June 26, 2011

Steve Solloway: A trip to Omaha, 25 years ago

It was the last of its kind, a Maine team playing in the College World Series

No one has organized a golf outing or even a barbecue this summer to call the teammates back together. And the University of Maine also has let an anniversary year pass unnoticed.

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Rick Bernardo was an All-America first baseman for Maine, hitting 19 home runs while batting .428 with an .821 slugging percentage as a senior in 1986.

Photos courtesy of UMaine

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Scott Morse was Maine’s starting pitcher in its 1986 World Series opener against Arizona. The Black Bears opened a 7-0 lead before Arizona completed a comeback in the ninth inning to win, 8-7.

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Road wins (28), runs (528), batting average (.337), hits (729), total bases (1,117)


Home runs (7), total bases (47)



Rick Bernardo: Slugging pct. (.821), extra base hits (39)

Gary LaPierre: At-bats (265)


Bill Reynolds: Home runs (4), RBI (9), total bases (16)



Scott Morse: Wins, 15 (shares record)


Jeff Plympton: Strikeouts, 17

"To be honest, until you just said it, I had forgotten the date," said Steve Loubier, the South Portland native who pitched for Maine in that star-crossed season of 1986. Twenty-five years have passed for a baseball team that made Mainers proud.

And then broke their hearts.

This was the last of John Winkin's six teams to reach Omaha and the College World Series. Or, in the words of Gary Dube, an infielder from Biddeford, this team was the last of its kind.

It was a team comprising many Maine players who made themselves known throughout college baseball.

"The fans in Omaha adopted us," said Dube. "We were the underdogs whenever we played outside (of New England). A lot of people couldn't point out Maine with a compass. They just knew we were from up north where it always snowed."

Nine members of that 1986 team were drafted by major league clubs, not including Mike Bordick, who was signed as a free agent by the Oakland A's. Bordick played 13 seasons in the big leagues, far longer than the others.

This was the team of Rick Bernardo, the All-America first baseman who hit 19 home runs for Maine. Of Scott Morse, the pitcher from Vermont who won 15 games, and Bill Reynolds, the catcher from Auburn who hit four home runs in a game late that season.

The Black Bears won 28 games on the road in 1986, a school record that stands. But they couldn't win one in Omaha. With Morse pitching, the Black Bears went up on Arizona 7-0 in their first game. They lost 8-7 on a two-out, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth.

In the dugout at Rosenblatt Stadium, Maine players were crushed. Back in Maine, fans turned away from their televisions or radios. Arizona Coach Jerry Kindall remembers that Winkin was in front of him quickly, offering congratulations.

"I knew he was terribly disappointed," said Kindall, more than 20 years later. "But he handled it with such class, such dignity. So did his players, every one of them. I'll never forget that."

Infielder Dan Etzweiler remembered his own pain and said it couldn't match Winkin's.

"We knew he was in a state of despair that night," said Eztweiler from his home outside Philadelphia. "The next day it was business as usual."

Maine had an off day before losing 8-4 to a Louisiana State team that featured slugger Albert Belle. Arizona went on to win the national championship.

When it came time to vote for college baseball's coach of the year, Kindall cast his for Winkin. In fact, Kindall won the prestigious award.

"Wink always told us, the best thing in baseball was winning," said Loubier. "The second-best thing was losing, because it was still baseball."

Loubier has never obsessed over the losses, especially the heartbreaker to Arizona.

"We caught a few breaks ourselves that season," he said. "We won a few games we probably shouldn't have."

Maine went to the CWS with a 41-21 record, the most losses of any team in the field.

"We didn't have great stars," said Loubier. "We had a great team. Wink was the puppet master, pulling all the strings, and we had great camaraderie.

"We went up against a lot of powerhouse teams and we evened the playing fields."

Dube, Loubier and Eztweiler in separate conversations described the sights and sounds of the College World Series. Not surprisingly, they used the same phrases.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Catcher Bill Reynolds was one of several instate players on the UMaine team that went to the College World Series in 1986. Reynolds played at Edward Little High in Auburn.

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Back in 1986, a team from the University of Maine with a roster heavy with players from the state created memories at the College World Series. Back row, left to right: Coach John Winkin, Bob Whalen, Dan Etzweiler, Bill Reynolds, Scott Morse, Jim Overstreet, Dale Plummer, Jim Childs, Mike Ballou, Rob Roy; middle row: Jim McMichael, Mike LeBlanc, Rob Wilkins, Mike Bordick, Rick Bernardo, Jeff Plympton, Steve Loubier, Derek Aramburu, George Goldman, Colin Ryan; front row: Dan Kane, Jay Kemble, Marc Powers, Dave Gonyar, Gary La Pierre, Mike Dutil, Gary Dube, Don Hutchinson.


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