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 18, 2005
St. Patrick's Day on Wheels
Most years, St.
Patrick’s Day is a real good time at Florida Atlantic. We usually raise the
Irish tricolor, get some U2 and Van Morrison, or The Chieftains, on the sound
system, paint shamrocks on the bases and wear green hats, sleeves, and socks.
Our lineup card
always has an inordinate number of Mc or O’ names in it. Imagine a batting order
with McSpano, O’Biernbaum, McLipman or O’Casanova!
For some reason, I
have been ejected from games quite often on this day. Some would say the early
departure was designed to get a head start on the corned beef and cabbage. But
no one likes to get run by an umpire, especially when you’re dressed that
This St. Paddy’s
Day finds us riding up I-95 in the rain, headed for Buies Creek, N.C. Chip Smith
and his Fighting Camels are waiting for us in the second week of Atlantic Sun
Conference play. I’ve seen Lawrence of Arabia a few times and never saw one
camel fight. But the new Campbell University camel logo is nice. It no longer
reminds me of my Dad’s “cancer sticks” that helped put him in the grave.
In 2003, I wrote
about our history of interesting trips to Buies Creek. There always seems to be
something interesting on this trip.
Right now it looks
like the weather will be the next story.
Chip and I spoke
yesterday and decided it would be best to change our night game to a four
o’clock start. The forecast is for a high in the 40s and a chance of rain or
That’s just great.
A bus load of
suntanned Floridians heading into weather that, back home, results in special
shelters opening for the homeless, warnings to bring pets and plants indoors and
kids at bus stops dressed as if they were in the Iditarod.
I did make Chip an
offer I felt he couldn’t refuse. Actually I knew he would.
Our usual sleeper
bus was booked for this trip, and I refuse to ride in a standard sit-up bus for
more than two hours. But there is another company in North Carolina that was
able to service us.
My offer to Chip
was to have the bus pick him up and come play the games in Boca and weather more
conducive to baseball. It was 86 yesterday.
We would pay for
the bus, his hotel and the kids’ meals. They would get a free trip to sunny
Florida and the glitter of Boca Raton. Pretty sweet deal, right?
It was a lot to
arrange on such short notice. He would have to arrange for his players to be
excused from class and a host of other administrative entanglements.
But Chip’s also a
Campbell is 10-1 at
home this season, and they have yet to win a game on the road. Plus, his kids
are more accustomed to playing in this sort of weather. Bring on those spoiled
I can hear Chip
So here we are,
with whatever meager cold weather clothing we have, hoping the weather man is
Ex-Boy Scout that I
am, I’m ready.
Back in the day,
baseball undershirts were made of wool, and did a good job of keeping you
somewhat warm. I still have mine from college. I also brought two cotton ones,
our “Victoria’s Secret” shirt, a pair of long johns and extra socks.
I tipped Coach
Fossas to a good secret. Bring an extra pair of nylon wind pants, and wear them
under the game pants. A jacket and some batting gloves and I’ll be good to go.
Now, if I can just
find a metal garbage can for a dugout fire, things will be perfect.
My fear that the
history of close games against Rutgers was due to change was accurate. But the
change was for the good, as we jumped out to 7-0 lead in the first inning and
never looked back.
We got a solid
performance from Brandon Kloess in his first start on the hill. Brandon has been
in the pen till now but has starter’s stuff. He pitched a solid five innings,
and the lead gave us a chance to use some of our freshman pitchers who have seen
It was nice to
generate some early offense for once. The Rutgers pitcher was trying to pitch
despite some arm problems. Evidently, he’s a fifth-year senior who’s just trying
to tough it out. I admire his guts.
Mascia and Hutton
each had a hit. More importantly, they looked better at the plate. Each of them
had good swings compared to the past month. We need to get those two back to the
players they really are. Actually, they have to get themselves back. The hard
work is all on them in the pursuit of that natural, comfortable feeling in the
batters’ box that has been missing thus far.
I like and hate the
It’s good to get
away and enjoy the reduced office responsibility, and the other duties that go
with being home. Getting a chance to see the interaction of the players as they
travel is always interesting. The bus is the best place to get a feel for your
kids. Twelve to 14 hours on a bus can reveal a lot.
remember and talk about these bus trips. Our alumni weekends are filled with
stories from the road.
I like that our
only responsibility on game day is to show up and play. If it rains, or there is
some sort of problem, we just wait for our hosts to take care of everything. No
pulling tarps or raking fields, just sit back and enjoy the efforts of others.
But my family’s not
Despite how hyper
and difficult Maggie was this morning, or how much Luke annoyed me last night,
as soon as I’m gone, I miss them terribly.
This trip is worse
because I will return sometime Sunday morning, strung out from the road, and
then the kids and MB fly Monday morning to the farm in Tennessee. It’s spring
break and they haven’t seen Nana and PopPop since the summer. All Luke’s been
talking about for a week is getting back on his 4-wheeler. He keeps saying, “I’m
So next week, it’ll
just be me and the cats.
