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World Series or bust: Pointers take the long way

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published May 21. 2013 4:00AM

The wheels on the bus will go round and round - round and round, round and round - sometime Wednesday, delivering the baseball team from UConn-Avery Point from the enchanting shores of campus to Enid, Okla., where the deer and the antelope play.

That's right. The Pointers are busing it to their fifth Junior College World Series, the 27-hour southbound odyssey, the bus pulls out of Kankakee, rolls along past houses, farms and fields and good morning America, how are ya as Arlo Guthrie would sing.

Perhaps you are confused, given how the glitz, glitter and glamour of the term "World Series" seems incongruent with 27 midnight riders spending 27 hours on a bus.

For one thing, says Roger Bidwell, the coach, it's easier than flying (they've done both) to one of those you-can't-there-from-here outposts.

For another, the guy can only do so much fundraising. (More on that later).

"If you give us a camera," Bidwell was saying the other day, "we could make it reality TV."

Might be a hoot, too, giving Bidwell and his often sinister sense of humor a camera in a confined space for 27 hours.

"It's $900 per (airplane) ticket to fly to Oklahoma City," Bidwell said. "Then we'd have to rent three vans (for the 70-mile drive) to Enid. That's five grand. And if you fly, you might have to re-ticket, depending on if you go home early. Last time we flew, that was 150 apiece. We had to take three different flights, 19 hours to get home."

And so Bidwell and the boys will watch movies, sleep, stop to tend to nature every three hours and switch bus drivers every eight hours. Maybe they'll even salivate at the chance to win a World Series as the lone team of the eight entrants without scholarships.

It's that last line, though, that hints at part of a more confounding issue. Bidwell's program is a beacon: 10 New England championships, five trips to the World Series, three major leaguers, scores of kids prepared for college careers. Play the game smartly and respectfully.

Straight up: Avery Point may be the finest junior college baseball program in the country, if you factor degree of difficulty - no scholarships - with consistent success and core values.

And while it bears the name "UConn," it receives nary a dime from State U.

"Except for my salary, all the money we generate, we generate ourselves," Bidwell said.

He said renting Avery Point's facilities, a golf tournament and fundraising through the Friends of Avery Point Baseball pays the bills.

But let me just ask this: Bidwell could not run a better program or have a better reputation. Avery Point is the only regional UConn campus remaining with an athletic program. There aren't a few extra dimes from Storrs to help the guy?

I get that UConn's revenues are stretched. But Bidwell's been at this for 32 years. He's the personification of Billy Joel's Piano Man - man, what are YOU doing here - and frankly, deserves at least a meeting with new athletic director Warde Manuel, no?

Fundraising is an art. It is also tedious and tenuous. Bidwell's still doing it after all these years. Good thing his reputation precedes him.

"I met with (former athletic director) Lew Perkins in the mid '90s," Bidwell said. "He basically said, 'if you want an athletic program, find a way to pay for it. We're not.'"

Bidwell said there's no golf tournament this year. Occupies too much time, frankly. He has no staff, really, thus making the annual Hall of Fame dinner, golf tournament, sports banquet and coaching a recipe for burnout.

"I told Nancy (Bidwell's wife) that if I'm going to hang around there a few more years, something's got to go," Bidwell said.

This week, though, Bidwell and his players take their shot at history, the missing piece in Bidwell's resume. Twenty-seven hours down, 27 hours back. Lots of stories and jokes in between. And maybe a championship.

And then maybe Bidwell gets the time of day from Storrs. Few others representing UConn have accomplished more.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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