On Saturday, dozens of those players returned to the baseball field to help Kane celebrate his 25th year.
While a pig was roasting in a bed of charcoal and Frank Bianco cooked sausages on the grill, Kane gathered the group together for a brief but emotional greeting.
Then he grabbed a bat and began hitting fly balls to his former Eagles.
As player after player took a turn in the outfield, Kane constantly called out words of praise, along with a friendly barb or two for those who proved less adept with the glove than they once were.
After hitting a couple of hundred fly balls, the GSA coach took to the pitcher’s mound, lobbing 10 pitches to each player taking a turn in the batting cage.
Jeb Billings, who played for Kane’s first team at GSA, presented his former coach with a wooden baseball bat signed by all of those who came for the reunion.
“I never thought I’d look back at a coaching career this long in one place,” said Kane.
“The players are everything,” he continued. “Without good players, coaches can’t do much, and I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of boys who loved the game of baseball, bought into my system, committed to it and were super-successful.”
Kane grew up in Ellsworth and played baseball at the University of Maine under legendary coach John Winkin, making two trips to the College World Series.
“Winkin was a great mentor,” he said, recalling that right after college, he returned to the university to work at a summer camp with the UMaine coach.
“I learned so much just sitting around at lunches and after hours talking baseball,” he said.
Kane did his student teaching at Ellsworth High School, working with Brian Higgins, and coached junior varsity baseball under the tutelage of Jack Scott.
It was Higgins who told him of the opening at GSA. Kane interviewed and was hired as a physical education teacher and coach.
He’s been there ever since.
While Kane is a self-described “baseball nut,” he doesn’t subscribe to the notion that high students should focus on just one sport.
“I’m a big fan of three-sport athletes,” he said. “I look back and my most successful teams were made up of three-sport athletes. I want them to play basketball, I want them to play soccer, because they learn how to be competitors and better athletes. If they can do that, I’m going to get a better quality athlete come springtime”
Nor has Kane’s coaching been limited to baseball at GSA.
He coached freshman basketball for three or four years and has coached boys’ varsity soccer for 19 seasons.
But his heart is with baseball.
“Doing the strategies — the Xs and Os — is the easiest part of the game,” he said. “I like to think of myself as a coach and a teacher. I work a lot on skills and trying to help people to play the game better. If they get better, the wins and losses take care of themselves.”
The baseball wins have come with some considerable frequency for the Eagles.
Over the 25 years, Kane’s teams have won nine Eastern Maine championships and three state titles.
Kane gives plenty of credit to assistant coach Bill Gray, who has been with him for 23 of those years, and brother Scott Kane, who has assisted for about 18 years.
Shrinking enrollments have resulted in fewer middle school baseball teams, said Kane.
The result is that young players ages 12 to 14 often lose interest in the sport.
To that end, he and Gray have gotten involved in the Junior League summer program for players ages 13 and 14.
“We want to give them an opportunity to play and help instill the love of the game so they keep on playing in high school,” he said.
As successful as he’s been, Kane isn’t resting on his laurels.
“I think I work a lot more at it [coaching] now than I used to,” he said. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized some of my shortcomings and I’ve worked hard to try to overcome them.
“I keep trying to figure out new ways to motivate. You’ve got to look at the psyche of a kid and try to figure out how you can lift him up just a little bit more. If you can do that, he’s going to play better.”
Looking at the former players gathered around him on Saturday and reflecting on their success, Kane told them, “You’re what it’s all about.”
“It’s been a great ride,” he said. “I just hope it’s not over.”