Kevin Cooney is
in his 17th season as head coach at Florida Atlantic University
and 21st overall. Each week, he’ll share some of the highs and lows
of running a college baseball program - one that continues to grow as a national
power. Cooney, who starred as a pitcher before taking Montclair State to a
Division III national title, has guided the Blue Wave to a 226-89 record and four NCAA Regionals the past five years. His 1999 squad won 34 straight games, tying
the NCAA mark set by Texas in 1977.
March 16, 2004
Spring Break No Day at the
How many baseball players have ever
had a real spring break? You know the kind. Sunny beaches, lots of liquid
refreshment and sun-splashed coeds are the daily schedule for most of
America’s hard working
college boys. Not if you are a baseball player.
If you attend a northern school, you
scraped the ice off your windshield, caught the bus to the airport, or if you
are an unlucky northern player, you simply caught the bus. Your next stop might
be North Carolina,
Florida, Texas, L.A., or somewhere warmer than your snowbound campus.
If you are lucky enough to play
college baseball in the Sunbelt of America, you are shaking hands with sunburned
guys after each game. Sometimes you never heard of the school you are playing.
All you know is that the other team is running around, just happy to be outside.
My first spring break was as a
sophomore at Montclair State College in
New Jersey. We actually were the first college in New
Jersey to take a southern trip to Florida each year. Our Director of Athletics
was former baseball coach Bill Dioguardi, and he would accompany us on our trip.
I think he was having trouble letting go as coach after moving into the big
Anyway, Dio would make all the
arrangements, and Coach Clary Anderson learned to double check everything
because Dio was a little shaky. We stayed in a converted barracks on the campus
of Miami Dade North, one of the great baseball schools in JUCO history. The
legendary Demi Maineri coached a lot of big leaguers during his tenure there.
The barracks housed all of us in
bunk beds on the second floor. Down the hall was a set of classrooms, which
sometimes made mornings interesting as we’d stumble out of bed to be greeted by
girls en route to class. Dio and Clary slept with us which, helped keep things
interesting. Those were some of the funniest nights I’ve spent in my life.
Needless to say, there were a few comedians and wise guys among those
One night – some years two – we were
allowed to take the three vans and head to
Fort Lauderdale. This was in 1970-72, and the strip
was in its heyday. The Button was the best place in town and usually where we
set up our base of operations. There are a number of current high school and
college coaches, principals and teachers, out there with some great stories of
But for the most part, we were
getting our butts kicked by North or South, but at least we were on the field.
The worst part was coming home sunburned and then getting back in the gym
because the snow returned or the fields weren’t ready at home.
So now, when I coach against teams
on their spring trips, I think back to those days when my shoulder didn’t ache
and I still had hair, and remember just how great spring break can be.
The Camels are
University has been in town all week. They beat FIU Tuesday and lost to Miami on
Wednesday. This is our first conference weekend of the 2004 season. We gave our
kids a day off Monday, had a light workout followed by a clinic on Tuesday, then
an optional 4-Man session on Wednesday, and a normal Thursday practice.
I’d like to say that we are ready
and rarin’ to go, but some things aren’t as rosy as the 16-1 record indicates.
We got news Monday that Rob Orton needs his elbow scoped next week. The
best-case scenario for Robbie is four to six weeks on the shelf. Greg Hughes has
tweaked his elbow and may be out for two weeks. Rusty Brown is still a question
mark. His ankle is healing slowly, and he’s still in pain when he tries to run.
Third baseman Evan Brannon has missed five games because of a back problem that
doesn’t show signs of progress. I don’t expect sympathy, but missing three
senior starters and your setup guy is a challenge.
This weekend is the best and worst
of baseball. Our conference, the Atlantic Sun, has opted to play a nine-inning
game on Fridays and two seven-inning games on Saturdays. The good part is that
if you sweep, you have won three games in 24 hours. But baseball was not meant
to be played that way. It certainly was not meant to be played in a seven-inning
format. Twice in the last five years our coaches and athletic directors voted to
change the format to three nine-inning games over a three day period. The
presidents of our schools rejected the proposal each time.
So we are relegated to this death
march each weekend. It is grueling to play, and frustrating to coach. The
stronger team is put at a disadvantage because there are four fewer innings to
be played each weekend. That may not seem like much, but try trailing your
opponent in the fifth inning realizing that instead of being only half over, the
game is nearly finished.
But, this is the format we’re in so
we need to make the most of it.
