Coaching staff's commitment has Westport LL in World Series

Since practices for Westport's Little League all-star team began June 15, time away from baseball has been scarce for the squad.

So much so that manager Tim Rogers can count the number of off-days on one hand.

"I think we've had three days off. That's it," Rogers said. "We're either doing a two-hour practice every day or playing a game.

"It's been incredible."

For Rogers and his assistants, Brett Reiner and Tom Whelan, long days that began with work and continued with two-hour practices until dusk soon proved their worth. Jam-packed into an already busy schedule, baseball has been at the center of an unforgettable summer for the three coaches, along with 11 players.

Sunday at 9 a.m., approximately 12 hours after defeating Lincoln, R.I. 1-0 in Bristol for its first New England championship, Westport departed by bus for the grandest stage of youth sports: Williamsport, Pa.

There, Westport will play in the Little League World Series, with its first game Thursday at 7 p.m. against Southeast champion Nashville, Tenn.

Although more time has been spent on the baseball diamond than at home or work of late, Rogers, like his coaches, is savoring the experience. Soon enough, he'll be back at his job -- chief financial officer of a personal insurance division of Travelers in Hartford -- after a week in the national spotlight.

"I'm tired. I think we're all a little bit tired," he said. "But I wouldn't trade it for anything. The excitement just makes it so worth it."

Rogers' baseball career extended to college, where he was a pitcher and infielder at Holy Cross until 1991. But now, he's seen his commitment to coaching pay off for the players, seven of whom played under the manager two years ago as 10-year-old all-stars. Reiner coached alongside Rogers that summer -- the team lost in the Section 1 final -- and has seen the players blossom this year, albeit with a rigorous schedule. A portfolio manager at Neuberger-Berman, a money management firm, Reiner's day begins at 6:30 a.m. and ends after practice, usually around 8:30 p.m.

"Every day I'm coming home on the train (from New York). Usually I'm going directly to practice, changing in my car by the practice field," he said. "It's a long day."

Both Reiner and Rogers have sons on Westport's World Series team. Alex Reiner, an infielder and pitcher, hit .375 and recorded a 2.25 ERA in the New England regional, while Drew Rogers, an outfielder, batted .417.

It's been six years since Whelan last had a son play on the team, but he too has balanced the everyday commitment. Whelan -- a CPA by trade with his own accounting practice in Darien -- has also spent much of his time on the diamond, sacrificing vacation. But for him, the opportunity to go to Williamsport has been a dream.

"Every year, I tell my wife, `I might not be able to make the vacation.' Well this year, it worked out," joked Whelan, a longtime youth baseball coach.

Since the start of practice, Westport has played 18 games, including seven in districts, three in sectionals, two in states and six in New Englands. The team stayed overnight in Bristol for the eight-day regional.

"We've asked a lot of ourselves as coaches, a lot of the boys, a lot of all of their families," Rogers said. "People have moved vacations or not done vacations.

"It is a huge commitment."

The coaches are perfectly fine with making that sacrifice.

"Day in, day out, you have to," Whelan said. "You don't know when it's going to be over. That game against Rhode Island, it could've went either way."; 203-255-4561 ext. 114;