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.
July 9, 2004
So, You Want to be a Baseball
Like most college baseball programs around the country,
this time of year brings hordes of young rugrats eager to be the next Derek
Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, or Zack Roper. These days, parents will spare no expense
in order to provide every opportunity for the little guys to learn the game
before they can do fractions!
I think back to being eight years old and having my parents
lie about my birth date so I could get on the team coached by my neighbor Ellie
Rothrock. My brother was in his last year on that team and that gave them the
rights to me. My new birthday was on July 30th to beat the August 1st
cutoff. So, I was actually not quite nine when I started playing. These days,
kids are retiring at nine years old.
My generation is probably most guilty of rushing the formal
entry into organized sports for our children. As a result, kids are trying to
hit and catch baseballs well before their eye – hand coordination has developed.
We have five-year-olds playing T–Ball, decked out in full uniforms and batting
gloves. Eye black is optional.
I’m convinced that all this organization and competition is
bad for the kids and for the game of baseball.
How many little guys wisely stop playing because the ball
hurts when it hits you, and you strike out most of the time. I think we lose
many potential baseball players because our children are trying to do something
that their bodies are not prepared to do.
But, they sure look cute in their little uniforms and
oversized hats. And when one of them connects and slides safely into third,
(after three overthrows) the look of joy on his face lights up the field.
As these youngsters progress through their baseball
careers, the best wind up playing in college and dreaming of being a pro. We
talked about the draft and the joy and pain that it brings, but the story
doesn’t end there.
Florida Atlantic currently has twenty-one former players in
Tim Harikkala is with the Rockies having a solid year in
their bullpen. Earlier I chronicled his struggle to stay in the game he loves.
Thankfully it’s working out the way he wants. The rest of our alums are in the
minor leagues, fifteen with affiliated teams, and five playing in independent
For these guys, the game is a bit different. There isn’t a
great deal of money being made, travel is tougher than our bus rides, and the
towns aren’t exactly like Boca.
But these guys all share the same love for this crazy game
that binds together the young and the old, the talented and the clumsy, the
gifted and the impaired. It is hard to let go of something that has held you in
its grasp for so long.
Zack Roper played for us in 1999 and 2000. He came in as a
third baseman but soon became an outstanding right fielder. We won 97 games with
Zack in the lineup, 34 of them in a row.
In 1999 he drove in our only run in the ninth to beat
Florida International and put us into the championship game of the Coral Gables
Regional. I remember him crying on my shoulder the next year when we were
eliminated by Miami. He said that all he wanted was to play pro ball, but he
wouldn’t ever trade it for his college career.
Zack got his chance when the Angels drafted him that June.
He played hard for them until late in 2003 when he was traded to Texas. We
figured this was a break to get Zack moved out of A-ball with the new
This spring Zach was released by the Rangers. He came home
and went backing to parking cars while he tried to hook on with someone. He had
two good offers in different independent leagues when the Cardinals called. They
needed another player for their Palm Beach team in Jupiter. Zach started
commuting to play pro baseball.
After two weeks it was obvious he wasn’t in their plans.
Zach was told he would DH against left-handers. He asked for his release and
went back to parking cars.
Two weeks later he was in my office looking for a new pair
of spikes. An independent team in the Northern League had signed him and he was
leaving to drive to South Dakota.
When Zach arrived, the situation wasn’t good. He was traded
to a team in a different league. He got back in his car and drove to his new
team in Iowa. This was even worse. The field was terrible, they wanted him to
play third base, he just wanted out.
Next stop was a brief one back in Boca. Then he was offered
a job on a team in Gary, Indiana. Back in the car, and on the road, Zach had a
lot of time to think. What was he doing? What was driving him? Was it some Peter
Pan thing? Maybe his long anticipated engagement? Who knows?
Gary wasn’t the answer. Four at bats in two weeks will tell
you where you stand. Zack jumped in the car and drove to visit Anthony Doudt,
his former FAU teammate. After filling Anthony in on his frequent driver record,
Zack got a call from the Phillies. They wanted him for their team in Clearwater,
about three miles from where he went to high school.
Who said you can never go home again?
I may have missed a stop or two on Zack’s 2004 journey, but
I hope the Clearwater one works out for him. I would like to tell his story to
all those little kids in our camp, or to my four-year-old son Luke, but why
spoil their dreams?
All they want is to be a baseball player.
Fathers' Day (6/22/04)
The Draft, and Hard Working Assistants (6/11/04)
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)
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)