Kevin Cooney is in his 18th season as head coach at Florida Atlantic
University of the Atlantic Sun Conference and 22nd overall. A former pitching
star at Montclair State, Cooney has led FAU to an average of 46 wins per season
the past six years. He as guided the Blue Wave to a 273-106 record and five NCAA
Regionals in the past six years. This is the second year he has offered his thoughts on
baseball - and other things - for CollegeBaseballInsider.com.
March 1, 2005
The Rocket, and a Black and
Blue Big Ten Weekend
Did you ever see the movie Father of the Bride?
I’m so old that the version I saw was with Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth
Taylor. Well, I felt like that guy last week as we made the final preparations
for our 25th Anniversary Dinner.
There were so many things to be settled, from the ticket sales and table
settings to the lighting, music and decorations. Don’t get me started on the
My daughter Maggie will definitely be urged to elope when her time comes.
All the while I’m playing party planner, we were preparing for a three-game
series with Purdue. Well, the others were preparing. I was at practice once for
about 10 minutes, but that’s why we have good assistant coaches.
Friday night, it looked as if Will Mann was back in the groove. We even
jumped out in front with a two-run explosion in the third inning. That is
written facetiously because of our penchant for not scoring much until the
eighth or ninth innings.
But the lead was short-lived as Will left a pitch up, and Andy Dahl launched
a grand slam to left and put the Boilermakers in front 4-2. We put together a
solid answer in the bottom half and took a 5-4 lead. After tacking on another
run in the seventh, our bullpen held Purdue down, and we had the first W in the
Now it was time for a sleepless night worrying about the next day’s game and
The forecast was for rain, and Roger Clemens was in Houston as grand marshal
of the rodeo, then attending his son’s game and finally scheduled to fly into
Boca Municipal Airport at 6 p.m. for a 6:30 reception.
Saturday’s game went according to form…Purdue jumped out to a 3-0 lead as
Mike Crotta wasn’t as sharp as last week. But a big part of being a pitcher is
hanging in there when you don’t have your good stuff until you find a way to get
through the day. Mike did exactly that, and I sent him out for the seventh. He
hadn’t yet pitched that long in college, and I thought he had enough to get
through it. A lead-off double made me regret that decision. I should have pulled
him there and let the bullpen salvage the day, but I really wanted Mike to be
the one to shut the door. It backfired after an out, as Mike gave up a single,
and we were down one heading into the bottom of the seventh.
We had come back in the third to tie the game at three on a Lipman single, a
Widlansky sacrifice fly, followed by Fonseca’s triple and Bobby DiLiberto’s
inside-the-park homer. Now we were again faced with another late-inning
comeback. Brian Lipman came through again with a big double to put us ahead for
good. Knight and McBryde did the rest, and it was off to the dinner.
It’s hard for me to put into words just how impressive a person Roger Clemens
was that night.
We had worked hard at setting things up so that he would be shielded as much
as possible from the general public and the demands that would ensue. He was
brought in through a back entrance and up a seldom-used stairwell to a meeting
room. Our players were going to be let in a few at a time to meet Roger and get
Instead, he called them all in at once, took off his jacket and asked for
questions. The session went on for 35 minutes. He told our kids everything a
parent or coach would want their sons or daughters to hear. I was there for a
small part of it, but it was amazing. The looks on our kids’ faces as he passed
around his World Series ring were priceless.
Downstairs, the open bar cocktail hour and silent auction were in full swing.
We had a big-screen TV set up that played the highlight tape of our 2002
It’s set to music and was a big hit with the people. Juan Pierre from the
Marlins was there, and he said the tape was getting him pumped to start his
season. JP did a great Q & A with Tommy Hutton. He was another perfect
representative of what’s good in baseball. He spoke about his work habits, his
daily routine and his college experience. It was great.
