Coach Flaherty battles down to the final game of a legendary baseball career

Coach Ed Flaherty watches from the dugout as the Huskies play a game against VTSU-Castleton.
Coach Ed Flaherty considers his team’s next move in the first game of a doubleheader against VTSU-Castleton.

The baseball season wasn’t quite finished yet when the University of Southern Maine threw a retirement party for Ed Flaherty. And as long as he’s still coaching, he’ll fight just as hard to win the last game as he did to win the first. That drive is what makes him a Husky legend.

“I would like to be remembered as a guy who enjoyed kids, was a good guy, and was competitive,” Flaherty said. “I believe competitiveness is a trait we don’t teach as much as we should.”

Flaherty had a lot of people to thank and a lot of stories to share at the party on April 27. It took place before a doubleheader at (where else?) Ed Flaherty Field in Gorham. Flaherty’s current team stood along the first base line, while former players gathered on the third base side. Flaherty and his family occupied the infield grass in front of the pitcher’s mound.

The well-wishers spanned all 39 years of Flaherty’s career. Members of his earliest teams who first met him as teenagers now have grey hair. At 70 years old, Flaherty decided the time was right to retire. He wants to see more of his grandchildren, and he couldn’t do that if he remained tied to his team.

Hugs from his grandchildren bring out a smile in Coach Ed Flaherty at his retirement party.
A hug from the grandkids brings out a smile in Coach Flaherty.

The youngest members of the Flaherty family are in the early grades of elementary school. When they weren’t required to sit still while their grandfather made his speech, they ran around the field chasing balls and each other. The hugs they gave to Flaherty were returned with a gentleness that ran counter to the intensity he brings to his job.

Flaherty has been obsessed with sports since he was his grandchildren’s age. He played football and basketball until turning his focus to baseball. His inner fan comes out when he talks about his childhood hero.

“My favorite player was Carl Yastrzemski, and I did emulate his swing as I am lefthanded also,” Flaherty said. “I did get to take batting practice with him at Fenway Park in July of 1975. I was a member of the USA all-star team, and we were playing Japan at Fenway Park. Yaz was on rehab and getting a workout with our team.”

Flaherty took the head coaching job at USM in 1986. Within five years, he built the Huskies into a powerhouse. They won the NCAA Division III National Championship in 1991. They were the first national champions ever to come from Maine. And they’d claim another national championship in 1997.

The USM baseball stands along the first base line as a show of respect for Coach Ed Flaherty at his retirement ceremony.
Members of Flaherty’s final team as a coach stood along the first base line throughout his retirement ceremony.

Flaherty’s teams have made eight trips to the college World Series and won eight regional championships. They’ve competed in 26 national championship tournaments, most recently in 2021. Flaherty’s career record is 1,133-531-4.

Shyler Scates was an ace pitcher in the Huskies’ 2013 and 2014 World Series runs. To play at such a high level required the utmost discipline. Scates remembers when his teammates fell short of that standard by cutting corners in practice. Rather than coddle the star players, Flaherty held them accountable and challenged them to be better leaders.

“He wasn’t doing it out of spite. He wasn’t doing it out of pure emotion. He was doing it for a reason,” Scates said. “And I think those little things are what make him the best of all time.”

Scates graduated with a Business Marketing degree in 2016. He jumped at the invitation to return to campus to celebrate Flaherty’s career. The chance to see his teammates again was also a major bonus.

Flaherty thanked them for coming and quickly deflected credit to his coaching staff for developing all the talent on display. He reserved special praise for his wife, Debbie, as the program’s unsung hero. Debbie admits that she isn’t the biggest baseball fan. But whenever Ed needed a sounding board or emotional support, she was always there for him.

With his family by his side, Coach Ed Flaherty addresses the crowd at his retirement party.
Family and former players traveled long distances to attend Coach Flaherty’s ceremony.

“He loves this. He loves his players and has every year,” Debbie said. “It’s hard thinking of him not being with them. They’ve been such a big part of his life.”

