Orono, Maine -- When Gary Thorne was an undersized first baseman on the University of Maine freshman baseball team in 1967 with no apparent future in the game, who would have guessed that one day he would be a significant player on the big stage?
Bill Livesey, coach of that team and later head of scouting and player development for the New York Yankees, says the young Thorne was "a good kid, great guy, very knowledgeable, smart, played hard. I thoroughly enjoyed him."
Note, no mention of a great glove, big bat, or major league potential.
But, here he is, 50 years later, television play-by-play voice, and what a voice, of the Baltimore Orioles. As lead announcer, Thorne is paired with analyst Jim Palmer, the Hall of Fame pitcher, or Mike Bordick, like Thorne an inductee into the UMaine Sports Hall of Fame.
Livesey has a current scouting report for Thorne, too.
"He's my favorite announcer, he and Bordick," says Livesey. "Bordick has gotten better — Gary has brought him along. They don't compete with each other."
Thorne also gets high marks from Thomas Boswell, The Washington Post's nationally acclaimed columnist and baseball writer.
"He brings out the best in Palmer," says Boswell. "And, he brought out the humor in Mike Flanagan" when Flanagan was an analyst on Orioles broadcasts.
Thorne has been getting high marks since even before he played on Livesey's freshman team.
While a junior at Old Town High School, Thorne started working at WABI radio part-time, first behind the scenes, then soon covering high school games in places like "Milo and Brownville Junction," he recalls.
One assignment took him to Memorial Gym at UMaine where he interviewed Walt Abbott, then a football assistant.
"He had his pad and pencil and we went to the trophy room," says Abbott of his first encounter with Thorne. "He was well organized, had good questions. He had that deep, clear voice even as a high school kid."
When they were through, says Abbott, "I told him, you are really something."
From there, Thorne was off and running, doing local radio all through college, graduating in 1970. He was a country music DJ in Portland, doing sports too, while at the University of Maine School of Law, Class of '73, then received a doctorate in law in '76 from the Georgetown University Law Center.
He was in the Army JAG Corps in the mid-70s, then an assistant district attorney in Bangor in the late '70s, when he started doing public address announcing of UMaine hockey games and soon became the play-by-play announcer.
A decade with Maine hockey left some fond memories for Thorne, who has since spent three decades doing major league baseball, covering the National Hockey League, the Olympics, NCAA basketball, the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown to name just a few of his beats, and winning his share of Emmys.
The memories are not all warm, however, for Thorne, who recalls, "The joys of broadcasting Maine hockey took me to some mighty cold places. Thanksgiving in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where the temperature was 30 below during the day.
"My rent-a-car froze solid when I didn't plug it in on the hitching post outlet at the motel. We went to Houghton, Michigan, and entered the town where the sign said, 'Houghton 10 miles, End of the World 5 miles.' A trip to Clarkson and St. Lawrence one year had drifts so high you had to shovel to get out of the hotel," Thorne recalls.
"A moment I remember vividly was Maine's overtime victory over Vermont at the Gut [Vermont's arena]," adds Thorne. "Maine was a heavy underdog and trying to get a win over a Division I school. They ground out a brutally physical game and Billy Demianiuk launched one for the top of the slot in OT and the Maine players' jubilation just bounced of the walls. It was the beginning of Maine making its presence known in Division I."
Quite a trip for a first baseman from Old Town, Maine.
Note - The UMaine Sports Hall of Fame Banquet is sold out.