"I call them the way I see them," says Doug MacGowan, who has been the umpire for summer softball on MDI for a generation. ISLANDER PHOTO BY SARAH HINCKLEY

Umpire MacGown a fixture on the field

BAR HARBOR — Since the 1970s adult softball games on the town athletic fields have been a steadfast summer night scene. From the mid-80s on, Doug MacGown has been the director behind the plate.

“I started playing in 1971, the second year of men’s league,” said MacGown who has spent every summer since then either playing or umpiring.

“I don’t know what I’d do without the job because it’s just so ingrained in me.”

In the last 47 years he has watched the success and failure of both the men’s and women’s softball leagues. For the last six years, MacGown has been the home plate umpire for the new co-ed softball league.

“These guys hit the ball so freakin’ hard, I worry about the pitchers,” he said. “The first year of co-ed league was a difficult one for me. It was a re-adjustment for everybody.”

When the men’s league was at its peak there were about 14 teams and a couple of leagues, MacGown remembers.

“Men’s league was very popular back in the 70s,” he said, adding that for the first couple of years members of the teams shared umpiring responsibilities at games. “I liked umpiring, it was fun.”

In order to become an official umpire, MacGown attended Amateur Softball Association (ASA) training for a couple of years. His fee for making the calls has not changed since then.

“I’ve been at $50 forever,” said MacGown, “which I feel is a great deal … Where else are you going to get 50 bucks for standing there watching a game that’s entertaining?”

In the early 90s the men’s league went under, shortly after he decided to stick with being the full-time umpire for the women’s league.

“Sometime in the 80s I decided I’d much rather umpire the women’s league,” said MacGown. “Not for the obvious reason that the scenery was better but because it was more low-key, more easygoing.”

A women’s league was started in the mid-70s and ran strong for about 35 years until it became more and more difficult to recruit players. Keri Hayes played in the women’s league from 1988 until it ended in 2013 and then played a couple of years in the co-ed league.

“So many players and teams came and went during those almost 30 years,” she said. “The constant was always Doug. He would come riding in on his bike and take his place behind the plate … Over the years he became more than an umpire, he was a friend.”

Hayes recalled some of her favorite years playing were when she was in the catcher position.

“He and I would talk and crack jokes while behind the plate,” she said. “I always thought this gave me a bit of an advantage because sometimes the batter was paying more attention to our banter than to the pitch that was coming in.”

MacGown has an amazing ability to recall players’ names, especially when it comes to memorable players and memorable moments.

James Allen, another longtime player, said he got to know MacGown more recently, when the women’s league ended and co-ed league started up.

“As far as I’m concerned Doug is the foundation of the league,” Allen said. “He’s the wise ‘father figure’ who has seen it all!

“Doug has a no-nonsense approach to umpiring (don’t question his calls!) but is absolutely the most kind-hearted, decent, level headed person you can imagine,” he continued. “His dedication and commitment to the league is second to none, and I believe his steady guidance is a large part of what has allowed the adult softball league to continue for as long as it has.”

MacGown grew up in Bangor and “played baseball every day of the summer when I was a kid,” but didn’t play baseball on his high school’s team.

MacGown made his way to Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Island by way of a summer job at the Jordan Pond House washing dishes in 1969. He worked there for five summers.

“I worked my way up to maintenance man,” said MacGown.

Despite being drawn to California and Carrabassett Valley during winter months by girlfriends, he ended up settling here. Using his degree in education with specialties in music and physical education, MacGown did a substituting stint at the high school in 1975.

“One thing I learned at the high school was, I can’t be indoors,” he recalls. “I’m a fresh air, outdoor sort of guy.”

Many people know MacGown for by his mode of transportation around town, his bicycle.

“I have numerous bikes,” he said. “I really like to ride the carriage roads… I just don’t want to drive in town.”

A few years ago, at the end of August, MacGown was riding his bike in town when a car hit him and broke his hip.

Softball season had ended for that year. Taking the winter to recover, MacGown was able to take his regular place behind home plate the following summer.

When asked why he has stuck with it so long, MacGown offers a litany of reasons.

“It’s the people that I meet,” he said. “I’d like to think over the course of time I’ve made some friends. I feel like I’m a good umpire. If there’s an issue, I think I’m good at diffusing it before things escalate too much.

“It’s just fun. I think I have a good eye,” added MacGown. “I do the best I can. I call them the way I see them, even if I don’t see them, because you have to make a call.”

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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