Category Archives: June 7

When umpiring is all about fun—and learning how to play the game ‘right’

For the past seven weeks or so, Craig Gauthier hasn’t seen much of his wife, Dawn. While both normally have demanding weekday work schedules, from the last week in April through the first week or so of June, Gauthier is also umpiring Little League softball games six days a week—most every evening after work and, usually, two games each Saturday.

“I can’t say no [to requests that I umpire a game]. I really don’t want to say no. Every game I say no, that’s another game these kids are playing without an umpire. And when somebody—a coach or a parent—steps in and umpires, but doesn’t really know the rules, they are in there kind of making up their own rules, because they don’t know. So it’s good to have an official in there to say, ‘All right, you can’t do this, you can’t do that and this is what you have to do to play the game right.’”

Gauthier has been focusing on what it takes to play Little League softball “right” ever since Dawn, who herself had been coaching Little League softball for over 10 years in St. George at the time, asked if he would like to umpire—that was eight years ago, just before the couple was to be married in the fall of 2010.

“They were, as usual, short on volunteer umpires. So I said yeah, great, I have no trouble stepping up. I like to do anything I can for the kids.”

Umpiring softball, in fact, was a volunteer opportunity practically made to order for Gauthier, who has had a lifelong love of the sport. “Out of the sports that I play, which are basketball, football and softball, I like softball the best because you can really shine at both ends, offense and defense. It doesn’t take much to hit a ball and it doesn’t take much to catch a ball. It’s a hitting game. You have to decide where you want to hit the ball, given how the other team is fielding. It’s all about strategy, which is fun.”

To Gauthier, having fun should be a key aspect of the Little League experience, which involves girls and boys nine to 12 years old. And Gauthier also believes Little League should in large part be about learning the game—this applies not only to the young players, but also to their coaches and parents.

A read-through of the rule book is important, but Gauthier says there is so much more to the game than most people realize. “When I first started umpiring, Ben Vail, the director of St. George’s Parks and Recreation Department, asked me if I wanted to go to ‘Umpire School” in Bristol, Conn. [at the Eastern Regional Baseball and Softball Little League Center] to become certified. And I said yes.”

The Bristol Little League Center puts on clinics every spring where a volunteer umpire can, Gauthier says, “learn enough to go out and satisfy the parents and the coaches.” But the certification course lasts five days, with three days spent in the classroom before participants ever step out onto a ball field.

“There were so many little things that as a player my whole life I never knew. At the school we were at it eight to 10 hours a day and I thought is there really all that much to umpiring? But there is. And so many of the rules have come about because someone somewhere tried to cheat a little bit.”

Gauthier uses the example of the infield fly. “Most people don’t realize that when there’s an infield fly you automatically call time—it’s a dead ball and the person who is out is the batter. There are no additional plays possible, no force plays.” The rule, he says, exists to prevent the fielding team from making a double or triple play when an infielder chooses not to catch a ball otherwise easily caught.

Other rules have to do with safety. “Like not throwing the bat,” Gauthier explains. “You’re out if you do that, because someone could get hurt. If you’re just using what I call ‘playground rules,’ as so many people do, a thrown bat is often considered okay if no one got hurt.”

But while a very strict adherence to the official rules of the game is crucial at the junior high, high school and college levels, Gauthier believes that for Little League games a different approach is beneficial because Little Leaguers and many of their coaches and parents are new to softball.

“Sometimes a college-level umpire comes to some of these Little League games and they call the game very strictly. But I take it at levels. I can tell when a player is petrified of a fast ball coming in—she’s never seen it before, she’s been hitting off a T until now so she jumps out of the batter’s box and I have to call it a strike. She won’t know why I made this call, so I’ll explain it to her and I’ll even position her in the box, put one foot here and the other foot there. And I take it from there. Because at this level it is learning.”

At the Little League level, too, skill is a factor that sometimes affects the way games play out. “I did a game the other night where the score was 16-6 and the winning team didn’t even have to bring a bat. They scored on walks and balls. It often comes down to how well does your pitcher throw a strike and how well does your catcher catch the ball and not allow it to get behind her. That’s why a game can last one-and-a-half hours to four hours. It varies. Fortunately in our league we only allow 10 runs in an inning, so if we reach 10 we stop and the teams change the field. And if you’re ahead by 10 runs after four innings the game is over.” With a wry smile, he adds, “It’s a mercy.”

