Northeast League (2003-2004)
Born: 2003 – The Adirondack Lumberjacks relocate to Bangor, ME
Died: 2005 – The Lumberjacks cease operations.
Owner: Chip Hutchins
The Bangor Lumberjacks were the second of two failed attempts to establish low-level professional baseball in (or at least “near”) Bangor, Maine during the independent baseball boom of the 1990′s and early 21st century. Both the Lumberjacks and their predecessor, the Bangor Blue Ox (1996-1997), had a brand identity closely connected to Paul Bunyan folklore. Bangor claims to be the birthplace of the mythic logger and has a gargantuan statue of the woodsman in a downtown park.
In the case of the Lumberjacks, the Bunyan connection was a little more coincidental. The independent club already existed for eight years in Glens Falls, New York under the “Adirondack Lumberjacks” name before relocating to Maine. Bangor businessman Charles M. “Chip” Hutchins bought the Northeast League ball club from Charles Jacey for a reported $575,000 in October 2002. In the move to Bangor, Hutchins retained the Lumberjacks moniker, along with Adirondack’s field manager Kash Beauchamp and Charles Jacey’s son Curt as the team’s General Manager.
Beauchamp was something of an independent baseball legend. The son of former Major League journeyman Jim Beauchamp, Kash was the first overall selection in the 1982 Major League Baseball amateur draft. He never made it to the Majors during a 12-year minor league career. When the independent baseball resurgence began with the formation of the Northern League in the summer of 1993, Beauchamp was one of the first players to sign, latching on with the Rochester (MN) Aces. He hit .367 and was named the league’s MVP that summer. Beauchamp later signed with the Cincinnati Reds and joined their farm system, helping to legitimize the upstart Northern League as a place where Major League organizations would scout and sign talent.
Stadium issues played a key role in the destiny of both of Bangor’s baseball efforts. The Blue Ox played for two seasons at the University of Maine’s Mahaney Diamond, ten miles up the road in Orono while hoping to get City Council approval of a $2 million bond for a new ballpark in Bangor. When that effort failed by a single vote in 1997, the team closed its doors. Unlike the Blue Ox, Hutchins could count on a new stadium - albeit a no-frills one – for his Lumberjacks. The John Winkin Baseball Complex at Bangor’s Husson College would feature 3,000 seats for baseball and a new FieldTurf surface. The ballpark had a low-seven figure price tag, footed in collaboration by long-time University of Maine Baseball Coach John Winkin, local philanthropist Harold Alfond, and the Bangor City Council. However, the approval process dragged out until the fall of 2003. Like the Blue Ox before them, the Lumberjacks would play their first season at Mahaney Diamond in Orono.
For the 2003 season, Beauchamp assembled an iconoclastic band of pro baseball castoffs. Jeff Sparks was a screwballer with an unconventional delivery who already made the unlikely leap from indy ball to the Major Leagues once, pitching in two dozen games for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999-2000. Now he was back in independent ball, still pursuing the dream. 31-year old Santiago Henry was in his 12th season of minor league baseball – but his first attempting to be a pitcher. Lorenzo De La Cruz was another guy entering his second decade in the minors. A holdover from Adirondack, he was expected to provide the power after batting .367 and winning league Player-of-the-Year honors in 2002.
The team fared poorly in its first season in Maine, finishing 42-49 or the worst record in the Northeast League’s North Division. At the turnstiles, the ‘Jacks averaged only 1,089 fans per game on season tickets sale of 400 at their temporary home in Orono.
One month after the season, the team received tragic news out of North Carolina, where the team’s 30-year hitting coach and occasional player Josh Brinkley, was struck and killed by a car while out jogging. As a player, Brinkley signed with the Montreal Expos as a 19-year old and advanced as high as double-A ball during five seasons in the Expos farm system. By age 24, Brinkley was out of affiliated baseball, but was able to extend his career in the independent leagues for another half decade. His 2003 summer in Bangor had been his first as a professional coach.
The Lumberjacks opened their new home on June 3rd, 2003 with a 9-4 victory over the New Jersey Jackals. Attendance was disappointing for the ‘Jacks debute at John Winkin Baseball Complex, estimated by The Bangor Daily News at only 1,500 fans.
Only five members of the disappointing 2003 team returned for the 2004 season in Bangor. Beauchamp returned as manager and shook up the team with strong results. Pitcher Jerry Long posted the league’s lowest ERA at 1.97. Outfielder Derry Hammond, a former Major League 3rd round draft pick who never panned out for the Milwaukee Brewers, bashed a league-leading 23 home runs.
But a strong season on the field concluded in embarassing fashion when the Lumberjacks failed to secure playoff dates at Winkin due to schedule miscommunications with the Husson College athletics department. The club had to scramble to secure dates across town at Mansfield Stadium, a 1,500-seat ballpark built by the author Stephen King and his wife to host youth baseball tournaments. Two weekend home dates for the playoff series against the New Jersey Jackals drew a paltry total of 638 fans. The Jackals eliminated the ‘Jacks three games to one in the best-of-five series. These proved to be the franchise’s final games.
Team owner Chip Hutchins quickly mothballed the club, shuttering the team’s office in Bangor Mall and laying off the team’s staff. Beauchamp’s contract elapsed and he moved on to another independent league our West. The team went dark for much of the winter as Hutchins looked for a buyer. Then in February 2005, Hutchins re-hired his old General Manager Curt Jacey, who hurriedly scrambled to sell tickets, sign up sponsors and assemble a ball club. In mid-April, Jacey appointed the team’s former hitting coach Chris Carminucci as the Lumberjacks’ field manager for the 2005 season.
Less than a week after Carminucci’s appointment, Hutchins informed his fellow Can-Am League owners that he was unwilling or unable to pay the league’s annual dues and operate the team for the 2005 season. On April 28th, 2005, the Can-Am League voted to terminate Bangor’s membership in the league. With the season barely a month away, the league replaced the Bangor on the schedule with a travel team called “the Grays”. Carminucci signed on to manage the Grays, bringing a handful of newly unemployed Lumberjacks along with him.
This marked the end of Bangor’s second go-around with independent baseball and the city is now widely viewed as too small to support the professional game.
Kash Beauchamp continued moving around the United States, working for a succession of short-lived independent leagues and ball clubs. He attained a degree of viral video fame in 1998 for this umpire tantrum while managing the appropriately named Wichita Wingnuts.
Chris Carminucci led the Grays travel team to a surprising .500 record during the first half of the 2005 Can-Am League season. Keeping the team competitive under adverse circumstances helped establish Carminucci’s credentials as a manager, giving him a steady string of contacts and job offers in the tightly knit world of independent baseball. He later formed Carminucci Sports Group to own and operate independent and collegiate wooden bat league clubs, and became CEO and managing partner of the Can-Am League’s Brockton Rox franchise in 2009.