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 22, 2004

A Festive Week Ends in a Wreck


I always enjoy the middle of March. College baseball is in full swing, spring training is in the newspapers and St. Patrick’s Day and the Feast of St. Joseph are celebrated. My Dad’s name was Joseph, so that day was always special to him. I don’t really do anything special to celebrate beyond writing his name on the lineup card and rubbing the St. Joseph medal I wear around my neck. As a father of two adopted children, I guess that I feel a kinship to St. Joseph and the Son he raised as his own.


We played Iona College from New York on Tuesday. In a rain-shortened game, Jason Costello did a great job holding the Gaels to one run over five innings. The rain came in buckets as we tried to bat in the bottom of the fifth. After 20 minutes, it was obvious that we were not going to have the chance to add to our 12-1 lead. Alex Fonseca had a good night with three RBI.


Iona always brings back fond memories of my high school years at Essex Catholic. Both schools had Christian Brothers of Ireland as faculty. They were some of the greatest teachers and most interesting people in my life.


Times were different in 1964-68. In a Catholic high school with 2,800 boys, discipline was the order of the day.


One of the best teachers was Br. Maus. It wasn’t so much his teaching we all liked, it was his personality. He exuded a cool, tough guy attitude, which kept you on your toes. He had a ruddy complexion which turned redder if you crossed him. But those who knew him were aware of his great sense of humor.


One morning before class, he caught me copying a classmate’s homework. The trouble was, it was my French homework. Br. Maus was my French teacher.


That afternoon in class, he gave us the second half of the period as a study as he worked on correcting our tests from the day before. After a while, Br. Maus called me to the front of the room and made a grand show of interrogating me about that morning’s bust. He was in fine form as he got the class laughing at me standing against the blackboard as he made me confess my sin. He then handed me a test that he had finished correcting. After I read the test score of 41 aloud to the class, he asked me whose test it was. “It’s mine, Brother,” was my reply. As the class broke out laughing at my sorry plight, Br. Maus wheeled, and with his open hand, belted me in the jaw and bounced me off the blackboard. “Mr. Cooney, your good looks and personality are not enough to get you into college. Sit down!” Those were the days.


Wednesday was St. Patrick’s Day.


Irish music pumped from the speakers as the Irish flag was raised. Big green shamrocks were painted on each base, and FAU was outfitted in green socks, T-shirts and special green and white hats. Student assistant Kyle Tabora brought the staff some hot corned beef and cabbage and a loaf of bread. We had a feast after BP.


Our opponent was Rutgers University. The Scarlet Knights are special for me because of my friendship with Coach Fred Hill. I replaced Freddie at Montclair State when he left for Rutgers. He’s done one of the best jobs in college baseball building them into a top program. But I still want to beat them. I know that the game result will be in all the New Jersey papers, and all the people who still hate me up there will see it.


We have beaten them six straight times, with four of them being one-run games decided in the ninth or extra innings.


Our kids weren’t thrilled with all the Irish music during pre-game. We did throw in some U2 and Van Morrison, but there was a lot of The Chieftans and the Irish Rovers.


Each night, we are introduced to Springsteen’s “The Rising.” As the first notes from The Boss sounded, I was criticized for sticking with a New Jersey band and risk firing up the visitors. Springsteen is part Irish, so he met the day’s requirement. Plus, I figured that the players’ parents were more likely to be fans.


Well, the Knights jumped out to a four-run lead. Maybe it was the music. We answered back in the third with a three-run bomb from Anthony Albano. It looked like another close game was in store.


We fell behind again in the seventh, but came right back to tie things thanks to a Tim Mascia double and three walks.


In the 10th, Rutgers scored three, and it looked like a bad day for the Irish. But it seems being down three in the last inning suits us. Quicker than you can say Erin go Braggh, we’ve got a wee bit of a rally. We had the bases loaded and one out when Robbie Orton stroked his third straight pinch-hit and we were one closer. After a wild pitch, and a ground out, we were tied at 11. Derek Hutton stepped in and laced a ball up the middle and we had another one-run, last-inning win.


Our celebration was short-lived as we had a bus to catch.


After a shower and a pizza, we pushed off for Boiling Springs, N.C., to face A-Sun team Gardner-Webb in a three-game conference series.


We travel on a bus that converts four booths into beds and opens up a platform roof to sleep the rest of the guys. It’s not a bad way to travel. Not a good way, necessarily, but it builds team camaraderie as you roll through the night. We stopped for breakfast in South Carolina and worked out that afternoon at a local park. The cold damp weather was a sign of things to come. It was to be a Nightmare in Boiling Springs.


Right at the outset, I want to say that the Bulldog kids played great all weekend. They were ready for us and made some great plays on defense, hit the ball effectively and pitched great. They flat out beat us two out of three. We were lucky to win the consolation game on Saturday.


Friday, we lost 4-3 as Gardner-Webb never trailed against Randy Beam. Joey Siak pitched a great game against us, and his left fielder made several acrobatic catches. We had a chance in the ninth with the bases loaded and one out, but Brandon Martin did a solid job for the save, getting a bases-loaded, game-ending strikeout.


We felt good about our chances with Matt O’Brien on the hill for the first of two games Saturday. But again, the Bulldogs were more than up to the task. The difference proved to be two home runs over a pretty short fence. But as my coach would say, “Same for both teams.” Again, we had our chances late, but some bad baserunning, and a bases-loaded rocket by Tim Mascia off the glove of the pitcher got the Bulldogs off the hook. Final score: GWU 4 FAU 1.


Game 3 started promising, as we scored in the first inning. It was our first lead of the weekend!


Our good feeling didn’t last as the boys from Boiling Springs got seven hits in their half and took a 5-1 lead. Another run later, and we were down five. I have to be honest. Things looked darker than a 12-hour bus ride with no lights.


But in the fourth, our bats sprung to life. We had three doubles and four consecutive hits as we rallied four five runs with two outs.


In the fifth, two-out lightning struck again. Derek Hutton tripled with two on, and we retook the lead. Rusty Brown then hit his first home run, a three-run shot to center, and we could breath for the first time in days.


Mike Crotta did a great job after a very rough start. After the fifth he approached pitching coach George Roig and made it clear he intended to stay in the game. George is 5-9, and Crotta is 6-8. I asked George if Mike scared him for a minute. He nodded in the affirmative. It’s good to see some fire in a big freshman.


Well, that was our week. We got back to Boca safely at about 6:30 AM.


Waiting in my office was a big box from Jostens. Our A-Sun Conference Championship rings from last year had arrived. I think I’ll show them to our guys at practice today as a reminder of what we are throwing away with those three unexpected losses.


Next weekend starts the Florida Death March. All four Florida schools will play each other over consecutive weekends. Stetson has no losses and UCF one. We are already sitting on three. Our work is cut out for us from this point.


Tuesday and Wednesday, we have a tough Ohio State team at home to get us started. It looks like an interesting week.




Previous Entries

Spring Break No Day at the Beach (3/16/04)

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)