2018-08-23 / Editorial

Did You Hear?

by Alex MacPhail

Did you hear? The Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach will hold its fifth annual Old Orchard Beach Blues Festival Saturday, Aug. 25 and I am blessed to be a part of the current effort. My journey to this point started more than 34 years ago, where my love affair with this once iconic baseball stadium first began.

I was just 16 years old in 1984 and as much in love with baseball as one could be. I was a yearly summer resident from Massachusetts and felt The Ballpark was built for my grandfather and me personally. It was a sports mecca in the most hidden of spots. Among such hustle and bustle in the tourist town, it sat alone hidden behind the trees, and but for the lights above, you would not notice it was there. Wikipedia notes it never was lacking for attendance for baseball, and I can attest. There was nothing like an afternoon Maine Guides game in the sun, Bill Greene from WCSH making his way about, Jerome Plante sitting with the wives of the players in the will-call section, music playing and my grandfather and I taking it all in. It was paradise. Seeing such greats from Pawtucket was always a treat, but the daily baseball was just as special (as long as you thought of bug spray at night).

The Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach, in the 1980s. (Alex MacPhail photo) The Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach, in the 1980s. (Alex MacPhail photo) I went away for a few years as I got a little older – and like the relationship between my grandfather and I – times had changed. The Ballpark segued out of baseball (with the relocation of the Triple AAA team) and it was now in full swing as a concert venue, and by the time I returned, that fit me to a T. We lived at 126 Saco Ave., right by the fire station in the thick of it all, and to have artists like Aerosmith, AC/DC, Sting and more in our backyard, was a dream come true. I know many people did not like the noise (it was loud), traffic (at times getting home from work in Biddeford took considerable time) or the inconvenience, but, again, it was personal. It wasn’t about Bob Dylan or Rod Stewart in concert for me, it was the fact they were here. In our favorite place. It was this beautiful ballpark that made that possible. How lucky were we? But then, as with everything else, time went by, I lost my grandfather and about the same time we lost The Ballpark. We moved to western Maine and The Ballpark sat dormant. I was no longer able to help, for either of them. Years went by and I ultimately returned to Old Orchard, and with The Ballpark clinging to life support (and but a sweet memory for me), a ray of hope came when an amazing group of people (too many to mention here) came together to breath life into something I held so dear to my heart. I happened upon them early on, when they were working pulling weeds out of the fences. A hot dog was the fun pay for the day, and it was well worth it. I was asked to volunteer and announce some of the first games back, times when we had “Oil Can” Boyd and The Brockton Rox and Can Am league, along with the Firefighters Red Sox Alumni softball games, played sometimes among the still seemingly smoldering ruins of sections and seats. Before long we had a fully functioning facility again, capable of supporting professional baseball. And then slowly, (and carefully), with the guidance of The Ballpark Commission, along with many other groups and volunteers, music was able to successfully return. This brings us back to this Saturday, as we welcome our first big name national act back in a generation, five time Grammy nominated Roomful of Blues for our 2018 festival. I know it will not be to the level it once was (nor could it ever be), but it is here again, activity and beautiful music being heard in The Ballpark again, with that same familiar tree line and those lights extending high up into the sky, and me sitting on that hallowed ground once again with my pepere, who I know will there beside me. He would be so proud.

For more information on tickets or Ballpark events, visit www.oobballpark.com.

Alex MacPhail is an ad representative for the Courier and chairman of Saco Conservation Commission, president of Friends of the Ballpark, a member of Saco Main Street Executive Board, Saco Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and HOB River Jam Committee. Have an interesting event you’d like publicized? Email him at didyouhearinthcourier.com.

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