A successful season can be easily thrown away

Groton

We like to read things into the games we watch now, although all these years and all this technology later, there's rarely cause to read anything more advanced than the scoreboard. Did you win or did you lose? And at the end of the day Friday, sun yielding to dusk, warmth yielding to shivers, the scoreboard at Washington Park read "Home 4, Visitor 3."

"Home" was UConn-Avery Point, meaning all's well for the Bidwells, who are at the doorstep of the program's 10th New England junior college baseball championship. If you follow baseball here, you have long since expected such excellence. This season is no different, now 34 wins and counting.

"I don't know what it is," the coach, Roger Bidwell, was saying about his team's resourcefulness after the 4-3 win over the Community College of Rhode Island in the first game of the best-of-three championship series.

"Maybe putting a few extra dollars in the plate on Sunday," Bidwell said.

Maybe Bidwell can slip in a 20 this Sunday and ask for warmer weather and an occasional two-out hit. Because while the rest of us on the periphery see another spring and another huge season at Avery Point, the reality illustrates the fragility of it all.

Take Friday, for instance. The Pointers, with the gaudy record, were on their home field against a team they'd beaten all four times during the regular season. And then in the sixth inning, they're behind a run, enduring the hoots and chirps from the other dugout.

Bidwell made a pitching change, calling upon New London for salvation in Groton, admitting he had no idea whether Edgard Santiago, the New London kid whose injuries have limited his innings, was the answer.

Suddenly, the entire season to date felt like mere prologue.

Turned out Santiago was terrific. His teammates used CCRI's generosity - a few walks and a hit batter - to score a couple in the sixth to take the lead they'd never relinquish.

And now they're a win away from the district tournament, which could lead to the program's fifth trip to the Junior College World Series.

Again: We kind of expect it, which is a compliment to Bidwell. Just as long as we realize how hard this is. Like Jimmy Dugan said in A League Of Their Own: "If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great."

Not everyone, for instance, has the chops to start playing baseball outside in February in Groton, Conn., USA. Pause here for perspective: Most of the teams the Pointers would see in the World Series are from warm-weather ports, where Februarys are like our Mays and Junes.

Not everyone can make it here, where accountability to each other means on the field and in the classroom. There is professionalism during the games. No chirping. No whining to umpires. Just play.

Bidwell likes to say this: "you can't play baseball with a tight (rear end)." It is oft-repeated line from his alums. (John McDonald still says it to this day). It's also not so easy to play baseball when it's cold enough to hang meat off the backstop. It was 54 degrees at the end of the game Friday. Balmy, by Avery Point standards.

"Thirty-two years," Bidwell said. "I've been freezing my (rear end) off here for 32 years. Look at Ed. He's got ear muffs on. And Gil's jaw is frozen."

Bidwell was alluding to assistant coaches Ed Harvey and Gil Varjas, who won more than 800 games and seven state titles between them as high school coaches. Their reward in retirement? Stand outside hitting fungoes in the snow.

But they do it because they like being around Bidwell and his off-the-chart sense of humor, not to mention the most professional sports outfit of them all around here.

Bidwell said he's giving the ball to Shawn Nadeau today, the Fitch kid, whose last official act as a high school baseball player was to win the 2012 state championship game. And we haven't even seen ace Zach Albin yet, a kid from Bethel that Bidwell thinks may get drafted.

The headlines today read like they usually do: Avery Point wins again. Yes. The boys of February are still alive here in May.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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