The Biancos and Baseball – Jackson Clarion Ledger
In his 17th season at Ole Miss Mike Bianco has led the baseball program to national prominence.
OXFORD â Section 24. Row 1. Furthest seat to the right.
For 17 years Camie Bianco has sat in this seat, right above the home dugout at Swayze Field. Itâs her favorite view in a ballpark, perhaps second-only to her seat at Oxford High School.
Itâs a Sunday afternoon, with 80 degree sunshine and the perfect amount of breeze floating across the park, and the Biancos are at the diamond to watch Mike, Camieâs husband, Ronâs son and the father of Michael, Ben, Drew, Sam and Catherine, coach the Ole Miss Rebels.
âWhen you grow up in that baseball family the field is where they go visit their dad,â Camie said. âWhen we have time we go there â we go to the baseball field.â
Itâs a tradition that through the years has become the familyâs favorite. When they donât have a game of their own the Bianco boys and sister Catherine are watching Dadâs at Swayze. Itâs one of the many diamonds theyâve grown up on.
The Biancos are a baseball family through and through, a love of the game passed down through the generations but never forced upon the next one.
Love of the game
For Mike itâs been a lifetime spent around the sport. Growing up in south Florida âeveryone played baseball,â he said. Bianco learned the game from Bill Brinker at Seminole High School,Â Mike Easom at Indian River Community College and then Skip Bertman at LSU. None were more important though than Mikeâs first coach, his father, Ron.
Ron played baseball at the University of Delaware. His knack for the game is something Mike canât even explain fully.
âHe sees things out on the field that people just donât see,â Mike said.
The last time Ron coachedÂ his son was when he was 12 years old but heâs been guiding him in his career every day since. He sits in the diamond suites at Swayze Field, on the third base side straight back behind the Ole Miss dugout.
He is the cornerstone in this baseball family. Like Camie he doesnât miss a game, but when he has to choose between his grandsons and his son he chooses the Chargers. At Oxford High School youâll find him in a hat and a pair of headphones next to the home dugout. He sets his folding chair up in the box he built and listens to the Rebels on the radio as he watches Ben, Drew and Sam on the field in front of him.
If baseball is the foundation this family was built on Camie is the stitching that holds it all together.
âSheâs seen more baseball games than any scout,â Mike said.
Mike and Camie met at LSU. Mike was a transfer player coming in on scholarship. Camie was a student athletic trainer and a diamond girl.
âA kid from south Florida fell in love with a Louisiana girl at the baseball field,â Mike said.
The families love for theÂ game started right there at Alex Box Stadium.
What was originally going to be a career as a financial planner changed after Mike graduated from LSU. His first coaching position was as a grad assistant at Northwestern State under a former LSU grad assistant, Jim Wells. From there he would head back to his alma mater as an assistant coach before taking his first head coaching positionÂ at McNeese State.
Mike became the head coach at Ole Miss in June of 2000. Michael was four years old, Ben was two, Drew was 10 months and the youngest Sam and Catherine werenât even in the lineup yet. Since taking over the Rebels, heâs become the winningest coach in program history.
Passing it on
Ron started it and Mike has kept it going. Maybe it was the trips he took with his sons to their favorite Major League ballparks, or the time they all watched as the Rebels made it to Omaha for the first time in 42 years. Maybe it was something they all were born with in their blood âÂ after all, their parents fell in love at the ballpark.
Regardless, somewhere within the quality time heâs spent with his five children at fields across the country his love became theirs.
It was something he was always cautious of though, raising his family on a baseball field. He never wanted them to play because he coached. Heâs a dad first, and a coach second.
âItâs gotta be their love,â Bianco said. âJust because this is what I do for a living it still has to be their passion. My wife says it the best, we donât care what you do we just want you to have passion for it.â
The five Bianco children did in fact fall in love with the game of baseball and not because they were pressured to.
âBecause,â Michael said, âwe loved it.â
Growing up, normal for the Bianco boys meant taking batting practice and helping at Ole Miss baseball camps, fielding balls from Dad at Swayze and SEC road trips.
âGrowing up with an SEC coach as your dad had its advantages,â Drew said. âWe got to come out and catch ground balls, practice with the Ole Miss baseball team, and my dad just always helped us out with the game. Itâs been fun having him as our dad and our coach.â
This season is the first time three Biancos â Ben, Drew and Sam â will share the same diamond. Michael and Ben were the first of the Bianco boys to play together at Oxford High School, and Ben will be the only Bianco to share the field with all of his brothers.
âThe best thing about it,â Camie says, âI can see them all in one game.â
They protect each other in the lineup, Sam hits leadoff Drew bats third and Ben is the cleanup hitter. They play next to each other on the field, Benâs at first Drewâs at second and Sam plays short.
âItâs special,â Ben says. âHaving them in the infield itâs funny. We joke and mess with each other throughout the game. I always get asked when people see our name, âYâall are brothers?â Ya, weâre brothers.â
With three brothers on one team the competition never stops. Senior Ben and junior Drew battle for the home run record while Drew and freshman Sam compete for most stolen bases. Ben who made the Dandy DozenÂ leads Drew in home runs and Drew one of Â The Clarion-Ledger Top 20 Underclassmen selectionÂ leads Sam in stolen bases.
Their blossoming careers at Oxford brought up a rule Mike and Camie talked about long before the boys ever picked up a baseball. They will not play for their dad at Ole Miss.
Itâs easy to form a list of opinions about the parentsâ decision to encourage their kids to build their own name and start their own legacy. The biggest misconception may be that neither Mike or the boys could handle the pressure of being part of the same team.
The reality though is that if the boys werenât good enough to play for their dad at Ole Miss, no one would even know this rule existed.
âI think it would be difficult but I think I could handle it and I think they could handle it,â Mike said. âI guess the question is why should we have to handle it. I want them to experience something similar that I experienced. What I mean by that is I think going away sometimes is good.â
So they will, Ben to Louisville in July and Drew to his parentâs alma mater LSU next summer. Sam is just a freshman but if he continues to play the way he is, Oxford coach Chris Baughman said, heâll have a list of offers to choose from as well.
Itâs Tuesday night now and Oxford just finished adding another game to the win column. The Chargers are on pace to win their third-straight region title and contend for another 5A state championship. Ron, Camie and Camieâs parents, Patty and Jerry Marquette, are all there to give the three boys a big hug and congratulations following their win. Mike is on the road coaching Ole Miss to a win against Southern Miss in Pearl.
Thatâs the toughest part about his job, the games he has to miss because heâs at his own. But Mike has a routine each morning, which includes making breakfast for the entire Bianco clan. Itâs there, at the table, heâll ask each one, âOk, whatâd you do out there?â
Heâs not a coach in that moment. Just a dad. One who loves baseball, found a woman who felt the same, and let his kids find their own passion for the game.