Roger Bidwell: A man of the people ... and about people

Groton — Surely, there would be enemies by now. After nearly 40 years and more than 1,000 wins.

Jealous opponents.

Sniveling parents.

Chafed players.

But this — yes, this — is Roger Bidwell's greatest trick of them all. The once and future king of UConn Avery Point defies even the sanguine lyrics of "Home on the Range," where seldom is heard a discouraging word.

With Bidwell? Try never.

Yes, they celebrated the retirement of the universally beloved conscience of 1084 Shennecossett Rd. Friday night on campus at Branford House, scores of family, friends and former players making merry on the banks of Long Island Sound. All the mad props and bon mots rolled together like a good cigar, honoring not only a man of the people, but truly a man about people.

Maybe that was Bidwell's secret all these years and all the trips to the World Series later. It was never so much about baseball as it was about humanity. How to treat people. Motivate them. Cajole them. Teach them. Entertain them. And somehow give sports daily metaphorical usefulness as life starts to happen.

Perhaps the night's best speech — after Bidwell's faithful protégé Scott Martin stole the show with unfettered emotion — came from Stan Kesilewski, a kid from Montville who came to Avery Point as on outfielder. Maybe at Bidwell's upcoming roast in November (more on that later), Bidwell, as the region's best after dinner speaker, will share a few musings about Kesilewski's Polish surname, seemingly in need of another vowel or two from Vanna. But on this night, Stan had the microphone to himself, Stan the Man, redux.

Kesilewski mentioned he had some catching experience, albeit limited, from his days at Montville High. Bidwell soon assigned Kesilewski the job of being the bullpen catcher, which is baseball's version of coal mining. Kesilewski stepped completely out of character for most people in this generation of entitlement when he — get this — uttered nary a peep about his plight and did what the coach asked.

Little did Kesilewski know that in 2015, during Bidwell's last trip to the World Series, the catching skills would be summoned, when two other catchers were injured.

In extra innings of a knockout game.

And there was Stan, with no choice other than to be strong, recalling all the Bidwellian lessons along the way.

Kesilewski even got a base hit off a pitcher from top seeded LSU-Eunice.

The moral of the story: Kesilewski is Avery Point's Everyman under Roger Bidwell. Not the McDonald, Walker or Davis who went to the majors. Not the stud who went to the four-year school. Just the kid who learned life from his coach, applying lessons from bullpen catching to the World Series, using them for strength and inspiration in everyday life. If he could thrive with his legs quaking before thousands of people with the baseball season on the line ... he can do anything.

Bidwell is a beacon for all of us in many ways, not the least of which is this: You don't need to do it on the grand stage to be grand. Find what you like. Where you like it. And then do it so well that you, even if unwittingly, make everybody else feel better about themselves. Bidwell could have coached baseball anywhere. But he stayed here. Among us. Of us, for us, by us.

And now he gets the greatest compliment of all: He's the little voice inside the heads of his former players, making them smile, laugh, think and above all else, always pushing them toward the better choice.

What a night. And in keeping with Bidwell's selflessness, there's a scholarship fund endeavor underway to support undergraduate student-athletes at Avery Point in his name. To make a gift to the scholarship fund donors may do so online: http://s.uconn.edu/bidwell or by check. Checks should be made payable to The University of Connecticut Foundation, Inc. and be mailed to: The University of Connecticut Foundation, Inc. 2390 Alumni Drive Unit 3206 Storrs, CT 06269-3206.

Happily, we're not done with him. The aforementioned roast promises to be an R-rated laugh-a-thon, complete with all the Bidwell-isms inappropriate for Friday's mixed company. His great friend and former coach at Avery Point, Charlie Miller, had it right when he said, "Roger has to be the emcee at his own roast. Because there's no one funnier than he is."

Charlie shoots, Charlie scores. Although many of his friends and former players will try their best to match wits for one hilarious night in November.

Those of us in attendance Friday quickly realized how fortunate we were to be in that place at that time. And that we ought to enjoy it. We sure did.

How can you not when the subject is Roger Bidwell?

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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