The beginning of baseball season always reminds me of the interesting people associated with local teams in the history of the Kennebunks. In the 1870s and 1880s most summer resort had a baseball team. Goose Rocks Beach, Kennebunk Beach, and Cape Arundel each had at least one team. On game day temporary diamonds were laid out on the beaches or in open hay fields.
Baseball was one thing that really brought summer and year-round residents together. The Ocean Bluff team at Cape Arundel had the good fortune to have Penobscot and Passamaquoddy boys camping nearby at Indian Canoe Landing. They were some of the best players on the team.
Eighteen-year-old Louis Francis Sockalexis, soon to be one of the first Native Americans to play professional baseball, was a member of the extended Penobscot family summering at Cape Arundel in 1889. Though he wasn’t mentioned by name on the roster that summer he was listed as third baseman on Kennebunkport’s 1902 roster after his brief career with the Cleveland Spiders. Some said he could have been the greatest player of all time if only he hadn’t struggled with alcoholism.
John Wesley (Colby Jack) Coombs played college baseball at Colby College before playing pro ball for the Philadelphia Athletics, the Brooklyn Robins, and the Detroit Tigers during his major league career. Jack’s parents, Frank H. Coombs, and Nellie Snow Coombs, for whom he purchased on a beautiful farm in the Alewive section of Kennebunk, had fifteen children. Jack and several of his brothers played baseball on Kennebunkport teams.
The Kennebunkport Historical Society owns a beautiful photograph of renowned Boston and Kennebunkport artist, Abbott Fuller Graves, posing with his baseball team. Graves sponsored and managed a local team of grown men in 1915, men with names still familiar in Kennebunkport like, Towne, Littlefield, Gould, Whitehead, Eldridge, and Butland. Curtis and Earnest Coombs played right field and catcher, respectively.
Henry Parsons donated land on School Street for a permanent ballpark and hired Frank Atkins to keep it trimmed and tidy. Poet and local shop keeper Silas Perkins took over as the team’s manager in 1916. The Kennebunkporters continued to play until 1918 when WWI made exuberance for a game seem inappropriate.
In 1922, summer resident George Herbert Walker, Jr. of Walker’s Point brought new life to the Kennebunkport baseball scene. He hired Colby Jack Coombs as player/manager. By that time Jack was coaching at Williams College. With summers off, he was free to lend his expertise to the Walker’s team. Walker and Coombs assembled the best collegiate talent available in 1923. Jack recruited his best players at Williams as well as the crème de la crème from Dartmouth and Princeton. Local sports fans were thrilled with the prospect of a winning ball club. Herbie Walker had named the team the Blue Stockings, but the fans and the press called them the Collegians and that name stuck.
Colby Jack Coombs went on to coach at Princeton and Duke University. Many of his relatives still live in the area. You know who you are. I hope you will speak up and share what you know.