FAU 3 CU 2…
This wasn’t exactly a pretty win,
but we’ll take it. The
Campbell pitcher, Josh Blades, did a good job on us
last night. He held us to four hits through 8.1 innings. Fortunately for us, one
of them was Alex Fonseca’s two-run homer. Meanwhile, the Campbell hitters were
scratching out nine hits against Randy Beam, probably four of which were bunts.
Randy had struck out ten entering the ninth tied at two. He looked strong, so I
sent him out to face the top of the order. Before you could blink, it was first
and second and no one out. Campbell’s best hitter Tom Rispoli stepped in to face
reliever Allen Knight.
As a coach, there are two ways to
play this situation. The first is to bunt Rispoli and advance the runners to
second and third. If they did that, we would counter by intentionally walking
cleanup hitter Matt Byrd to load the bases. Coach Smith had replaced the
fifth-hole hitter earlier with a pinch runner; so if they bunted, the third and
fourth hitters don’t get to swing, and we take our chances with a sub and the
sixth hitter. I liked those odds. I liked them enough that I didn’t order a bunt
defense. I expected them to let Rispoli swing, which is the second option for
Chip elected to bunt, bunt Rispoli
fouled off the second pitch and we ran the count to 3-1. Now I was sure he’d
swing. Rispoli lifted a fly ball to left-center and the runner on second tagged
and headed for third. But Anthony Albano raced to his left, caught the ball and
fired a strike to third base for a big double play! Knight struck out the next
hitter and it was on to the bottom of the ninth.
led off with a walk, and Fonseca followed with a sacrifice bunt. The Campbell
third baseman elected to try for the force at second, but Albano beat the throw
and we now had men on first and second with none out. (Déjà vu all over again)
Rob Orton walked to the plate as I
mulled over the same options that Chip faced in the top half of the inning. But
we were in the eighth spot in our order, and I wanted to avoid a double play, so
Rob laid down a perfect bunt to third, and the runners moved to second and
Now Coach Chip Smith had to choose
again. Pitch to Jarrod Lauth, batting ninth, with the infield drawn in, or
intentionally walk Jarrod to set up a force and possible double play; if he goes
after Jarrod and gets him out, he could walk leadoff hitter Derek Hutton and
pitch to freshman Rob Widlansky to get the final out. If he loads the bases, do
you keep the infield up or play back for the possible double play? No wonder
neither coach has much hair left.
chose to walk Lauth and face Hutton.
It all ended without a bang as the
pitcher threw a wild pitch allowing Albano to score. Sometimes it’s better to be
lucky than good.
Matt O’Brien continued his hot
start. He had a complete-game shutout in hand until three bad hop singles got
the Camels on the board.
We didn’t really hit well as
continued to do a good job.
Campbell 3 FAU 2
Spring Break came to a crashing
starter Jordan Topal did a great job all day keeping our hitters off balance.
Mike Crotta pitched real well for us until a leadoff double in the sixth got
things started. The Camels beat out a bunt, and things were tight. We all
thought the next hitter struck out on a 3-2 where he tried to check his swing.
The ump ruled he did and the bases were loaded. CU went on to score three and we
needed something in the bottom of the sixth. Do I need to repeat the
seven-inning problem? Rob Horst hit a two-run shot, and things looked better.
Tim Mascia was on second with two outs when pinch-hitter Rob Orton delivered a
single to right. The throw from CU’s Jeff Randol was on the money and just got
Mascia at the plate to end the inning. Tom Rispoli came in and closed it out and
the Camels are on the bus as I write this. I guarantee it is a much happier bus
ride than expected.
Their kids battled all weekend. I
think we played flat. I guess that’s my fault. The intensity needs to be
dictated from above. The thing that disappointed me is that we really did a poor
job of making adjustments at the plate. As a result, some real good pitchers got
very little support.
Time for me to go. Luke and Maggie
were working on the field after the game – and are dirty enough to clog the
drain tonight. I’m sure I’ll have to throw some BP before dinner.
Baseball is Boring? What are They Smoking? (3/9/04)
Hanging with LaRussa was in the Cards (3/6/04)
Winds of Change (3/1/04)
Washington's Birthday (2/23/04)
Dugout Talks and Scouting Reports (2/21/04)
Not a Happy Valentine's Day (2/16/04)
Opening Weekend (2/9/04)
Almost FAMUs (2/2/04)
FAU Living in Land of Hope and Dreams (1/28/04)
(photo courtesy of FAU Media Relations Office)