Media Archive

Harris, 60, went to bat for town of Milo, baseball

Article from Bangor Daily News, Tuesday, May 02, 2006

By Ernie Clark
Staff Writer

Rec director, coach served youth

MILO - Like so many other baseball players who have grown up in this Piscataquis County town, Zach Beals learned much of what he knows about the sport from Murrel Harris.

From his first days on the diamond in the local youth league, to being a starting outfielder and captain as a senior at Penquis Valley High School this spring, Beals has come to appreciate all Harris did to advance the sport in the community and make the youngsters who played feel good about themselves.

"Coach Harris emphasized playing baseball and having fun," said Beals. "Penquis hasn't really been strong in baseball the last few years, but he always tried to make it fun."

Harris, varsity baseball coach at Penquis for the last three years and the town's longtime recreation director, died Saturday at his home. He was 60.

"Murrel loved baseball," said Penquis athletic director Tony Hamlin, a close friend who grew up across the street from Harris. "That was his passion."

Yet that passion often transcended baseball to all things involving his home town.

Harris was a 1964 graduate of Milo High School, where he played baseball and was part of an Eastern Maine championship basketball team.

After serving in the Army, he returned home where he began a 30-year career as the town's recreation director and took up virtually any cause that would benefit his community.

A member of the Milo Fire Department for more than 25 years, Harris was instrumental in the staging of the state's oldest fishing derby, the 44-year-old Schoodic Lake Ice Fishing Derby held each winter on Schoodic, Ebemee and Sebois lakes.

Harris was a member of the Joseph P. Chaisson American Legion Post No. 41, and he also was a charter member of the Three Rivers Kiwanis club, where he served as president, on the board of directors and was coordinator for the club's Secret Santa program for area youth.

"There wasn't any project he wasn't willing to donate his time and energy to," said Milo town manager Jane Jones. "Murrel represented everything that's good about Milo and small-town life."

But certainly baseball held a special place for generations of the Harris family.

His father, Lewis Harris, and uncles, Garfield "Gippy" Harris, Wallace "Hopper" Harris and Albert "Tabby" Harris, all were outstanding ballplayers in the area during the 1930s, '40s and '50s, having played in semipro baseball leagues.

Murrel Harris not only played the game, he became even better known as a coach in the local youth leagues during his years as recreation director.

"The thing I'll remember most was the way Murrel interacted with kids, particularly the little kids in T-ball and Little League," Hamlin said. "He was just real, real positive all the time."

Harris took those skills to the high school level for 12 years, serving as athletic director and baseball coach at Penquis for from the late 1970s to the early 1990s.

He returned to the varsity coaching ranks in 2004, seeking to resurrect the struggling Penquis baseball team.

By the end of the 2004 season, the Penquis squad was down to nine players, but he enlisted the aid of those who continued to play to help draw new players into the program. This year, there are nearly 20 players on the roster.

"He made it so kids wanted to be playing baseball again," Beals said.

And the team has shown improvement, currently boasting a 2-2 record.

"The baseball program had been struggling, but he took it over again three years ago and got us to the point where we had become competitive again," said Hamlin. "We had turned the corner in baseball, and it was because of him."

His passion for baseball still survives even after his death. A flag symbolizing Harris' beloved New York Yankees is flying in his honor outside Lary Funeral Home in Milo.

And Wednesday, when visiting hours are scheduled beginning at noon, there will be a break at 3 p.m. so family and friends can head over to nearby Harris Field, named in the family's honor last October, to watch the baseball game between Penquis and Stearns of Millinocket. Visiting hours will resume from 6 to 8 p.m..

Harris' son Mike, who has been his father's assistant baseball coach, will lead the Patriots in Wednesday's game and for the rest of the season, Hamlin said.

A celebration of Harris' life will be held at 4 p.m. Thursday at the high school.

"Murrel leaves a legacy," said Jones, "of having nurtured so many young people in this community from when they were small through their teenage years and into adulthood.

"He was Mr. Milo."

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NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.