PORTLAND, Maine — While it may only be a two-hour drive from Portland to Orono, there is a much greater gap between the University of Maine athletic department and its fans in the southern part of Maine.
That is why events such as Tuesday’s baseball game between the University of Maine and Boston College are so important to the Black Bears’ future viability.
Nearly 1,700 fans turned out Tuesday evening at Hadlock Field to see the Black Bears take on the Eagles. They did so even with a threatening weather forecast and some light rain that fell at the home of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Class AA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.
UMaine played well in a 9-4 victory over Boston College, providing not only good sports entertainment for those in attendance, but an opportunity for fans to renew old acquaintances.
Numerous former UMaine players and coaches from across the state turned out for the game, including UMaine alums such as Carl “Stump” Merrill, Joe Ferris and many others. They saw it as a chance to visit with old friends in a fun setting.
UMaine athletics has made the effort over the last 10 or 15 years to hold games in Portland to help facilitate interest in its programs. Hockey plays at least one game per year at the Cumberland County Civic Center and the basketball teams also have appeared at the CCCC in the past.
UMaine baseball has made Sanford’s Goodall Park a somewhat regular game venue, and Black Bear football games have been held off and on at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
There is value to playing in Portland from many perspectives. Fans who aren’t usually inclined to drive to Orono for a game have the chance to see the Bears in their own backyard.
For UMaine, playing in southern Maine demonstrates a willingness to reach out to fans and prospective fans by incurring some additional expense and inconvenience to take their show on the road.
Since approximately two-thirds of the state’s population lives within 50 miles of Portland, there would appear to be considerable potential for developing new supporters of Black Bear athletics in the region.
Sports fans who don’t have the chance to see Division I athletics have a much harder time appreciating the level of competition and the excitement that comes with it.
Clearly, UMaine shouldn’t expect thousands of fans to start flocking to Orono for home games during the 2012-13 season simply because the Bears have played a few games in Portland.
Even so, exposing the sports community to their sports offerings may well get some folks to pay a little more attention to the program in the future.
Professional sports continue to generate a lot of attention in Portland, with the Sea Dogs leading the way along with the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League and the Maine Red Claws of the National Basketball Association’s Developmental League.
Still, there is plenty of room for UMaine to have an impactful southern Maine presence through continued success on the field of play and off-field efforts to promote Black Bear athletics in the region.
Planned renovations to the Civic Center could even help open the door for UMaine to make a future bid to host the America East basketball championship in Portland.
The bottom line is, UMaine must continue to sponsor athletic events in Portland and southern Maine. Black Bear athletics still has a role to play in the region, even though the campus is located in Orono.