Gauthier admits that sometimes he finds ways to offer encouragement to struggling players. “I’m not technically bending the rules or forgetting the rules. I’m making the rules fit the situation. When a team is down by 15 runs and this poor player finally gets a bat on the ball the reaction of the crowd is so loud it’s an uproar and I call her safe even if she’s a step out. If the other team’s coach says something I say, ‘You’re ahead by 15, what does it matter? It will be you sometime.’”

Little League, Gauthier points out, “is your last chance to shine if you’re an average player. If you make the team in junior high you’re probably going to be sitting on the bench.” His hope is that the kids playing the game enjoy it enough that they continue to play it recreationally all their lives—like he and Dawn still do. Gauthier plays all summer long in the Elks League and all autumn long with Dawn in the co-ed league in Waldoboro.

“Softball is not a ‘girl’s’ game,” he emphasizes. “At our co-ed level it is very competitive.” After a pause he adds reflectively, “To find someone who loves the game as much as I do—that’s Dawn—it was amazing.” —JW

PHOTOS: Julie Wortman

Time to register for the BBC half marathon

The Blueberry Cove 13.1 road race is accepting registrations for the 8th annual half marathon in St.George. All proceeds go to help kids attend Blueberry Cove and Tanglewood 4H Camps and Learning Centers.

A pre-race seafood and pasta dinner with blueberry pie and ice cream takes place Saturday, August 25, and the race starts at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, August 26, at the Tenants Harbor camp. The course takes runners and walkers to the St.George River, Turkey Cove, Port Clyde village, the Marshall Point Lighthouse, Drift Inn Beach, and it finishes at the camp with a post-race brunch. People are welcome to stay over in the camp cabins, or tent on the lawn.

The course includes water stops every two miles. Organizers avoid plastic. Bibs are hand-painted on cloth. Mile posts are re-purposed lobster buoys. Volunteers are needed for water stops and intersections, and all volunteers are welcome to the brunch. If you can volunteer, please call Steve Cartwright, 372-6534, or email: writer@midcoast.com.

For information and to sign up, visit Blueberry Cove 13.1 on Facebook, or https://www.active.com/tenants-harbor-me/running/blueberry-cove-13-1-2018.

2018 St. George Memorial Day address

by Robert Branco

[Ed. note: The following is the excerpted text from the address Robert Branco gave at this year’s Memorial Day observance in Tenants Harbor. Branco is a member of the Kinney-Melquist chapter of the American Legion.]

Following the American Civil War, the federal government began creating national cemeteries for the war veteran dead across the country. For the next 100 years Memorial Day celebrations were held honoring war veterans around the country. Now a national holiday, Memorial Day honors all the men and women veterans who have given their lives for the country in the wars in our history around the world. … In addition to giving their lives on these foreign battlefields, our men and women have had many life-threatening difficulties in their lives when they are back at home with family. Their memories of the loss of their brothers and sisters at arms alongside of them are horrific nightmares that never leave them.

Many of them also have been wounded in combat and have lost arms and legs due to explosive weapons. The modern creation of artificial prosthetic limbs has helped many of the combat veterans recover important parts of their life. Others have suffered post-traumatic stress when their close comrades have died next to them in battle from horrible wounds. …

… My niece Jessica, a long-time high school teacher married in 2005. Her husband Tony had been an Army combat medic in Iraq where he cared for those wounded and killed in battle. He and I had shared our military experience when we met. Three years ago, Tony was battling post-traumatic stress from his tours in combat and he and Jessica lived in San Jose, California with their two young children. Tony was trying to get help from the VA for his PTSD but apparently their counseling efforts weren’t working to help him control his stress …

…After all these many years of war that our American veterans have been through, post-traumatic stress is just being acknowledged as a serious mental health problem. Sadly, enough help hasn’t been given to veterans who have been in difficult combat situations and bear tragic memories.

On Memorial Day weekend in 2015, Tony was struggling with his thoughts at home, feeling bad. He had kept a rifle in their apartment, and suddenly was in bed with it greatly upset. My niece and her mother were trying to talk him down from what looked like a very suicidal condition. Finally, he took his life with the weapon. So tragic.

