Ed Flaherty honored by USM for his 39 years as baseball coach

Apr. 27—GORHAM — How do you honor a man like Ed Flaherty, who will retire at the completion of his 39th season as head coach at the University of Southern Maine baseball team? How do you say thank you for nearly four decades of excellence?

Before Saturday's doubleheader against Castleton, USM honored Flaherty with a brief ceremony of thanks. Flaherty was joined in the middle of the diamond that already bears his name by his family: wife Debbie, daughter Regina, and sons Ryan and Regan, along with his son-in-law, daughter-in-law and grandchildren. The current Huskies stood on the first-base line. Dozens of alumni players, coaches and colleagues stood along the third-base line and stretched well into the outfield. Castleton stood in front of its dugout.

Flaherty has more than 1,100 wins at USM, and there's a story to go with every one. You honor Flaherty by remembering those game, and you tell those stories.

Ken Reed was a USM catcher in 1997 when the Huskies won the second of two NCAA Division III championships under Flaherty. Before the championship game against Wooster in Salem, Virginia, Reed stood next to Flaherty on the dugout steps.

"I stood beside him, and we're just standing there, nothing special, and I go, 'What do you think's going to happen coach?' " Reed said. "And he goes, 'We're going to score a couple in the first, a couple in the second, and then we're going to run away with it.'

"And that's exactly how the game worked out (a 15-1 USM win)."

Six years earlier, in 1991, Flaherty was just as reserved leading into the final game against Trenton State. USM won 9-0 in Battle Creek, Michigan.

"He was actually pretty calm and cool. He got us there and we knew what to do," said Rick York, the team's catcher. "At the end of it, I just remember sitting next to him after I got taken out (of the game), and we just looked at each other and smiled."

As of Saturday, Flaherty's No. 26 is retired. It joined No. 23, retired last season in honor of former USM player and assistant coach Vinnie Degifico, who died of cancer in 2022, on the press box wall, just beyond the stands behind home plate.

You honor Flaherty with more stories, because each one is full of gratitude and love.

Gary Williamson played left field on the 1991 national championship team, and was named Most Valuable Player of the College World Series. He knew he was on a talented team led by an outstanding coach, but he wasn't thinking national championship when he was in the batting cages in the winter preceding the season.

"Now, we didn't go into the season thinking we were going to be national champs. We were all so focused on keeping our starting jobs," Williamson said. "You had to perform on the field. There was a lot of talent on that team. It was a bunch of guys trying to prove themselves."

York and Williamson said they were scared of Flaherty when they first met him, simply because they were young and not ready for his intensity. To the athletes who played for Flaherty, he passed on accountability and confidence. You don't win twice as many games as you lose without an ample supply of both.

"He believed we could win. If we played the Red Sox, he believed we could win," Reed said. "Beyond my parents, he's the biggest influence in my life."

York said even now, 33 years after that 1991 national title, Flaherty is still somebody he can reach out to any day. Williamson doesn't think his old coach has anything to prove to anybody, and will enjoy his retirement.

"He's done a great job for the school and the state, and the community, and New England, and all of college baseball," Williamson said. "He should take some time and go enjoy his family. He deserves every bit of it."

Flaherty spoke briefly, thanking his family and everyone who has helped the USM baseball program over the past four decades. He looked at the horde of alumni stretching from the batters box down the foul line to left field, and pointed.

"This is the program, right here," Flaherty said. "I wouldn't change a thing."

How do you honor Ed Flaherty, the coach who gave so much to the USM baseball program? The current Huskies knew exactly what to do.

They went out on the field that carries their coach's name and played ball.

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