If there is anyone who appreciates what the 2011 Husky baseball team accomplished in winning its first-ever Big East regular season title and then making a run to the NCAA Super Regional, it is Roger Bidwell ’78 (ED), ’84 MA, now in his 31st year as head coach of the UConn-Avery Point baseball team, which plays at the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) level.
Bidwell played baseball at Avery Point as a student-athlete before going on to play at Storrs. During his 31 years as head coach at Avery Point he has posted a record of 867-338. More than 50 of his student-athletes have followed his path to the main campus. Twenty-eight of his players have gone on to play professional baseball, helping to lead Bidwell’s teams to six Connecticut Small College Championships, 10 NJCAA Division 2 New England Championships, four NJCAA Division 2 East District Championships, and four NJCAS Division 2 World Series appearances, including being the National Runner-up in 2010.
Bidwell was recognized recently with the 2012 UConn Baseball Alumni Award during the annual Preseason Baseball Dinner in Storrs, where Stamford, Conn. native Bobby Valentine, the new manager of the Boston Red Sox, was the featured speaker.
“Roger is a true-blue Husky who has selflessly touched countless lives during his storied career,” said Huskies head coach Jim Penders ’94 (CLAS), ’98 MA, who presented Bidwell with the award.
On Feb. 3, three of Bidwell’s former players were inducted into the Avery Point Sports Hall of Fame. The Avery Point inductees include Pete Walker (1990), currently bullpen coach for the Toronto Blue Jays; John McDonald (1992-1994), shortstop for the Blue Jays; and Rajai Davis (1999-2001), centerfielder for the Blue Jays. Also honored with a Service Award for Avery Point, will be Myles Halliwell, former assistant baseball coach at Fitch High School in Groton, the team’s longtime scorekeeper and stadium announcer.
“It was great to see the enthusiasm for the program. The room was filled,” Bidwell said of his recognition at the dinner attended by about 400 alumni, fans, parents, student-athletes, and guests. “There was a lot of energy. Bobby V being there didn’t hurt. As an alum of the program, I’m really excited to see what Coach Penders is doing. That is something everybody is proud of.”
Two members of the current Huskies team, which opens the 2012 season in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Feb. 17 against Indiana State, are former student-athletes who played for Bidwell – first baseman Ryan Fuller ’12 (CLAS), a second-team 2011 All Big East selection, and outfielder Stanley Paul ’13 (CLAS), an NJCAA All-New England selection. Both helped the Avery Point team to reach the NJCAA World Series in 2010.
“I’m recruiting out there 12 months a year for potential people that fit the mold for UConn Avery Point, meaning a UConn-caliber student, someone we can develop and move on to a higher level,” said Bidwell. “If we feel we have someone who can help Coach Penders, he’ll know about it and take a look to see if it can fill a need for him. I’m getting guys who aren’t being offered scholarships out of high school. I’m getting guys that I have to identify, who maybe were late bloomers, maybe were hurt in their senior year, that were overlooked but who have potential and need a little time.”
The recent dinner, where the team received their Big East championship rings, was the highlight of the first day of practice for the 2012 Husky baseball team, which hopes to build on the success of last year’s 45-20-1 season. During practice, the team had a visit from Valentine, a 10-year major league veteran who managed the Texas Rangers and the New York Mets before spending six years as manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan.
“This is one of the great sports programs in the world,” Valentine told reporters before the dinner “When you start hosting regionals and continue to get the national attention they’re getting and going to bowl games in football and the NCAAs in basketball – it makes them among the top dogs. I’m proud of it, I’m from Connecticut and I think other people should also be proud.”
Penders said the Huskies will be strengthened by having a core of returning players who have played at the highest level of competition, noting that Fuller, catcher Joe Pavone ’12 (BUS), third baseman Tim Martin ’12 (CLAS), center fielder Billy Ferriter ’13 (CLAS), and second baseman LJ Mazzilli ’13 (CLAS) will anchor the team.
“We’re going to be in a good position. The biggest thing we’re going to have to figure out is who our starting pitchers are going to be,” Penders said. “I don’t want to have to disturb the bullpen. I want to leave those guys in their spots. I don’t know if we’ll know that until March. The culture of the program is in a good place. They’re working very hard. I’m hoping we can make a big run in the Big East. That’s the first championship we can win. I think we’ll be prepared with our early season schedule to build toward that.”
The Huskies will spend the early part of the season traveling to Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi and Oregon for games, before the home opener against Yale at J.O. Christian Field on March 21.