The memories I have of the tragedy are sad, but the real blessing is that Tony did not attack his family. He had always been loving and caring of his wife and children—even though he struggled with the terrible battle stress he suffered from his tours in Iraq. The many pictures of him with his young daughter Audrey and son Jason are full of many happy smiles. …

…So, what do we have to learn from this?

In 2014 7,388 veterans in our country took their own lives. While some VA facilities have made a difference to support our veterans in their needs, much more needs to be done across the country.

Since some of our family and friends have left us because of their tragic memories of the wars and veteran friends they have lost, we need to continue to support our veterans and send our messages to our government representatives about the need to provide real important psychological support for all of our veterans, young and old. The availability of this valuable life support needs to be highlighted in all the media, especially in televised documentaries and publicity in all means of communication.

The one blessing for my niece is that there was a lot of support from her friends and family after this tragedy. Recently, she received a special invitation for her to go to Denver, Colorado with her children for a special event gathering of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), a non-profit which offers compassionate care to all those grieving the loss of military loved ones.

This was so special for Jessica. Since 1994 this program has assisted more than 75,000 surviving families with retreats, regional seminars for adults and youth programs across the country. The caring support of TAPS has helped Jessica’s life become more positive with Audrey and Jason as they continue their lives together. These memories of our veterans in our families and friends are so important in our own lives.

One thing for sure is that our sincere support for them can really make a difference.

The ‘art’ of trackin’ woodpeckers

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

“All you need are ears to track woodpeckers.” This quote from my nine-year-old son Leif sums up what he would say if he wrote a column about tracking woodpeckers. And Leif’s right, woodpeckers often announce their presence in an area quite loudly when vocalizing, drumming, or excavating trees for food and homes. Eyes can come in handy, of course, when observing the loads of sign woodpeckers leave behind after feeding or actually seeing the birds. With a fine combination of listening and looking one can learn a ton about what local woodpeckers are up to.

To generalize, woodpeckers are neither the sneakiest of animals nor the hardest of animals to track. Finding an old paper birch riddled with old woodpecker holes is not uncommon in the St. George woods and neither is finding an apple tree with row after row of Yellow-bellied Sapsucker holes lining the bark. A pile of fresh “shrapnel” wood chips under such trees clues an observer to how recent, and how frequent a tree or area is visited as a lunch stop. Sometimes the wood is so fresh you can still hear the woodpecker pecking while searching for ants, grubs or any other tasty morsel that sticks to their extra-long tongues!

Pileated woodpecker

Early in the breeding season the loud, echoing calls of local Hairy, Downy and Pileated woodpeckers rang through the St. George woods as territories were laid claim to. When a woodpecker’s throat gets tired from calling they move on to their favorite “drumming” branches to lay down a beat that can also be heard over distances. The acoustics of such branches act to amplify a woodpecker’s pecking, turning an effortless pecking rhythm into a booming bass drum in an act of true non-vocal communication. These are the activities that Leif was thinking about with his quote. For a time it seemed like every woodpecker around wanted to be heard and the tracking was easy!

Any rogue woodpecker that enters an established territory is taken as a threat and is met with a cacophony of calls and displays to relay a message of displeasure. These non-contact “battles” can be quite comical to watch, and even harder to miss when dueling woodpeckers are chasing and screaming their way through a set of trees.

Breeding season brings associated activities such as mating, cavity-excavating, egg-laying and all that. Active woodpecker nests in the earliest stages can be tricky to find as adults stay quiet during incubation and keep the coming and going to a minimum. Once the eggs hatch, however, activity picks up and nests can be (somewhat) easily found. This is my favorite part of tracking woodpeckers and June happens to be the month for finding woodpecker nests. What luck! What timing!

Hairy woodpecker nest

Once woodpeckers hatch they start begging (typical) in a continual effort to remind their parents that they are still alive and that they are hungry all the time. With a little imagination the young woodpecker- begging calls sound like a cat purring and the “purring” chorus from a nest with three nestling woodpeckers can be heard from over 100 feet away. At first, the young are too small to reach the cavity opening, but over the course of a few weeks they gain enough size to where they are able to poke their heads (one at a time) through the opening and beg unfiltered. Now the “purring” can be heard even further away, making the tracking and locating of a nest that much easier. Simply follow the purring to the nest tree and then search for the cavity opening—it can be that simple!

