The twinkle in his eyes was still very much in evidence.
Despite the catastrophic medical circumstances (stroke) that nearly cost him his life and did cost him his coaching career in 2007, former Colby College, University of Maine and Husson University baseball coach John Winkin has remained grateful that he is can still enjoy the sport he devoted his life to.
Anyone who knows the engaging Winkin is aware that his presence at a college baseball field always brings tremendous joy to his life. He was honored last week along with the eight Husson baseball seniors who represent his final recruiting class.
“I’m lucky to be alive. Baseball saved my life,” said Winkin as he watched Husson win the first of two games against the University of Maine-Farmington at the complex named after him in Bangor.
One of the most remarkable aspects about reminiscing with Winkin is the fact he has made significant progress.
He is still confined to a wheelchair due to his partial paralysis but his speech has improved dramatically and he is sharp.
Nobody should be surprised. There isn’t a more competitive person on the planet.
He has had to deal with adversity his entire life. It has only fueled his desire to succeed.
When Maine didn’t renew his contract in June of 1996, he gritted his teeth and went to Husson University as their first Fellow in Sports and Leadership and an assistant baseball coach under John Kolasinski.
When Kolasinski became the head baseball coach at Siena Heights University (Mich.) in November, 2003, Winkin became Husson’s new head coach.
In the interim, he had donated approximately $250,000 from the sale of his summer camp to the building of the multi-sport Husson complex that includes a consumer-friendly FieldTurf surface which enables teams to play despite inclement weather.
Now he was watching his final recruiting class.
“We did an interview with NESCOM (New England School of Communications) and when we were asked why we came to Husson, all eight of us said it was because of John Winkin,” said Husson senior center fielder Tom Crews.
Winkin, who has been inducted into 11 Halls of Fame, was honored by the tribute to him but was also quick to add “every class is special.”
Husson first-year athletic director Bob Reasso said he considers himself “blessed” to be able to get to know him and spend some time with Winkin, who lives in a rehabilition facility in Waterville.
“He is a legend. He epitomizes greatness. He is incredibly inspirational,” said Reasso. “He has accomplished more in one lifetime than it would take others to accomplish in three lifetimes.”
He finds Winkin “working out” every time he visits him.
That explains why he continues to improve despite the fact he is in his 90s.
Winkin said he watches baseball on television every day.
And I’m sure he does some second-guessing.
When Winkin was coaching, he always kept his own scorebook and made notes in it to outline trends.
He once flip-flopped outfielders (Brad Colton and Dick Whitten) in the middle of an inning so the outfielder with the stronger arm (Colton) would be in the spot where the hitter was more likely to hit the ball. There was a runner at second in a tie game.
Sure enough, the hitter singled to Colton in right and he gunned the runner out at the plate.
That was vintage Winkin, who will always remain a student of the game.