By Paul Augeri

Craig Franklin and Laurie Peterson, ever loyal to the Portland High baseball program, were in their zone last May 24 – at Palmer Field, among the masses watching the Highlanders attempt to win their first Shoreline Conference championship.

Both had shares of emotional stock in the players.

Franklin knew most of the kids from his time as their coach at the middle school. He was invested in their well-being and academic performance as much as their athletic ability.

“There wasn’t a more bigger-hearted guy than Craig Franklin,” Portland athletic director Chris Serra said. “He wanted to do what was going on with the kids outside of baseball. The kids said they could tell and felt that he cared about them.”

Peterson and her husband, Eric, were involved in baseball in Portland  going back to son Cole’s days in Little League. He was their prime rooting interest, but truth be told, the Petersons were big fans of all of the Highlanders.

“Laurie dedicated any spare time she had to Cole and to baseball, and to Portland,” Serra said. “Eric was president of the Little League forever, and if you’re in that role your wife’s involved, too. “They would do anything for the kids of Portland. Laurie loved all of the kids as much as she did Cole.”

Portland won its first Shoreline championship that night, a 2-1 walk-off win over Haddam-Killingworth in eight innings. Peterson, who was voted the Shoreline Player of the Year, had the decisive hit, a shot into Palmer Field’s left-center gap that scored Grant Collins from first base.

A year later, the moment is more palpable in light of the passing of Franklin and Laurie Peterson.

Franklin, 50, died unexpectedly on April 21. He was 50, had lived in town his whole life was married to Deborah (Bitcon) Franklin for 27 years. He played baseball in the 1980s in current Highlanders coach Rick Borg’s first stint at the school, and had been involved in both Little League and the Portland Panthers youth football program as a coach.

Peterson, 58, died on May 6 after battling brain cancer. She was married to Eric for 20 years and had a long and distinguished career at Liberty Bank, where she led the Portland branch after serving others in Middlesex County over the years.

“Laurie was also the person we always went to when there was an issue at the bank, whether personally or with work,” Serra said.

Cole Peterson’s senior season at Portland included All-State recognition. He just finished his freshman year at Rhode Island College, which gave him a partial scholarship to play baseball.

“Laurie was at the All-State banquet last June at the Aqua Turf and sat at the Portland table,” Borg recalled. “She was so proud of Cole that night.”

Serra counseled Cole after his mother’s diagnosis. Twelve years ago, Serra survived life-threatening injuries from an automobile accident. He said he used the experience of his lengthy, painful recovery as a means to help Cole prepare for what was to come in his life.

“Cole reached out to me and we met and we talked,” Serra said. “I gave him my perspective on the road ahead, his family’s battle, and what would happen after. Honestly, in talking to Cole, he helped me as much as I helped him.”

At Cole’s request, Serra attended Laurie Peterson’s memorial. There was social distancing at the service, but in the moment, their bond was impenetrable.

“It was a very humbling experience when Cole came to me and hugged me,” Serra said.

Franklin coached the middle school baseball team for the last three years. His full-time job brought new demands in 2020, and though he tried, Franklin could not create the time needed to return for a fourth season.

“He even offered to assist the new coach (to help bring him along),” Serra said. “I can’t think of a better guy I’ve met in my life. Whenever he came into my office, my blood pressure went down. My heart fell into my stomach when I was told Craig had died.”

As a player, Borg remembered Franklin as steady and dependable with a team-first approach to the game. These were attributes Franklin also had in coaching young teenagers.

Borg recalled the times he would “pester” Franklin for a scouting report on the eighth-grade players, usually to get an idea of what would be in store for him one day at the high school. This was a request Franklin did not take lightly.

“He would send me a very elaborate scouting report,” Borg said. “I was looking for maybe five words and he gave me a paragraph. What I loved about it was everything he wrote about every player was positive. He focused on the good in everybody.

“There is a coaching adage that goes something like, ‘Find the good and build on it.’ I think that’s what Craig was doing there. He could find nice things to say in a paragraph about the best player on his team and weakest player on this team, and that was really cool. I really respected the job he did with the middle school team.”

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