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Kezal inducted into Maine Baseball HofF this Sunday
RUMFORD CORNER -- Ever since John G. Kezal was first informed of the news, the same lightening rod that energized him on the baseball diamond re-emerged and hasn't subsided.
The Rumford native was overwhelmed upon hearing that he is being inducted into the Maine Baseball Hall OF Fame; the 2012 class will be recognized during ceremonies on Sunday at Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland.
Kezel immediately set out on a mission by telling everyone about the upcoming banquet and his endeavors have certainly paid off. These include the combination of tickets and advertisement sales of approximately $1,500.
"It has been great,"said Kezal, who has prompted Don Douglas, head of the MBHOF committee, to believe Kezal is bringing the entire River Valley. "Several of the guys that I played with and against are still around the area. When we bump into each other on the street, the stories begin to flow. There was a lot of good talent throughout the River Valley."
This included Roger Pepin, Artie Taylor, Bobby Downs, Henry Harlow, Walter Abbott, Leo Cyr, Herbie Adams, Charlie Newell, Pete McCluskey, Chick Viger and Ness Boudreau.
Kezel actually started out playing JV baseball as a sophomore and junior under coach Jim Sullivan at Stephens High School because of all the guys that left school to join the service during World War II. It during this time that Kezal caught lust of performing in America’s pastime and played organized ball in 1945 in the Oxford County League and played in that league until he graduated in 1949.
While serving in the Coast Guard (1951-54), he played baseball with Bernard Drury (Dixfield) at Fort Hallibard in Maryland.
When he returned to Rumford he played and coached full time (37-year career) through 1982.
“It was a great time playing back then,” said Kezal, who has a twinkle in his eye while recalling numerous events and personalities. “I’d come home from work, pack a lunch and off the family (wife Ann and children Pam and Steve) would go. I met a lot of great people throughout the years.”
Available records indicate that Kezal had a lifetime.342 hitter; including career-best .400-plus for the Norway team in the 60's.
When the Pine Tree and Timber Leagues (HOFer Stan Horne) merged; forming three divisions with teams from Gorham and Berlin, NH to the Twin Cities.
“It helped provide others with a chance to play,” said Kezal, whose coaching/organizational skills became sought out. “It was during that time (Claude Belyea) coached the Rumford Rams and there was (abundance) of guys in (River Valley) who were interested in playing baseball, so we formed a B team and scheduled different teams.”
This commitment to baseball was always geared toward making the experience enjoyable for all. These organizational skills because well known and his goal was to assure every player was getting enough playing time. He always schedule additional games outside the league every week.
“There was numerous teams," said Kezal, who has played baseball on more than 75 fields in Maine and New Hampshire. “Nearly every town had a team and we would travel all over. It became routine to schedule doubleheaders against teams because of the long distances."
If the opportunity arose to promote the sport, Kezal was eagerly obliged, including playing the Roberts 88ers in Lisbon with hall of famers Stan Doughty and George Ferguson, plus a visit to the former Maine State Prison in Thomaston.
“I knew the guy who ran the recreation programs at the prison,” said Kezal. “He asked about playing, but he stipulated that they didn’t travel, so we needed to go there. Well, down we went and what a memorable experience.”
The field was located in a pit and the high left wall resembled the Green Monster at Fenway Park. The guards, equipped with rifles, encompassed the field.
“We had picked up several college kids who were home for the summer,” said Kezal. “There were basketball courts in right field, so Harris Elliot had to wear sneakers.”
Kezal served as commander of Napoleon Ouellette American Legion and organized the Post 24 baseball teams. The retired papermill worker had 43 years of service and later devoted most of his time to coaching youngsters and umpiring baseball and softball games. He was a certified board umpire on the Central Maine Board and the Androscoggin Valley Board full time through 2000.
Kezal believes strongly in better serving the community and has taken on numerous civic duties. Since 2000, he has been the liaison chairman for the South Paris Veterans Home and is now a member of the Board of Trustees for the Maine Veterans' Homes.