OLD ORCHARD BEACH — Eleven-year-old Jacob Payea brought his catcher’s mitt to The Ballpark on Wednesday night so he could toss a baseball with his buddies in a grassy field behind the home team’s bullpen.

Occasionally, Payea even paid attention to the game on the field, where the nascent Old Orchard Beach Surge took on the visiting Watertown (New York) Bucks in the four-team North Country Baseball League.

Not since the Triple-A Maine Phillies left this seaside town in 1988 has a professional baseball team called Old Orchard Beach home.

“Actually, it’s kind of better,” Payeau said of the pro ballplayers as compared to the young men who played for the Raging Tide the previous three summers in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League. “There’s more hits and the pitches are faster.”

Payeau was among a crowd of approximately 500 to watch the Surge home opener, originally scheduled for Tuesday night but postponed because of rain. He doesn’t remember the Phillies’ top farm club from ’87 and ’88 nor the Maine Guides, who played here from 1984-86 as a Cleveland affiliate.

“I remember seeing Dwight Gooden pitch on that very mound,” said James Duclos, 48, who grew up in Westbrook and now lives in Old Orchard. “He was on a drug rehab with Tidewater. The place was sold out. Man, could he pitch.”


Duclos stood on the concourse between the lower and upper levels of the cement grandstand as he watched the Surge beat Watertown, 13-3. He was 17 and came with his father to watch Gooden pitch.

After moving to Old Orchard Beach almost 10 years ago, Duclos has seen The Ballpark revitalized thanks to countless hours of volunteer labor and donated materials, transformed from a neglected facility with trees and shrubs growing on the field, weeds and debris filling up the parking lot and an arson fire torching a section of the grandstand.

Amateur baseball returned to the 5,500-seat stadium in 2011 and now, thanks to a league that came together only last month following the collapse of a planned Canadian-American venture, professional ball is back.

“It’s definitely a good level of baseball here,” Duclos said after watching a few innings Wednesday. “I’m impressed.”

Tucker White, an outfielder from the University of Maine who played professionally in Germany a year ago, ripped a double off the left-field wall to lead off the home team’s first turn at bat and scored on the back end of a double steal.

Excitement already was in the air for fans arriving beneath a blue sky, inhaling the aroma of grilled meat and stepping lively to the sounds of a seven-piece band featuring four horns and five pairs of sunglasses.


“I’m glad to see it,” said Don Comeau, 67, a town resident who remembers watching the Guides and Phillies back in the day. “I hope they do well. Those college kids, there was no long ball. So maybe this will be more exciting.”

Comeau and a half-dozen of his neighbors from the nearby Cider Mill development enjoyed the Surge opener from eight rows behind the home dugout. Among them was Vic Gould, 81, wearing a Raging Tide cap and eating a small carton of French fries.

“We’ve been painting this place since March,” said Gould, looking around at the green walls separating the upper and lower sections.

Frozen pipes in the clubhouse created water damage that needed to be repaired. There were a few glitches Wednesday night as well, with the microphone not working for anthem singer Christina Enger of Scarborough, who nonetheless belted it out with aplomb and was rewarded with applause.

Between innings there were a few promotional races involving kids, but also time for conversation without blaring interference from advertisements or music cranked through the speakers.

“It’s kind of surreal, with all we’ve been through,”said Alex Markakis, the Surge general manager and 2014 graduate of St. Joseph’s College.


Markakis said he was hoping for a crowd of 1,200 on Tuesday night but weather intervened, and now he will concentrate on building credibility within the town, in a Ballpark that holds strong memories for many locals.

“Not only do we want to do that with the players on the field,” he said, “but with the operations at the ballpark.”

Wednesday night was a start. The Surge play again Thursday night before taking a day off, and hosting games Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

“Oh, it’s exciting,” said former town manager Jerome Plante, who threw out the first pitch. “It’s clean. It’s wholesome. It’s family-oriented.”

It’s professional baseball. And 27 years later, it’s back at The Ballpark.


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