 season, Watson struck out 17 Blue Blazes in tossing a four-hitter. Later in the season, Watson fanned 14 Portland Bulldogs, pitching a six-hitter in a 9-2 win. His senior year, Watson had a 7-1 pitching mark leading Deering to a 12-4 record and the league championship. In the playoff game against South Portland, Watson pitched a six-hitter, struck out nine and slugged a home run and a double. Mixing a good fastball and a curve, Watson struck out 84 batters in 56 and two-thirds innings his senior year. “Tom was a dominate figure on the mound and at the plate,” said teammate Steve Merrill, a Maine Baseball Hall of Fame inductee in 2006. “He was a hard throwing right-hander and powerful left-handed hitter.
The Atlanta Braves signed Tom out of high school and sent him to their rookie league affiliate in Idaho. Later that summer, a promising career ended when Tom dislocated his right shoulder sliding into third base.
Tom returned to Portland and married his high school sweetheart, Patti Caminiti. They raised three children. Their son, also Royce, played baseball at Deering and later at St. Joseph’s College. “Tom, his dad, and his son kept the Watson baseball legacy alive in Greater Portland for over half a century,” said Merrill.
Said Mike Ladd, another multiple All-Telegram League selection who caught Watson for three seasons: “Catching Tom allowed me to learn more about my position. Tom made it easy to work a batter by working the corners, high, low, inside and outside. Tom had a vast complement of pitches - curve, slider, change-up and even a rare knuckleball. But most importantly, and the pitch he threw the most, the fastball, was very effective. There was always an errant pitch or two, but that made it fun - we could play with the batter’s psych. Tom’s enthusiasm toward his position made his game very successful. I think our team felt more confident when Tom was on the mound. Of course, we were confident anyway.”
Tom Watson has many fond memories playing baseball locally in Portland. Watson and his Deering teammates loved playing for “Fearless” Freddy Harlow. And now Tom joins his former Deering coach and his Dad in the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame. A fitting tribute to an outstanding career.