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.
May 23, 2004
Who'll Stop the Rain?
Our weekend visit to the Mercer Bears
up in Macon, Georgia included a heavy dose of Creedance Clearwater Revival. Most
of our guys were unaware of just what John Fogerty was singing about in some of
those old songs. Somehow History of Rock never discussed
Fortunate Son and
Who’ll Stop the Rain, both dealing
with the Vietnam War. Listen to the first and remember that the war in Southeast
Asia was mostly fought by those young men who couldn’t afford to be in college
and receive a college deferment like yours truly, or didn’t have the political
connections to obtain a draft deferment, as did others. Young men died in great
numbers defending a way of life which had no safety net to protect the ones sent
Unlike the metaphor used in the song
for the bombing of Vietnam, the rain that concerned me in Macon was falling
heavily on the Mercer baseball field.
We were in the second game of our
doubleheader and one strike away from a three game sweep and a second place
finish in the regular season. One strike away, with a runner at first base, and
an unbelievable last inning comeback which had us in the catbird seat.
Suddenly, behind the Mercer bullpen,
I saw the biggest lighting bolt in my fifty-three years on this earth. Robbie
Widlansky later said that the hair on his arms stood up at third base. The third
base umpire was frantically trying to get the plate ump to suspend play and
hightail it out of there.
After a few minutes in the dugouts,
we were ordered to evacuate to the gym behind third base. Yes, the same third
base where the mother of all bolts had just landed. I have to admit that I was
frantically trying to reach the Good Lord on His cell phone. That sixty yards to
the safe harbor of the gym seemed like six hundred.
Once we were safely cocooned inside,
my thoughts turned to the situation. Looking out the door, I saw the rain begin.
As it increased and the parking lot filled with a sheet of water, I felt I was
watching our season flowing down those drains.
We had entered the top of the seventh
trailing by a run. After one out, Anthony Albano pinch hit a check swing
dribbler to third base for what looked like a sure second out. But as Bano raced
for first, the Mercer third baseman bobbled the ball and Anthony was the tying
run safely aboard first base.
We had changed our lineup on Friday
night. Jeff Fiorentino had batted third for fifty-three consecutive games, but
we moved him into the leadoff spot. He joked that he was there to give us a
spark, so naturally, from that point he was called “Sparky. Jeff responded by
not getting a base hit in Friday night’s 20 – 7 blowout, but had a double and an
apparent game-winning home run in Saturday’s first game. He was swinging a hot
bat and was our last best hope.
The crack of his bat rivaled the
thunderclap that followed, and the ball sailed over the scoreboard in rightfield
putting us back on top and poised to finish in second place. Three outs to get,
fire up the bus, and get us to the Longhorn Steakhouse.
Which brings us back to Zeus and his
I left the gym and joined the Mercer
coaches in their dugout as the rain steadily fell, soaking the field that lay
untarped. If it stopped soon, they assured me it would drain. But if anything
heavy came through, we were dead in the water. By baseball rules, an inning
doesn’t count as having been played unless the home team is winning or completes
its time at bat if trailing. If the inning isn’t completed, Sparky’s homer and
the two runs are erased and we would lose.
The umpires joined us and asked for
our input. I thought this was a nice gesture. It was likely that they were more
interested in Coach Gibson’s opinion on how the field would likely recover, but
I Iobbied our case like an oil company rep in the halls of Congress. The umpire
in chief said they would return in ten minutes with their decision. Decision?
I’d wait until 11 pm if necessary, but they just kind of looked at me funny and
went back to the gym.
By the time they got to the gym, the
rain started to slow. A few minutes later it stopped. I heard birds singing and
saw a beautiful red Cardinal land on the backstop net. We have Cardinals in our
backyard. I took it as a sign. Didn’t Noah send Cardinals out from the Ark?
Maybe they were Owls?
Right on time, the umpires headed
back to the field. They passed Coach McCormack en route, and ignored his
optimistic comment about the weather appearing to clear. Mac took a shortcut and
beat them to the field. “They’re gonna bang it. I know it.”
At the leftfield entrance they
suddenly stopped. I watch them talking and looking at the sky. The jury thought
it was in, but it wasn’t. The verdict was about to change. As the coaches and
umpires gathered together, I wasn’t man enough to look at the crew chief. He
took a breath, I couldn’t breathe, and said they had decided to wait a half
hour. If the lighting was gone, Mercer could begin preparing the field and we
would continue the game. Unload the Ark, we’ve got a chance!
At 8:45pm, Craig Hughes took over for
Alan Knight and threw a knee buckling curveball. Ball one, said the umpire.
Eventually he said ball four, and the tying run was at second, the winning run
on first. Mercer’s best hitter stepped in the batter’s box. Hughes fired a 90mph
fastball that Mercer’s Hurst fouled straight back. He had taken one of the
hardest swings I had seen that weekend. George Roig and I looked at each other,
knowing that if he had connected, the ball might have landed in South Carolina.
Let’s try a curveball.
The count ran to 2 – 2 and Craig
snapped one off. Hurst took it. The ump banged it! Strike three!
It was dark, but I thought I saw a
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A Bad Part of a Good Job (5/14/04)
Sweep Home Alabama (5/12/04)
Winless at Winthrop, but Victorious in Friendship (5/3/04)
To Bunt or Not to Bunt - That is the Question (4/27/04)
The Promised Land (4/21/04)
A Little Rusty (4/17/04)
Knock, Knock, Knockin' on Heaven's Door (4/15/04)
OB Gets CG for FAU vs. UCF (4/13/04)
The Present and the Past (4/8/04)
Held Up Without a Gun (4/5/04)
Live by the Sword, Die by the Sword (3/27/04)
Bye Bye Buckeyes...Hello Dolphins (3/26/04)
A Festive Week Ends in a Wreck (3/22/04)
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)