Longtime Connecticut coach Roger Bidwell among inductees
Roger Bidwell wasn’t expecting his first head coaching job to also be his last job.
But that’s how it worked out, and Bidwell is OK with that.
“This job opened up and they asked me if I wanted to leave grad school and take it, and I said ‘Sure,’ ” he said. “I figured it’d be five years and then I’d move on.”
Then he chuckled. “I guess I miscalculated.”
He took the job when he was 25, and for the next 34 years, he coached at the University of Connecticut-Avery Point before stepping down in 2015.
Bidwell’s next stop will be the NJCAA Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
The Connecticut native’s Hall of Fame career consists of a 1,007-378-7 coaching record. He also led the Pointers to 13 Division II championships and six appearances in the NJCAA DII World Series, which included a runner-up finish in 2010.
Bidwell’s 1,000th victory came when pitcher Doug Domnarski threw a no-hitter.
Bidwell started at Avery Point as a player in 1973, then it was off to UConn. The coach’s connection to Avery Point made him realize that he was always where he was supposed to be, even when he thought about looking for another job.
“I’ve been connected with (the program) since 1973,” he said. “It was more than a job to me over the years. I was always connected.”
When he moved into the head coaching job from a graduate assistant coaching position at UConn, he immediately had a plan.
For years, the Avery Point program had great success in the Connecticut Small College Conference that was played in the fall. It basically served as a training ground and feeder program for UConn.
Bidwell was actually the first recruit to be developed for the UConn program.
As a pitcher who had arm trouble, Bidwell moved to shortstop and the outfield.
George Greer was the coach and Bidwell’s mentor back then.
“His vision for a developmental program was successful,” Bidwell said. “When I took over in ‘82, my vision was to do something different. It was my vision to take the program to the NJCAA level.
“It’s been very fulfilling to me that it worked. I really needed more of a challenge, or I know I would have never stayed.”
Bidwell’s first call was to the administration to ask for permission to go in that direction.
There was only one demand: Don’t go over budget.
When the Pointers started winning and then qualifying for the postseason, the travel budget started its upward trend.
Bidwell let out a laugh about that.
“(The administration) accepted it because they never thought we’d ever go to the World Series.”
Greer said Bidwell was the perfect fit for the program.
“There was only one person who I wanted to turn it over to and that was to Roger,” Greer said. “We talked about what is the next step? He did a magnificent job, it was a dream come true and it filled me a great deal of pride.”
Greer, who is now the hitting coordinator for the St. Louis Cardinals minor league teams, said the Hall of Fame honor is truly deserved for Bidwell.
“He is such a wonderful person and wonderful coach,” Greer said. “He was just the perfect match (for Avery Point) and the perfect gentleman. He was really a godsend for the program.”
Bidwell said the first four or five seasons were rough and recruiting was a challenge.
“I loved it, competing against four-year scholarship programs (for recruits). I wouldn’t always get the really good guys, but I knew I was getting the right guys,” he said.
Guys who flew under the radar of the big programs and maybe high school players who were injured or hadn’t yet reached their potential.
Guys like Rajai Davis, who played for the Cleveland Indians last year and ripped an eighth-inning home run against the Chicago Cubs in Game 7 of 2016 World Series.
At 36, Davis is currently an outfielder with the Oakland A’s.
“He grew up 10 minutes from our campus,” Bidwell said. “He probably wouldn’t have gone to college. I knew he had ability and just needed a place to play. He’s the type of guy who goes unnoticed until he got the chance.”
Another Connecticut native who wasn’t recruited but got his chance with Avery Point was John McDonald, who was a Division II All-American shortstop in 1994.
He became a valuable utility infielder for several MLB teams in his career.
Pete Walker, yet another Connecticut native, pitched for Avery Point, then had a short stint in pro ball, and is currently a pitching coach for Toronto.
Bidwell said for a small state, Connecticut is “kind of a hotbed” for baseball talent, including Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell and New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey. Harvey’s dad is an assistant coach for Avery Point.
Bidwell knows the exact time when he realized the Pointers had become contenders.
“In 1989, we got close and lost a regional playoff,” he said. “I knew I had the players who could compete. The next year we won it and from there we didn’t miss a regional playoff.”
The process of developing players and having success was the rewarding part of coaching.
“I take a great deal of pleasure in the process. Games are fun, but development was mastered through quality practice,” he said. “That’s how I tried to develop the players, then give them good competition.”
Two seasons stand out as career highlights for Bidwell.
“(2010) was a magic carpet ride and 2015 was another magic carpet ride for us,” he said.
A storied LSU-Eunice program shattered the Pointers’ dreams both years.
In 2015, the Pointers had two DI pitching signees hurt and lost 16-14 in the semifinals.
“In both those years, we were good enough to win it but that’s the way it goes,” he said.
Bidwell said there are no regrets about those missed opportunities.
“When we lost in the finals, we had no pitching left, we were running on fumes. I couldn’t have asked more of the players,” he said.
Bidwell admits that as a young coach, it was more about him than the players. Then his coaching style started to “evolve.”
“My philosophy was very simple. It was about the players, not me,” he said. “To me, that carried me through this. I knew if I helped develop the players and make them better, winning would take care of itself.”