Hall honor humbling for Hackett

This story was published on June 04, 2008 on Page C1 in all editions of the Bangor Daily News

In the opening game of the 1984 NCAA Northeast Regional at Mahaney Diamond in Orono, University of Maine senior catcher and co-captain Eddie Hackett had the first four-hit game of his career in a 12-6 win over Rider (N.J.).

“I got to go to the press room after the game. It was neat. I had never been there before. They had to point me in the right direction,” quipped Hackett.

It wasn’t Hackett’s bat that earned him a spot in the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame. Hackett, who will be inducted in August, was a career .208 hitter at Maine. It was his leadership, defensive skills and, most importantly, the way he handled a talented pitching staff that stood out on his resume.

Maine went 129-63 in Hackett’s four years (1981-84) including a 12-1 record in ECAC Tournament play and a 12-2 mark in NCAA Northeast Regional games. The Black Bears went to the College World Series all four years.

It was the heyday of Maine baseball.

“It seems like yesterday. I can still name all the players on those teams,” said Hackett, the assistant principal at Doughty Middle School in Bangor.

He said the best thing about those four years was “90 percent of our players were from Maine. I wish they’d go back to that.”

He remembers veterans like Mike Coutts and Mark Sutton taking him and the other underclassmen under their wings and making them feel like part of the team.

His highlights were numerous but one stood out: Joe Johnson’s four-hit 6-0 win over Cal State-Fullerton in the 1982 College World Series. Maine picked up its only two CWS wins in Hackett’s four years that season. Maine finished third.

“That was the best game I was ever involved in. It was such a fun game to be a part of,” said the 47-year-old Hackett.

Johnson and Billy Swift went on to pitch in the majors and Hackett also caught the likes of Stu Lacognata, Scott Morse and knuckleballer Tom Mahan.

“Mahan was the most difficult to catch,” said Hackett, who took pride in calling games.

“I looked at it as trying to outguess the hitter. I watched what they were doing in the box, where their feet were, what the count was, what [pitch] they were anticipating. It was like a chess game. I enjoyed it,” said Hackett.

Of course, the humble Hackett is quick to point out that having an exemplary pitching staff made calling games easier.

“Swift’s slider was phenomenal. The same with [Johnson]. They were the best two pitchers I ever caught,” said Hackett. “People ask me which one was better and I say ‘I can’t tell you.’ They were both pretty good pitchers.”

His long list of memories include challenging spring trips to Florida, California and Texas; the rivalry with Miami; the 5-4 18-inning win over Providence in the ECAC Tourney game that ended at 3 a.m.; the fans standing three and four deep around a packed Mahaney Diamond during the Northeast Regionals and, of all things, a trip to Vermont in a 22-inch snowstorm.

“We almost slid off the edge of a cliff and the lights at the hotel didn’t work,” he said.

Hackett is indebted to former Maine coach John Winkin for believing in him.

“He was the only one to give me a chance to play,” said Hackett who also considers himself fortunate to play with best friend and former Orono High teammate Jeff Paul.

Hackett, who has coached at several levels, said he was “extremely pleased” by his honor.

It is well-deserved.