Maybe my son Jim
will invite me to his place for dinner.
Leaving this week
is harder because Luke was with me at each game last week and during two
practices. He helped pick up balls during our bunting session, and even threw
some pitches to the bunters. Some of our guys took turns with him on the batting
tee. Before each game, I had to pitch tennis balls to him while Gardner-Webb
took BP. Their guys were nice about throwing back balls he’d hit in their
During games, I set
up some ball buckets on the dugout steps to protect him from foul balls. He was
allowed to stand up when lefties batted, otherwise he would be seated on the
step watching Tony Fossas giving signs to our catcher. At one point he started
drumming on the buckets and jumping up and down. George called him our rally
monkey. As skinny and little as he is, it’s a good description.
I was real tempted
to take him with me on this trip, but that’s a long time on a bus for a
5-year-old. Maybe when he’s old enough to learn how to play poker. Right now
he’s struggling with Candyland!
This morning, I had
to be on the field at 5 a.m. for a live TV interview about the congressional
hearings on steroids in Major League Baseball. That kind of put a crimp in my
plans for an early morning St. Patrick’s celebration with my wife. Oh well, I’ll
be home Sunday.
We’ve been on the
bus for nearly four and a half hours. My mind is still dealing with how poorly
our weekend went. I tried to stretch out and sleep, but all I could think about
is how poorly we played in our 7-6 loss on Friday, and today’s doubleheader
just goes right to the bone. We committed five charged errors on Friday. I
honestly can’t remember the last time one of our teams played that poorly. The
frustrating thing is that we still nearly pulled out a win.
It was cold Friday,
but it wasn’t the weather that gave me a chill.
Today dawned with
the promise of a better day.
Coach Fossas and I
walked over to one of my favorite breakfast places. The Triangle Waffle House in
Dunn is a little family owned place. I’ve made it a point to stop there whenever
driving on I-95 or when we are at Campbell. They have good country ham and eggs.
I hoped that a good breakfast would be the way to get a good day going for us.
Mike Salberg hooked
up with Campbell’s Lincoln Smith in a good old fashioned pitchers’ duel. We
finally pushed across a run in the eighth. Mike McKenna doubled and Tim Mascia
walked. After a strikeout, Derek Hutton reached on an infield single to load the
We were desperate
for a run. The hits had been few and far between as Mike McBryde stepped in the
box. My instinct was to squeeze, despite the force at home. I was worried that a
double play would end our chance to score. But I had faith that Campbell
wouldn’t be able to turn two with McBryde’s speed.
I had no sooner
voiced my thoughts to Fossas when Mike hit a groundball to short. It was going
to be close, but Mike beat the relay from the second baseman as McKenna crossed
the plate with the first run of the game.
Salberg went back
out for he eighth. We had Mickey Storey warming in the pen. After getting the
first two men out, Chris faced Campbell’s Mike Priest, who brought a .484
batting average, nine home runs and 22 RBI with him to the plate.
I hated to take
Chris out, but Tony thought Mickey’s right-handed curveball was a better match
up for us. He was right: strike three on a nasty yakker ended the inning.
We tacked on
another run in the ninth, and Mickey went out to nail things down for us. Three
Ks later, it was time for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Will Mann started
the last game and didn’t have his usual good stuff. We didn’t really like the
matchup Campbell presented with Will, and our fears were soon borne out.
We scored one run
in the fifth, sixth and seventh to cut Campbell’s lead to one run. Then the
wheels fell off the bus. Two singles, followed by a bunt single, loaded the
bases. A walk, a fielder’s choice, a sac fly and three runs built their lead to
The ninth saw us
score two runs, but the game ended with the winning run still at the plate. The
game and the weekend were lost. Another debacle in Buies Creek. I told you there
was some history of that here.
After a shower in a
silent locker room, we headed back to Dunn and stopped at Ernie’s Buffet for
dinner. This restaurant is actually in a converted supermarket. They have real
good down home cooking. Fried shrimp, scallops, pulled pork, and collard greens,
sweet potatoes, and great apple pie.
We had eaten there
last night and the kids liked it. I figured it would be a quick meal to get us
back on the road without much delay.
I hoped to change
my luck and maybe pick up a win with the manager of Ernie’s. He listened as I
explained we had been there twice to a tune of 70 meals...how about a deal?
Ernie must be a Camel fan. Paying full price for everyone is nearly as bad as
losing two out of three.
So what’s ahead for
The next week
brings Stetson to town for a three-game series, and a chance to answer the bell,
get up off the canvas and see what’s in our hearts. How badly do we feel about
this weekend, and what are we prepared to do to fix what’s wrong?
We’ll see on Good Friday.
Beware the Ides of March (3/16/05)
Conference Sweep (3/13/05)
Madness and Soaring Eagles (3/11/05)
Viva Las Vegas (3/8/05)
The Rocket, and a Black and Blue Big Ten Weekend (3/1/05)
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)