The major league baseball season began this week when the Seattle Mariners and Oakland A’s played a pair of games in Tokyo. The Boston Red Sox begin defense of their 2018 World Series title Thursday in Seattle. Here in Maine, it feels like something is ending.

A couple weeks ago, South Portland native Charlie Furbush announced his retirement from the Mariners. Furbush’s powerful left arm simply couldn’t rebound from a few surgeries. A few days ago, Portland native Ryan Flaherty exercised the opt-out in his contract with the Cleveland Indians when it became apparent he would not make the club’s opening day roster.

As of Saturday morning, Flaherty had not signed with a new team. There’s probably a place somewhere for a player with Flaherty’s versatility, but his seven-year big league career is closer to the finish line than the start. When it ends, it will mark the end of the greatest generation of baseball players Maine has seen.

In the last decade, four Mainers played in the Major Leagues. Joining Flaherty and Furbush were Portland’s Ryan Reid and Mark Rogers of Orr’s Island. In a state of Maine’s size, approximately 1.3 million people, where winter ensures baseball fields are unplayable half the year, producing four Major League baseball players in such a short time span is remarkable. If in 2004 you had gone to Las Vegas and wagered that four young men currently playing Maine high school baseball would reach the Major Leagues, you would right now be sitting on a large pile of cash.

Flaherty, Furbush, Reid, and Rogers all graduated from high school within a year of each other. In 2004, Rogers from Mt. Ararat in Topsham, Reid from Portland’s Deering, and Furbush from South Portland. A year later, Flaherty graduated from Deering.

Flaherty, Reid, and Rogers took the field together in June of 2004, when Mt. Ararat and Deering played for the Class A state title in the biggest high school baseball game in Maine history. The game was delayed a couple days and moved from Gorham High School to Portland’s Hadlock Field — home of the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs — to accommodate the large crowd expected. Around 7,000 fans showed up to watch the game, and if we knew it would feature three future Major League players, even more would have crammed themselves into Hadlock that night.

Think about that for a second. Three Major League players in one high school baseball game. In any state, that’s remarkable. In Maine, it’s a once in a lifetime event.

Of the four, Rogers was the most heralded, with the most potential. Already throwing a fastball in the high 90s in high school, Rogers was the fifth overall pick of the 2004 draft, by the Milwaukee Brewers, making him the highest picked Mainer since University of Maine pitcher Bill Swift was taken number two in 1984. Injuries cut Rogers’ big league career short.

In 2010 and 2012, Rogers pitched in 11 games for the Brewers, with nine starts. He posted a 3-1 record with a 3.49 earned run average, striking out 52 in 49 innings. Rogers showed glimpses of the talent that made him the fifth pick, but injuries took their toll. After the Brewers released him, Rogers had short stints with the Mariners and Texas Rangers organizations.

Flaherty was born into baseball. The son of Ed Flaherty, who has two national championships as the baseball coach at the University of Southern Maine, Flaherty went from Deering to Vanderbilt to the Chicago Cubs organization, who made him the 41st pick of the 2008 draft. Flaherty was claimed by the Baltimore Orioles in the Rule V draft, which allows clubs to pluck unprotected players from the minor league teams of other organizations, as long as that player remains on the big league roster. With that, Flaherty’s Major League career began in Baltimore in 2012.

In seven seasons, Flaherty carved out a spot as a reliable utility player. He’s played in 533 games. Over the next few days, as teams finalize their opening day rosters, he could get a call from a team in need of infield help and play a few more.

Like Rogers, Reid’s time in the big leagues was short. He pitched in seven games with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013, earning a 1.64 ERA in 11 innings. No wins, no losses. Reid was drafted in the sixth round by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2006 out of James Madison University, where he went after beating Rogers in that 2004 state game.

Making the big leagues is a longshot for the best players. Furbush was the longest shot in this Maine gang of four. A very good pitcher out of South Portland High in 2004, Furbush was under the radar of scouts at all levels. He went to Division III St. Josephs’s College in Standish, where he grew into his arm and began overpowering hitters.

A stint in the Cape Cod League against top Division I hitters convinced Furbush to transfer to Louisiana State University, a traditional baseball powerhouse. One season at LSU was enough to get Furbush selected by the Detroit Tigers in the fourth round of the 2007 draft.

Furbush made his big league debut for the Tigers in 2011, then was traded in a deadline deal to Seattle in late July that season. He became an important piece of the Mariners bullpen, until arm injuries cut it all short in 2015. In 247 games, Furbush won 13 and lost 24, with a 3.97 ERA. He had one Major League save.

Now we wait to see if and when Flaherty latches on with a new team. We wait to see if Maine can produce another Major League talent, like Deering’s Trejyn Fletcher, who is considered one of the top high school players in the nation.

We peek out the window each morning to see if the snow has melted off the ball fields a little more.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

 

 

 

 


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