Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Hall Of Fame Worthy Despite Baseball Blunder

Duane “Dewey” Warren could have been a three-sport star at Foxcroft Academy in my hometown of Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, but he chose not to play baseball.

I think I know why. I blame myself.

Duane, who will be inducted into the Foxcroft Academy Athletics Hall of Fame on October 7, was the star player in our last year of Little League baseball in Dover-Foxcroft’s version of the movie “The Sandlot.” We were 11-year-old teammates – naturally he batted clean-up and I was lucky enough to bat third ahead of him – and we were in the championship game at the baseball diamond at Morton Elementary School, our field of dreams. It had a dirt infield, a wired backstop as tall as the Green Monster in Fenway Park, and the only place to sit and watch a game was either on the merry go-round behind the backstop or the swing set or slide near the third base line.

Of course, we played all our Little League games in the afternoon heat in the summertime so there were no spectators, no ball-eating dogs, and no James Earl Jones.

In the summer of ’65 we were in the midst of a classic dramatic game-winning two-out rally and Duane was at the plate with the bases loaded. I was on first base.

It was a big moment, one made for Duane. And he delivered. He belted a long home run deep to left field, the ball almost rolling all the way down into a swamp that dramatically dropped off beyond the field and out of sight into a scary area where only the Goonies might visit. The field occasionally had a home run fence erected out of wooden snow fence used to contain snow drifts in the winter, but there was nothing preventing Duane’s blast from rolling far and it stopped short of the swamp.

It was easily a grand slam and likely the big hit to lead us toward the championship.

Except I messed up big time and, I now believe, I ruined Duane’s destiny to become a three-sport star at FA.

As I rounded third base to run home, I cut and simply missed the third base bag. For whatever reason three strives past it, I stopped and retreated to third to step on the base but, as I did, Duane, who was simply admiring his home run and following its path, passed me. We were essentially doing the tango at third base and it was illegal.

In other words, I turned a grand slam home run into a grand larceny. I stole Duane’s greatest moment in his baseball history away from him.

Mike Libby, another Little League player, volunteered to be the third base umpire that day and I swear to this day that he probably never saw me miss the third base bag. He, too, was probably distracted following the flight of Duane’s gigantic hit and was not even looking at my feet. Thus, all I needed to do was continue on my merry way to home plate to greet Duane with a hero’s welcome. No harm. No foul. No one would have even noticed my misstep. We win!!!

Yet, by stupidly retracing my steps and going back to third base, I created confusion from an honest mistake. It was a minor traffic jam, but it might as well have been a jackknifed big rig for cause and effect. Seconds later someone then called my gaffe to the attention of Walt Beaulieu, Foxcroft’s legendary football coach who then served as the Little League supervisor in the summer. Coach Beaulieu, who is also in FA’s Sports HOF, came onto the field, surveyed the situation and conferred with Mike Libby and ruled that since I missed third base then retreated to tag it as Duane passed me, Duane, by rule as the trail runner, should be called out. No runs. No rally. No f’in way. We lose!!!

And I’m the goat (lower case) and I don’t mean that GOAT.

Our Little League championship was gone and that was the last time I ever remember seeing Duane playing in a big-time baseball game. Duane, Little League hero, was overshadowed by Wrong Way Albee.

I blew it. 

The only saving grace to this day is that Duane, our Bo Jackson, later on proved he was just as good in football and basketball as he might have been in baseball. 

As a senior at Foxcroft, Duane was captain of the football team as our middle linebacker and fullback, who with his 6-foot-2, 195-pound frame, would drag would-be tacklers across the Piscataquis County line if it meant getting an extra yard. Duane was named team MVP and first team All Little Ten Conference.

In basketball, Duane developed his craft in the “Warren Fieldhouse,” which was actually inside the dusty, grungy barn/garage at his family’s house on Pleasant Street where we watched him from the wooden beams above develop his all-around game below. As a senior, he was also captain and MVP of our basketball team, scoring 40 points in one game, a 111-53 win over Lincoln. Had the advent of the shot clock and three-point line been in play that night he might have scored 60.

Then again Duane would not have boasted about it. He was a quiet superstar for the Ponies. He never called attention to himself and simply went about his business playing both ways in football and the only way he knew on the basketball court. With class and humility.

In addition, Duane was our senior class president, a natural leader. He was a student of the game, whatever one he chose to play. His inspiration for greatness in sports came from the star athletes who played before him at Foxcroft Academy.

“They were like gods to us,” he once said.

Well, Duane is about to be among those gods. Thanks to a nomination by my classmates Rick Pembroke and Paul McKusick, Duane will be inducted into the FA Athletics Hall of Fame along with Joe Cox '84, Laurie Lavoie Merrill '98, Coach Luis Ayala, and Bobby Annis ’66 – one of those “god-like” football players Duane looked up to as a kid at Oakes Field.

Duane becomes the second member of the FA Class of 1972 to be enshrined in the school’s HOF. Jere White was inducted in 2017.

Jere was a three-sport star at FA. Duane should have been, if not for me.

So, with an apology attached, I would like to congratulate Duane on behalf of the FA Class of 1972 for his induction into the Foxcroft Academy Athletics Hall Of Fame and for once again making us proud and avenging my boneheaded mistake some 57 years ago.

 This time it’s a grand slam occasion for all of us!