Debbie knows retirement will be a big adjustment. They built their lives around the rhythms of the baseball season with its late-night games and long road trips. When that’s gone, what will fill the baseball-sized hole? Ed is an avid golfer. And if that’s not enough to satisfy his competitive nature. Debbie also introduced him to pickleball.

Travel is another retirement priority. Out of their three children, only their daughter Regina Booth lives locally. Her brothers live out of state with Regan in Tennessee and Ryan splitting time between Chicago and Florida. All three made the trip back home to attend their father’s ceremony.

The timing of the event worked out perfectly for Ryan Flaherty. He’s a former Major League Baseball player and now works as a bench coach for the Chicago Cubs. They just happened to be in Boston for a game against the Red Sox. The team let him slip away just long enough for a quick round-trip visit to Gorham.

Ryan Flaherty compliments his father at the retirement ceremony for Coach Ed Flaherty.
The Chicago Cubs granted Ryan Flaherty an excused absence from his job as bench coach to join his family in Gorham.

“It’s been 20 years since I’ve seen a game here. And in my first 20 years, this was my second home,” Ryan said. “It’s just great to come back here and watch a few innings. Sentimentally, it’s pretty cool. I’m excited to be here.”

Each of the Flaherty kids took turns on the microphone. They painted a picture of a household steeped in competition which even came out in their speeches. When Regina introduced herself as the family’s best overall athlete, her brothers nodded grudgingly. It’s a trait they all trace back to their dad.

“He instilled a lot of passion and a lot of competitiveness and always was, like, ‘Do the best you can at anything you do,’” Regina said.

“He never put pressure on us,” Regan added. “Growing up under a coach, you’d think there was always expectations, ‘Hey, you gotta play baseball or certain sports.’ Never the case, never over-coached us, just let us go out and do what we were passionate about.”

The only outsider with a seat among the family was Al Bean, USM’s Director of Athletics. He and Flaherty have known each other for more than 50 years and worked together for most of that time. Flaherty’s departure is a double whammy for Bean on both a professional and personal level.

A stadium seat signed by former players is presented to Coach Ed Flaherty as a retirement gift.
A signed stadium seat was one of several retirement gifts presented to Coach Flaherty.

“Ed is very smart, funny, loves to have a good time, stir the pot and get people together to have a good time,” Bean said. “He is a great friend.”

Part of Bean’s duties at the ceremony was to present Flaherty with a few tokens of appreciation. The first gift was a seat in the same color and style as ones that fill the stand a Flaherty Field. The seat was covered with signatures from past players. Flaherty’s next gift was a bat signed by all of the players on his final team.

The last gift was something Flaherty couldn’t take home. Bean pointed to the press box where a sign with the number 26 from Flaherty’s jersey was newly bolted to the wall. The number would retire with Flaherty, never to be worn by anyone else.

A nationwide search for a new head baseball coach will keep Bean busy for the next several months. Flaherty leaves the program in good shape, but Bean doesn’t sugarcoat the difficulties ahead.

“Following a legend is not easy, and collegiate athletics is definitely changing,” Bean said. “New rules, player and parent expectations, and recruiting methods are changing the landscape and the foundation of the NCAA. The next person will need to be prepared to work very hard, be an effective recruiter, and a strong leader.”

Down 3-1 in the second inning, the Huskies would rally to defeat VTSU-Castleton 14-4.
The name over the scoreboard ensures that retirement won’t stop Ed Flaherty from watching over the Huskies.

After the ceremony ended, there was still a doubleheader to be played against Vermont State University Castleton. USM won both games by scores of 14-4 and 9-8. The senior catcher Cam Seymour swung a hot bat with a home run in the first game and a double in the second. Coach Flaherty is a big motivator for him.

“It fired us up when he told us that he’s retiring to go out and play a lot better to make sure his last year is a little more special,” Seymour said.

The Huskies rode a hot streak through the rest of the regular season, winning 3 of their last 4 games. They lost 6-0 to UMass Dartmouth in their first game of the Little East Conference Championship Tournament. But the tournament format is double elimination, so the Huskies remain alive with their next game against UMass Boston set for May 9 at 7 p.m.

Every remaining game is precious to Flaherty. He summed it up simply by saying, “Baseball has been my life.”