TRENTON — Dennis Damon thought the message from a representative of the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this year was a joke.
It wasn’t until the former state senator from Trenton received another message a few weeks later that he thought it might be legit.
When Damon is inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday, July 23, in Portland, only then will he believe it, he said.
“I thought someone was playing a joke on me, but I guess they’re not,” said Damon. “It’s humbling, and I’m very grateful, and I will accept the recognition for myself and for the people who have helped advance the game of baseball [in the community] along the way,” he said.
Damon is being recognized for his decades of service to the sport from his time as the Mount Desert Island High School varsity baseball coach to the founding the Acadians American Legion team and his 22-year tenure as the league’s Maine field director.
Damon’s baseball career began with schoolboy ball in Northeast Harbor.
In the early 1960s, there was no organized baseball on Mount Desert Island. As a student at Mount Desert High School, Damon participated in a loosely organized extracurricular baseball league organized by the legendary coach Bernard Parady, for whom the high school gym is now named.
“I doubt we had uniforms,” said Damon.
After graduating from high school, he participated in a Lamoine town league that competed against teams from Deer Isle, Stonington, Blue Hill, George Stevens Academy, Sumner Memorial High School and Pemetic High School in Southwest Harbor.
“Back before there was television, you’d have 2,000 people come out to a town game on Sunday,” said Damon. “It was literally the only game in town.”
After playing on the University of Maine freshman baseball team, Damon returned to the island to coach physical education and teach social studies at the newly consolidated Mount Desert Island High School, where he also coached the JV football, JV basketball and the varsity baseball teams.
Because there was no JV baseball team at the time, Damon had the tough task of cutting less skilled players.
“It was the most difficult thing to do in coaching,” he said. “How do you tell these kids who really want to play that they can’t?”
In the summer of 1973, Damon started the MDI Pony League that brought together middle and high school baseball players from island towns. “We had so much interest that we grew to three teams,” the Clippers, Dolphins and the Islanders, he said.
Volunteer coaches including George “Toogie” McKay, a former teammate on the University of Maine freshman baseball team, John Doyle, Tom Lawson and Bill Stratton helped form the Pony League.
“I must give credit to the person who was most helpful to a wide swath of young baseball players on this island, Earl ‘Mo’ Mosier,” the head custodian at MDI High School in the mid-70s and an integral part of growing summer baseball. “He had an uncanny knowledge of baseball and had a heart bigger than most people’s. He gave so much time and attention to this program and probably helped it more than anyone.”
Much like today’s extracurricular sports teams, the MDI Pony League drew from all four towns on the island and Trenton.
“When you had a Trenton kid playing against kids in the other towns, it helped them know their classmates when they got to high school,” said Damon.
At the height of the Pony League, there were 63 players.
By 1975, Damon proved to Parady, who by then was the athletic director at MDI High School, and to the school board that there were enough skilled players and enough interest to start the first junior varsity baseball team at MDI High School.
“JV baseball continues to this day as an opportunity for young players to develop more before they move on to the varsity level,” said Damon.
By the late 1970s, Damon was integral in forming American Legion baseball on MDI and the surrounding communities.
In 1977, Damon helped form the MDI Acadians American Legion baseball team that continues to thrive today. Hundreds of players from MDI, Bucksport, GSA, Ellsworth High School, Sumner, Narraguagas, Machias Memorial High School and Washington Academy have benefitted from the American Legion baseball league over the past 40 years.
Damon, who stepped down from teaching and coaching both high school and the MDI Acadians in 1985, acted as state commissioner before taking the position of field director, which he holds to this day.
“I hope I’ve helped instill in [the players] love of baseball,” said Damon. “I’m very honored to be selected and to be recognized.”