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.



June 11, 2004

The Draft, and Hard Working Assistants


Well, since the Super Regionals begin today with Florida Atlantic on the outside looking in, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on some other college baseball subjects.


Baseball is a funny sport. It’s like the good looking girl who brings hope to the heart of every guy in her class. They all think they have a shot. In truth…you never know. Remember the Joe Jackson song Is She Really Going Out With Him?? How many times have you seen some fine young thing on the arm of a complete dork?


Well, the good looking girl in this metaphor is professional baseball. Every kid that laces on a pair of spikes hopes to someday be asked to play pro ball. They all want a chance at the good looking girl even if they are short, fat, slow, or prone to striking out too much. The structure of the minor league system is such that teams need to replenish rosters of their affiliates each year.


This season, nearly 1900 young men were selected in the two days of the Major League Baseball Draft. Unlike the NBA or the NFL, there are a large number of suspects among the prospects. Most teams will draft into the 50th round. Of course not every player drafted signs. Some are high school seniors who will attend college. Others are junior college players whose draft rights will be retained until next year’s draft. Just prior to the draft, these players can sign with that club, re-enter the draft, and possibly return to school.  Many are college juniors who could opt to return for their senior year if they don’t reach a satisfactory agreement with the club drafting them.


The truth about baseball is that the dork does have a shot at that hot girl. As the saying in baseball goes, “It only takes one guy that likes you.” There are 30 clubs with staffs of scouts. Impress one of them enough and you are on your way to Aberdeen, Provo, Boise, or Batavia.


But there is a dark side to all this.


Just like the kid who can’t get a date, there are a lot of good college players for whom the phone does not ring.


Ask anyone who has been in the game at any level and they can tell you two stories. One is about the player that everyone was sure would be a big leaguer. He was the best anyone could remember, his “future is so bright he needs to wear shades”. That guy sometimes doesn’t get drafted. The second is the player who was ok, but couldn’t carry the first guy’s shoes. Somehow he got the call and is on his way to rookie ball. Go figure.


Part of the tough job of a college coach is trying to provide an answer to this age old situation.


I remember Bobby Yeager in 1985. Yeags was Montclair State’s best hitter and RBI guy. He played third base with a cannon, and became our closer. He led the great state of NJ in home runs, RBI and saves! Bobby was devastated when he didn’t get drafted. Scouts all told him he should expect a call, but it never came. There was no way to explain it or bring comfort to him.


Just add that conversation to the tough ones you have with your players. The bad thing is that the kid never gets any explanation, and then is constantly asked by his family and friends, why? What is he supposed to say? The girl he loved the most, and upon whose love he always counted, ignored him.


The part I hate about this is that it paints the kid as having failed.


A great basketball or football player isn’t viewed the same way if never plays a pro game, but the baseball guy is different. People expect it because so many get drafted or sign. That’s unfortunate.


The hard work and successes of a college baseball player should never be tarnished nor diminished by any sense of failure because his career ended in his last college game. Many are called, but few are chosen.


That leads me into the second topic.


Good college programs are blessed with hard working, talented assistant coaches. Nobody is being successful on his own. That is certainly true in our program. Since 1991, 56 young men have been drafted or signed to professional baseball contracts. John McCormack is the one constant running through that number. It was John who recruited those players to Florida Atlantic, and in many cases, it was John who played a large part in them being drafted or signed.


Mac is a tireless worker who is held in high regard by major league scouts. They see him everywhere and he is willing to share information to help people. One time, he was called by a scout whose area included us and some of our conference schools. It was nearly draft day and this guy had missed some schools in his area. He rarely missed a golf course, which prompted his call to Mac. Based on their conversation, this scout’s team took a player from one of our conference schools in the third round. The scout wouldn’t have known the kid if he was holding his golf clubs.


Florida Atlantic has had a fourth-rounder and three third-rounders during that time, but we have also had a large number of “senior signs”. Those are my favorites. They are the ones who are more suspect than prospect, but they all were good solid college players. Mixed in with the top young prospects, those guys will fill out a roster and show the new millionaires how to win. Sometimes one of those blue collar guys will make the Big Leagues.


Coach McCormack has done more than some of our guys will ever know. We had three players selected the first day and another the second. But we still had some seniors with solid careers under their belts and the phone wasn’t ringing for them.


Mac was on the phone all day Wednesday and Thursday. By today Chris Saxton and Rusty Brown had signed contracts with the Royals. The scout who signed them said his phone was ringing off the hook with agents and coaches pitching kids who couldn’t play a lick. He was happy to get Mac’s call and ten minutes later had the go ahead from Kansas City to sign our two guys.


So for Florida Atlantic, at least two of our players don’t have to answer all those tough questions. That’s five out of seven seniors.


Mac’s back on the phone.




Previous Entries

Ebb Tide in the Seventh (6/7/04)

The Mann of the Moment (6/6/04)

The Wolf at the Door (6/5/04)

Land of Hope and Dreams (6/2/04)

Glory Days (5/30/04)

Blue Wave Crashes on Two to Reach A-Sun Final (5/28/04)

Seniors Rule the Day (5/27/04)

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)

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)