The University of Maine baseball team was in California for a series of games, and the Black Bears couldn’t find a field on which to practice. Head coach John Winkin found a park. There was no baseball diamond, but there was grass and space. It would do.

“And we practiced until the police came and kicked us out,” Dickie Whitten, who played for Winkin at Maine in the early 1980s, said.

Winkin died on Saturday. He was 94. Winkin suffered a stroke in December, 2007, and spent the last few years living at a rehabilitation facility in Waterville. On Monday, some of Winkin’s former baseball players remembered their coach as a man with a keen baseball mind who instilled confidence in his teams.

“He convinced Maine kids they’re no different than any kid,” said Joe Jabar, who played for Winkin at Colby College after playing for the Winkin-coached Waterville American Legion team.

Winkin won more than 1,000 games in a career that saw him coach at Colby College, the University of Maine, and Husson University. Winkin led Maine to the College World Series six times, and was inducted in the College Baseball Hall of Fame last year.

Whitten played for the Black Bears in three College World Series, 1981, ’82, and ’83.

“He gave me a chance. He gave a lot of Maine kids a chance,” Whitten, a former coach of the Waterville Senior High School baseball team, said. “When I was (at Maine), two-thirds of the team was Maine kids… I was 5-6, 165, 170 pounds, and he found a way to make me a leadoff hitter.”

In 1982, Maine finished in third place at the College World Series, and won games over powerhouse teams Stanford and Cal State-Fullerton.

“That year, he had us believing in ourselves because he believed in us,” Whitten said. “He prepared guys to believe they could beat anybody, because it was what he believed.”

Jabar was in Little League when he first met Winkin, who was coaching a baseball clinic. When he was in high school and played American Legion baseball for Winkin’s Waterville team, the coach convinced Jabar, who was thinking of playing football in college, that his future was in baseball.

“I went to Colby because he led me to believe I could do it. He talked me into playing in the Cape Cod League,” Jabar, who played one season of minor league baseball in the Seattle Pilots organization, said.

While Winkin is known for coaching Maine to the College World Series six times, his Colby team came close to a trip to Omaha in 1966, before the NCAA divided its teams into three divisions.

“We were number one in New England, but we got upset,” Jabar said. “We had our bags packed.”

Winkin demonstrated a relentless work ethic throughout his career, and that rubbed off on his players.

“He taught us to have a commitment to doing something. When I played Legion, we practiced every day,” Jabar said. “He was the most organized coach I’ve seen.”

Whitten remembered showing up early for practice after a rain storm, to find Winkin working on the field alone.

“He was out there emptying puddles so we could practice,” Whitten said.

Often, Whitten would sit with Winkin in his office and just talk baseball.

“He was tough. No player is going to tell you he wasn’t tough,” Whitten said. “He’s the reason I got into coaching. I spent a lot of time with him talking baseball and strategies.”

Winkin’s legacy will simply be he made baseball in Maine better.

“An unbelievable baseball mind. He was always one step ahead,” Whitten said. “I don’t think there’s been a better coach, on or off the field. I can’t remember a game where he got outcoached.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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