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 27, 2004
Seniors Rule the Day
Atlantic Sun Tournament…Day 2
Senior Day…Every team has a day at the end of the season that honors the
departing seniors. The coach comes out and gives some sort of gift, while the
announcer says nice things about the players closing out their careers.
Sometimes, it must be a challenge for those who write the script to come up with
something impressive to say about a player who has seen limited playing time
during his career.
We were on the road for Senior Day at Mercer and Troy this year. Our guys were
impressed by the framed uniform presented to each Mercer senior. We give our
guys a baseball. I told them it was an NCAA violation to give a player his
uniform. I'm not sure they believed me.
Yesterday turned out to be a big day for some of our seniors.
When we get to the postseason, I think the tendency is to lean heavily on your
seniors. They are the guys whose careers could end this weekend. If anyone
should be ready to play hard, it's a senior facing the realization that his life
as an amateur baseball player is racing towards its end as quickly as Mike
McBryde runs the bases.
Randy Beam did not make either first- or second-team All Conference. He had lost
to Gardner-Webb earlier this season and has not had the dominant season that
made him an All-American last year.
As he took the mound yesterday, in the blaring DeLand sun, he knew that if he
did his job, we had the chance to stay in the winners' bracket. Everyone was
aware that UCF had defeated Campbell in the first game, and had Matt Fox or Kyle
Bono waiting to face the loser of our game. Those two guys are like the choice
of a bullet or a bomb.
Randy pitched a gutty game. Two runs were scored on successive suicide squeeze
bunts. He really got dinked in a late inning for another run. We managed to
answer the Bulldogs each time and led 7-4 heading into the ninth.
Randy's pitch count was good, so I checked with catcher Rob Orton about Beam's
stuff. Rob said Randy was good, but he had just reminded him to follow through
more to prevent leaving pitches up in the zone. It's nice having a senior behind
I went to Randy and asked him how he felt. "I'm good." "Great?" "I'm great."
"Can you beat these guys?" I could beat Clemens." " Could you beat me?" "Even
you." I think he was more tired of the questions, but I knew he was the right
guy for the job.
Two groundouts and a fly ball later, Beam was a winner.
Rob Horst has had a tough month. Losing your Mom and flying back to Nebraska and
home again would take its toll on anyone. He has been pretty quiet at the plate
over the last few series. I told him how L.J. Biernbaum had hit a similar slump
in 2002, but bounced back to have one of the greatest regional performances
imaginable in our championship at Alabama.
Rob told me not to worry. He was ready to play. After the Bulldogs scratched out
two and closed to within a run, Rob stepped up and hit a bomb, making the score
4-2. He later had a sac fly and in the seventh drew a walk and raced safely into
third on Widlansky's hit-and-run single. It was a hot day and Rob's not getting
any younger, so I sent Joe Yeager to run for Horst at third. That run then
scored on a perfect safety squeeze by senior Evan Brannon. Our lead was now four
runs. They needed a grand slam to tie.
Evan Brannon has fought a sore back all season. At one point, he lost his job at
third base, but bounced back and played great until the last couple of weekends.
We inserted Widlansky at third, and he had a big series at Mercer. Evan handled
it great. He was ready to jump back in at short when Fonseca melted last
Yesterday he started at shortstop and had a double and the clutch bunt RBI which
extended our lead. GWU got a run back in the eighth, so Evan's bunt loomed even
larger. But his biggest contribution may have been the play he made up the
middle with a runner at second, and a run already across in the eighth.
Evan went behind the bag and got to a ball that I felt he had little chance of
reaching. In the space of an inning he had knocked in a run with his bat and
saved one with his glove. It's nice to have a senior shortstop.
Rob Orton has missed most of his senior year because of elbow surgery. He had
some clutch pinch hits, including a home run with two outs in the ninth against
FIU. It's been good to have Rob back in the lineup the last few weekends. He can
really handle a pitching staff, blocks well, and can throw.
Robbie was on base three out of five times yesterday, and drove in a big run for
us late in the game. But he really controlled the game and made some key blocks
with runners on base.
Last year's MVP, Rusty Brown has also had a tough year. A fractured ankle kept
him out for the first half and affected his play upon returning. Rusty has come
on strong the last few weeks, and has moved back into the cleanup spot in our
lineup. (He reminded me at Mercer that he is hitting .380 in his career when
batting fourth. Hey…I listen to these guys sometimes.)
Always a big-game player, Rusty had two hits and an RBI yesterday in a real big
game. He is another guy who knows what it takes to win championships and I'm
glad he's back.
So every senior in yesterday's game had a big hand in our 7-4 win.
Tonight we play Stetson in the 7 p.m. game. Mercifully, the sun will go down,
and we will play in relatively cooler conditions.
I hope our seniors stay hot.
A Lefty Lift (5/26/04)
Missing the Fons (5/26/04)
Who'll Stop the Rain? (5/23/04)
The 'Badlands' of Miami (5/19/04)
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)