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Fans scramble to back Stony Brook baseball

Chris Courtney, of Lindenhurst, packs Stony Brook University's

Chris Courtney, of Lindenhurst, packs Stony Brook University's flag, for the 1,300-mile drive to Omaha, Nebraska. (June 13, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Jessica Rotkiewicz

Chris Courtney of Lindenhurst didn't know how he was going to afford the trip to Nebraska to watch his son Kevin play for Stony Brook University in the College World Series -- he just knew he was going.

That is, until his phone rang Tuesday with an offer of the lower level of a house in Omaha, free. The man on the other end of the line: Mike Kelly, an Omaha resident who had never met Courtney but grew up on the same street in Lindenhurst where Courtney lives now.

He checked out Kelly with a neighbor, and then, "I took him up on it," Courtney said.

Courtney -- who is driving the 1,300 miles to Omaha with his family to save money -- is one of dozens of family members and friends of the Stony Brook team traveling from Long Island to Omaha in time for Friday's first game.

Since Stony Brook reached the series, mothers, fathers, girlfriends and former teammates have been scrambling and sorting out logistics -- negotiating days off from work, snapping up airplane seats and filling suitcases with lots of red clothes.

The costs are daunting. Plane tickets are $600 round-trip, with hotels adding another $120 a night, according to Cheryl DeMeo, a Sayville-based travel agent who makes arrangements for the team and has been putting in 16-hour days helping family members.

Even with the big price tag, nobody was hesitating. Frank Vanderka Sr., of Levittown, said he and his wife, daughter and sister-in-law would be flying to Omaha to watch his son Frankie pitch. They'll deal with the financial repercussions later, he said.

"This is an opportunity that might not ever come again," he said. "So we have to do it."

Mike Stephan, of Yaphank, a former Stony Brook baseball player who graduated in 2010, balked at the price of plane tickets. So on Wednesday he and two friends piled into his Hyundai Sonata for the 22-hour drive.

"We're just going to go on shifts and try to catch some z's," said the former designated hitter-infielder.

Many Stony Brook fans dealt with more complicated logistics.

Vanderka said his daughter Ali moved up some of her final exams at MacArthur High School in Levittown.

Alicia Nelson, 22, a recent Stony Brook graduate who's going to Omaha to watch her boyfriend, Evan Stecko-Haley, had to track down a dog-sitter. But covering her shifts at Starbucks was easy.

"Everyone just jumped at a chance to help me go," she said.

Stony Brook's avid fan base has been following the team throughout the season, said head coach Matt Senk.

"We might travel with as many as 150 people," Senk said. "That's a big part of Stony Brook baseball."

Kelly, the Lindenhurst transplant, read about Stony Brook's success and tracked down Courtney to offer his "man-cave" and swimming pool.

The duration of the Courtneys' visit depends on how well Stony Brook does in the tournament. Many people have only made arrangements through the first few games.

"A lot of us have one-way tickets," said Denise Italiano of West Sayville, whose son Anthony is a catcher for Stony Brook.

Kelly's offer to the Courtneys, however, is open-ended.

"They can stay the whole series," Kelly said. "Just want to make the people from home feel at home."

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