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The Road to Omaha again

A 45 year journey creates strong bonds and everlasting friendships

It was a special time in 1978 when the Oral Roberts baseball team made it to the College World Series. This year, 45 years later, the 2023 team made history and became the third No. 4 seed in NCAA history to advance to the College World Series. The texts and phone calls began between the 1978 team members and they decided they had to go. Six members were able to make it to Omaha and we talked with them to find out about their very special road trip. The teammates were Vince Bienek – Sonoma, CA, Bruce Heiser – Nashville, TN, Ron Meridith – Yarmouth, ME, Gary D’Onofrio – Frisco, TX, Buddy Slemp – Tulsa, OK and Bill Springman – Tulsa, OK. The road trip began when Vince flew into Tulsa so he, Bill and Buddy could catch up on life and reminisce while driving to Omaha.

 

Q. Why did you feel it was important to go?

Buddy: It was important to support the 2023 ORU team and celebrate their magical run to the College World Series.

Ron: It was important to be there to support this year’s team as they accomplished something that took the program 45 years to get back.

Bill: The need to connect and support this historic ‘23 Team, coupled with getting together with my '78 teammates.

Vince: To represent 1978 and let them know after 45 years we still love the program! To also represent our teammates that couldn't be there. We sent pictures and texted back a forth the entire time we were in Omaha.

Bruce: This was my family that I lived with every day. As an 18 year old freshman, 2,500 miles from home, you rely on each other. Going to this year’s CWS felt like I was going to a family reunion. To show support to the 2023 team for their accomplishment and represent the 1978 team members that couldn't make it.   

Q. What did it mean for you to see old teammates?

Gary: It was great to be together and reminisce. We still share a strong bond as lifelong teammates.

Bill: It meant everything! More than teammates, they are my brothers.

Vince: We picked up where we left off; a lot of stories and laughing. The stories get better with the years!

Ron: Reconnecting with my old teammates and reminiscing about the journey it took for us to get to the College World Series and where we all went after personally and professionally was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I wouldn't have missed it for anything.

 

Q. What was your favorite part of the trip?

Bill: Seeing my teammates/brothers, reminiscing and watching the games.

Vince: We rented a big house on a river. Five of us stayed there and sat outside and talked until the early hours of the morning. Watching the first TCU game and the comeback in the 8th inning was absolutely incredible! The crowd was going crazy!

Bruce: Spending time with teammates I went to battle with. As a freshman in ‘78, Bill, Buddy, Ron, Vince and George (Bjorkman) were our leaders. 45 years later they are still leading. And, of course, the great stories that have gotten better over time.

Buddy: Being with my brothers and sharing this special moment with them.

Gary: Watching the current team play great baseball and catching up with teammates from '78.


 

Q. What did it feel like going back after 45 years? 

Bruce: Nostalgic, very emotional and proud of what our team accomplished.

Buddy: It brought back wonderful memories and allowed us to view the CWS from an alumni's perspective.

Gary: It was fun to be a part of the great CWS atmosphere. Omaha has done a great job of supporting and promoting college baseball and Omaha was a great host.

Q. If you could tell the young men on today’s team something, what would it be?

Bruce: Enjoy the moment. Life has many ups and downs. This is a mountain top moment to always hang on to.

Buddy: You are now in an elite group of former players. Enjoy what you have achieved and work to help another ORU team to surpass our accomplishments.

Gary: Stay connected to each other and relish the time you have together.

Bill: This journey and team camaraderie means a lot to you now, but pales in comparison to how much more it will mean as you get older.

Vince: You represented ORU in an amazing way and gained many new fans on the way. Your accomplishments are spectacular! I'm very proud to have been a part of this baseball program.

Q. What would you like to tell our readers about the ORU baseball program or what it has meant to you?

Buddy: It is special to be a part of forming the foundation of this Program. It was just as special that this Program allowed me to earn a college degree, realize a boyhood dream of playing in the CWS and professional baseball as well as being successful in life.

Gary: The ORU baseball program has been good for the past 50 years and produced many great teams and players as demonstrated by 200 professional players and 20+ major leaguers.

Bill: For 46 years, ORU Baseball has one of the highest winning percentages in the country. More importantly, the University and program turns out successful people of faith and influence.

Vince: The 1978 team really likes each other! We have a dedicated text thread that includes the entire 1978 baseball team. We stay in touch and share current events and even pray for one another and our families. I guess a team that prays together, stays together!

Bruce: It's a winning program that's doing it the "right way". It changed my life for the better over 45 years ago. The fans were awesome for our team and the 2023 team.

"Enjoy the moment. Life has many ups and downs. This is a mountain top moment to always hang on to."—Bruce Heiser

"This journey and team camaraderie means a lot to you now, but pales in comparison to how much more it will mean as you get older."—Bill Springman

  • Bruce Heiser, Buddy Slemp, Ron Meridith, Bill Springman, Mike Moore, Martha Moore, Gary D’Onofrio and  Vince Bienek.
  • Buddy Slemp and ORU player Matt Hogan
  • Old Rosenblatt Stadium where the 1978 team played
  • Breakfast before the game
  • 1978 team interview with LeAnne Taylor of Channel 6.
  • ORU baseball alumni enjoying dinner in Omaha

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