OXFORD • College baseball families across the nation are missing the sport they love while they wait out COVD-19.
There’s a house on the east side of Oxford, though, where residents miss the game four times as much as most others.
In this house it’s not parents and a sibling or two, and perhaps a girlfriend traveling on weekends, to watch a son play.
With the Biancos, it’s the family business.
As the game sits idle, Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco conducts weekly conference calls with Rebels players updating them with whatever helpful information he has. Sometimes it’s not much.
When the laptop is off he turns his attention to three other Division I baseball players – sons Ben, Drew and Sam.
With three players not playing, the frustration multiplies, but at times there are neat side effects for parents Mike and Camie – like family meals most nights with all the kids and three grandparents who live in town.
“There’s a lot of negative to COVID-19, but the one positive for us is to get everybody under one roof and to have dinner with your whole family almost every single night for a month and a half now,” Mike Bianco said. “We haven’t done that since Michael, our oldest, was 12.”
Ben, Drew and Sam share the same last name, but they also represent different phases of college baseball development.
A third-year sophomore at Louisville under Dan McDonnell – his dad’s former assistant at Ole Miss – Ben was playing the best baseball of his career when the abbreviated 2020 season ended.
Drew, a sophomore at LSU, where his dad was catcher and team captain on the 1989 College World Series team, wasn’t playing the best ball of his career and during the virus outbreak has entered the NCAA’s transfer portal.
While he’s had dramatic moments, like hitting a home run against dad in the Tigers’ Game 1 win over Ole Miss at Alex Box Stadium last year, Drew Bianco is unsure of his next step. He hasn’t ruled out a year of junior college or even returning to LSU where he’s still welcomed by coach Paul Mainieri.
“To be honest, LSU is still on the table, and I may end up going back there,” he said.
For Sam, there’s been the double whammy of losing a final baseball season at Oxford High School with many of his childhood friends – and also a graduation ceremony.
“It’s sad to be honest. One, we can’t play baseball, but also we can’t hang out. I’m not seeing my friends at all. I’m stuck here with my brothers … but that’s not a bad thing,” he said.
These days Sam Bianco tries to replace that disappointment with the excitement of starting his own college baseball career at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. He was recruited by former coach Tony Robichaux, who died suddenly after a heart attack last summer.
While the virus curve flattens, the brothers, like other players, find it hard to keep their games from doing the same.
However, there is strength in numbers, and they can work out together, fielding ground balls and getting a few batting practice swings, when they can convince dad to slip them into the Rebels’ Swayze Field.
Staying fit also involves basketball in the driveway, physical games that early on resulted in a dislocated finger for dad, or runs through the neighborhood.
“That’s the plus of having a big family,” Drew said. “You have brothers you can do stuff with.”
Like Drew did last year, Ben hit a home run against dad this season when then-No. 1 Louisville visited on opening weekend.
In both instances, Mike Bianco’s Rebels came back to win the series.
It was one of three home runs for Ben, who had driven in 14 runs and was hitting just over .300 going into the final weekend before the season ended.
“I didn’t have a great last weekend against Wake Forest, but aside from that I was feeling good. I can’t complain,” Ben said.
Now as the days pass, Drew tries to nail down his future, Ben contemplates what might have been on the field and Sam balances proper high school good-byes with his place in a tradition-rich program under new coach Matt Deggs, a former Ragin’ Cajuns player.
While the Bianco brothers work through different phases, what they miss most is the same.
“It’s my teammates, honestly,” Ben said. “You get so used to every day waking up at 5 in the morning, going to work out with them, you’re around them 24/7. I lived with four of them. Not being able to be around my friends is the biggest thing.”