With the nest in hand (not literally) I like to find a spot from a safe distance to watch the action as the babies grow. Adult woodpeckers will call as they approach the nest, letting the nestlings know a meal is on its way. When the youngsters are small, adult woodpeckers will completely enter the cavity to feed and may hang out inside for a bit. Sometimes adults can be seen leaving the cavity carrying a white sac in their bill. These are “fecal sacs”, which are essentially “packaged poop” which the adult will carry and dispose of away from the nest tree. Fecal sacs are great adaptions if you want to keep a nest zone free of smells and stains. Those are some pretty dedicated parents!

No bike ride in June is complete without hearing at least one woodpecker nest, and on a decent ride I may pass three or more roadside nests with countless others too far for my ears to register. Whether on the trails, walking roadside or pooting around on a bike (that’s what I do) listen for the “purring of the woodpeckers”­­—you may be rewarded with a view of woodpeckers only a few weeks old, or an adult carrying a fecal sac. Either way, June is baby bird month (not officially) and with a little listening and looking neighborhood woodpeckers and their nests can be on your radar and the observing will begin! Another in the endless list of reasons to go outside!

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

Salinity and its effects on alewives

Students wade into the creek between the culvert and the marsh

by Maggie Gill

The watershed of our marsh is in trouble, especially for the alewives.

As you might already know, the alewives that used to thrive in our town marsh disappeared for over 30 years, leaving everyone wondering, “What happened?” Almost three years ago we got another shock; they came back! But there might be another problem on our hands now…

In science class, we have been studying the salinity in the marsh. Using the refractometers that measure the salinity in water, we took samples from three different points near the culvert. We took the samples back to the classroom and measured how much salt was in the water in each sample. Fortunately, water coming directly from the marsh was found to have zero parts of salt per thousand parts of water (0 ppt). In the stream itself we found anywhere from 4-27 ppt because of the tidal influence. We do think that some tides bring salt waters right over the outlet and directly into the marsh.

Now, you may be thinking “Okay, so there’s a little bit of salt in the waters of the marsh. What’s the big deal? And how does this relate to the alewives?” Here’s the problem about the salt in our watershed: Research suggests that alewife eggs develop best in less than 5 ppt of salinity. Now is where the other part of our studies comes in.

Along with studying salinity, we have been studying tides that can flood into the marsh. According to the “rule of twelves” of a tide cycle, we can go down to the marsh at any time and find out if the coming (or leaving) tide will (or has) flood (or flooded) the marsh. Here’s an example of how to calculate the tides: Say it was one hour before the coming high tide. First, we would measure the water in the culvert, and let’s say that that we measured 10 inches in the culvert. Then we go back to the classroom and start calculating, knowing the time we made the observation, the time of the high tide, and the predicted depth of the tide. First, we find 1/12 of the 8.7 foot tide since there is another hour of water to come in on the tide. One-twelfth of 8.7 feet is 0.73 feet. Then we find out how many inches 0.73 feet is. That answer is 8 1/2 inches. The next step is to add this to our original measurement of 10 inches for a total of 18 1/2 inches. Since the difference in elevation between the bottom of the culvert and the outlet of the marsh is approximately three feet, this high tide of 8.7 feet, with 18 1/2 inches of water in the culvert would not flood the culvert.

In conclusion, the marsh’s alewives run may be in even more trouble, even if you can’t see the damage as its happening. To keep you updated, you could check out our website, http://marshwatershed.edublogs.org/ .

(Gill is a 7th-grade student at the St. George School.)

[Note: Thanks to a grant from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s “Vital Signs” Freshwater Investigations program, and direction from Paul Meinersmann, St. George students are building a digital salinity sensor station to deploy in the marsh. Students are reading and learning about how the different parts work, how they connect together, how to write code in order to give the sensor commands. After testing, it will be ready to go. Collecting salinity data over time will give us a better view of how tides influence the freshwater of the marsh and possibly the alewives.—Alison England]

PHOTOS: Courtesy St. George School