Then Roger took the stage and Tommy threw him questions. His answers went far
beyond any typical sports clichés. The thing that struck me was how much of what
he said was referenced by his status as a parent, as much as a star player. He
really touched a chord with the very young kids and the older fans.
He would have gone on all night if we wanted, but I knew his plane was set to
leave shortly. We gave him an FAU Blue Wave game jersey, (size 52 !!) and he
donned a new Astros jersey and helped us auction it right there. Tony Fossas,
who was Roger’s teammate in Boston, told a funny story about his first
appearance in the big leagues in relief of the Rocket. Tony then served as my
straight man for the auction.
Clemens then left to much applause and affection from the Boca faithful.
We honored Carmen Cali for his call – up by St. Louis this fall. He gave a
short, but eloquent speech honoring his Mother and Father. It was a real
touching moment. Carmen Sr. had major surgery in NYC on Monday, but I knew there
was no way he would miss this night.
We then announced our first Baseball Hall of Fame class, which will be
inducted next January. The list was headed by coach Steve Traylor, who started
the program and later coached at Duke and is currently at Wofford. Steve’s .714
winning percentage at FAU will never be equaled. The rest include Jack Penrod,
Mike Ryan, Nick Presto, Keith Foley, Scott Hay, Todd Moser and the late Doc
Schneider. It’s a great group, to whom we all owe so much.
I expected the next morning for our guys to come out smoking against Purdue.
Roger Clemens and Juan Pierre had just given them the best pep talk any athlete
ever heard. Instead we were flat as could be and play very poorly. The Black and
Gold guys from Purdue beat us 9-3. Our head coach got ejected. At least he was
fired up that day.
The next night, we faced the Big Blue of Michigan, and a pitcher who had
about 50 scouts and cross checkers in the stands. I was also in the stands, or
more accurately, out on the left-field hill. Our new conference rule on
ejections requires any player or coach to serve a one-game suspension
immediately following his ejection.
I had a nice spot on the hill behind third base. But seven scantily clad
Michigan coeds showed up and proceeded to sit about 5 feet behind me. After an
inning, I felt it better to get up and move around a little. I was sure our
dugout noticed their arrival, and I didn’t want to hear about it. Plus, how much
19- and 20-year old female conversation does a 54 year old male want to hear?
Derek Feldkamp from Michigan lived up to his potential. We mustered one run
off him in the second on freshman Mike McKenna’s single, but that was it for the
night. We had our chances but failed to get the big hit. Something needs to
change soon about our hitting with men on base.
Mickey Storey pitched well in his first start. He gave up four runs, but only
one was earned. He deserved better. Culp, Knight and McBryde pitched well in
relief, but we couldn’t push anything else across the plate.
So tomorrow, we go to Jupiter and play the St. Louis Cardinals in an
exhibition game. Carmen Cali is slated to be their sixth pitcher. It should be a
Back to Clemens one last time
That night I got home, and Maggie was still up with MB. She and Luke had
miraculously been on their best behavior throughout the dinner. She kissed me
goodnight and asked her Mom to lie down with her. I heard them talking and
walked to the bedroom door to listen.
MB was trying to explain just who this special man was. Maggie was having a
hard time. She asked if he was rich and famous, and MB told her he had made more
money than we could ever imagine. In fact he had his own plane to fly him here.
“So he’s like a rock star?”
Yes…the Rocket is like a rock star…but more.
So You Wanted to Coach (2/21/05)
Mickey was the Story (2/15/05)
The Rocket's Red Glare (2/11/05)
It's a Dog's Life (2/3/05)
'You've Got to Learn to Live with What You Can't Rise Above' (1/31/05)
25 Years of FAU Baseball (1/16/05)
So this is Christmas (12/24/04)
The Graduate (12/8/04)
Thanksgiving in Palm Beach County (11/25/04)
An Empty Seat (11/10/04)
Fall is in the Air (10/21/04)
Hurricane Carmen (9/24/04)
(photo courtesy of FAU Media Relations Office)