Bob Whalen remembers his last trip to an NCAA Division I baseball regional.
It was 1986 and Whalen, the recruiting coordinator and assistant coach at the University of Maine, watched the Black Bears beat Rutgers (5-1) and St. John’s twice (13-7, 21-8) at Mahaney Diamond in Orono in the Northeast Regional to earn a fifth trip to the College World Series in six years.
Whalen, an infielder at Maine and a 1979 graduate, was an assistant under John Winkin from 1982-89 before becoming the head coach at Dartmouth College (N.H.) in ’90.
Whalen, who said he remembers all the NCAA regional championship games and CWS games “vividly”, has guided the Big Green to its first regional appearance in 22 years.
Dartmouth started 0-8 but won 27 of its next 35 games and nabbed the Ivy League title by beating Cornell in a best-of-three series.
That earned them a slot in the regional at the University of North Carolina where they will play top-seeded UNC 42-16 on Friday at 6. Coastal Carolina (N.C.), which is 46-14, and Kansas, 37-22, collide at 2:00.
Whalen is relaying his experiences at Maine to his players to make sure they go with a purpose: do everything they can to win the tournament.
“I’ve made it clear to them that we aren’t going down there to just try to be the little train that could. Baseball isn’t like football. If we play well and get a well-pitched game [we can win]. I talked about [Billy] Swift beating Stanford [8-5] and Joe Johnson shutting down Fullerton [6-0 in the 1982 CWS],” said Whalen.
“We have to go down there with the understanding that our goal is to become the first Ivy League team to ever reach a Super Regional,” added the 51-year-old Whalen.
Whalen credits Winkin for much of his success.
“If I never had a chance to work with him, I would never be where I am today,” said Whalen. “I’ll never be able to thank him enough for what I learned from him.
“Maine has accomplished some great things over the years. That’s why I always want them to do well. I wouldn’t trade my time at Maine for anything. I feel we’ve got a great thing happening here and, in some ways, it’s like Maine,” said Whalen.
Whalen has certainly followed Winkin’s blueprint while adding his own touches to it.
The father of two has tremendous passion for the game and has been a tireless recruiter who has sold his players on the strengths of the school and the program.
“I learned a long time ago baseball isn’t like football or basketball. If you can play, you’ll get a chance to play at the next level no matter where you go to college. Look at [former Maine shortstop and veteran major league shortstop] Mike Bordick,” said Whalen.
Bordick signed with Oakland as a free agent had a distinguished 14-year career.
“We’re selling them a world class education. And athletics have always been important here,” said Whalen.
There are no athletic scholarships in the Ivy League.
Like Winkin, Whalen has gotten involved with several NCAA committees and has been able to align himself with wealthy alums. One, Mike Biondi, built them a brand new $5½ million FieldTurf baseball stadium Whalen considers to be the “best in New England.”
It will be an invaluable recruiting tool.
He said his team has become battle-tested from a grueling spring trip, much like the ones Winkin used to book and a trip to the Dominican Republic over the Christmas holiday break which was “the best thing we’ve ever done.”