Published May 25. 2013 4:00AM
Groton — Before leaving on a marathon bus ride to the NJCAA Division II Baseball World Series on Wednesday, Matt Martinez reflected on his own personal journey.
He says his life would be drastically different if not for his decision to attend UConn-Avery Point.
"I really didn't know what I was going to do," said Martinez, a New Britain High School graduate. "If I didn't come here, I don't think I'd be playing baseball right now.
"I'd probably be working back home in New Britain. ... My life would be completely different."
The Pointers are glad that Martinez decided to play. He's helped the Pointers reach the Division II World Series for the fifth time in the program's history.
Avery Point (38-8), ranked second in the nation, opens against No. 3 Heartland Community College of Normal, Ill., at 1 p.m. on Sunday in Enid, Okla.
Martinez didn't mind taking the approximately 27-hour bus ride to Enid. It meant spending more time with his teammates.
"Coach (Roger) Bidwell gave me the opportunity to play and I really took advantage of these two years and I produced well," Martinez said. "I like the coaches here and I like the atmosphere. I love it."
Martinez is having a superb sophomore season, leading the team in batting average (.392), hits (60), home runs (7) and RBI (51). He'll move on to play Divison I baseball, choosing between UConn or Central Connecticut.
His New Britain coach, Roberto Mercado, played for Bidwell's first World Series team at Avery Point in 1999. Former high school teammate Bryan Rivera (.369) is the starting shortstop for the Pointers.
"He's worked really hard to get his game to the next level where he is now," Bidwell said. "He was a raw player that just needed an opportunity.
"... We could see he had physical ability. What we didn't see in him was what was inside him. He was very motivated, a serious guy and a hard worker. All those intangibles that make you sucessful in life, he's got those."
"I'm very proud what he's done. But I'm more proud of the person he is."
Martinez, a talented outfielder, sparked an impressive run to the East District championship on the weekend of May 11-12 in Rochester, N.Y. He earned tournament MVP honors, contributing five home runs and 11 RBI as the Pointers won three straight games. He credited assistant coach Ed Harvey, who gave him some hitting tips, for his offensive outburst.
"The kid is unbelievable," said Matt Greene, a freshman from New London. "He's the best player that I ever played with. He's a great friend, too. That's what really sets him apart."
It will take more than another huge effort from Martinez for the Pointers to advance deep in the World Series. They finished second in 2010.
"You have to have things go your way, because teams out there will have more talent than us," Bidwell said. "We're going to have to get in the winners' bracket. ... We definitely have to play our best. We can't make any mistakes.
"Runs will be at a premium against top pitching."
Bidwell has an ace on his staff in professional prospect Zach Albin (9-1, 1.78), who will start the opener. Freshman Shawn Nadeau (6-3, 2.34) of Groton, and New London's Edgard Santiago (4-1, 2.13) also will be counted on.
Bidwell is concerned about the effect of the two-week layoff between winning the East District title and playing the first game in the World Series.
But the players are optimistic about Avery Point's chances.
"I'm excited as is everyone else," Greene said. "It's pretty crazy. We're going to go out there and hopefully make our own history.
"All year, we've just played our own game. If we go out there and relax like we did in the districts, we'll be all right."