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.
May 4, 2005
We're Going to Disney World
Friday, April 29
Well, OK, we’re really going to UCF. We’ll be close
to the Magic Kingdom, but they’ll be no time for Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Our
ticket’s being punched for another crucial conference weekend series.
UCF is ranked 25th in the country and
sitting a game behind Troy in the Atlantic Sun
Conference. They have great team speed, some good home run hitters, a catcher
with a cannon and a coach whose field bears his name. Our work is cut out for
It’s only a three hour-trip up the turnpike from
Boca, so I decided to leave the day of the first game, rather than the night
before. It gave me another night at home alone with Maggie and Luke. MB is in
Destin for her annual beach weekend with her sorority sisters. It’s her one time
a year to get away from being responsible for all of us. I hope she comes back
My son Jim and his girlfriend, Marin, offered to baby
sit while I’m gone. This weekend should serve as the best example of birth
control they could ever imagine. The kids are psyched to have Mom and Dad gone.
They know there’s a shot at going to McDonald’s, the park, the beach and getting
to stay up late watching TV.
I’m looking forward to the bus ride. I’ve got a new
book to read and the new Springsteen CD to play. My problem is that I’ll have to
choose between the two. There’s no sense in listening to new music of his
without a lyric sheet. It’s especially helpful with his acoustic stuff. There’s
no sense in reading a good book when you’re concentrating on the music in your
I chose the book.
“God have mercy on a man who doubts what he’s sure
That’s the last line of the song Brilliant
Disguise. It’s a line that has always haunted me because I see it applying
to my life in so many ways. Is it the relationship to my wife, or hers to me?
What about my kids and their love for me? And then there’s baseball and my job.
There are dark times in all our lives where that line might apply.
The name of the book is Constantine’s Sword – The
Church and The Jews by James Carroll. I’m only six short chapters into the
story of the Catholic church and its relationship (a complex term) with the
Jewish faith and its people.
The little I’ve read brought Springsteen’s lyric to
mind. For someone raised in the Catholic church of the 1950s and 1960s, this
book resonates with the dogma and the prejudices of people who followed
centuries of misguided certainty.
There’s much to learn in this book, as I start to
scratch its surface, but I need to be prepared to have my faith challenged at a
time when I have finally begun to feel comfortable in my own Catholic skin.
Thus the lyric.
The bus ride was a beauty. It took us nearly two
hours to drive as far as Stuart, normally a 45-minute trip. Now we had to scrap
our lunch plans. Cracker Barrel was out, and we needed to find a sub place near
the hotel. After three calls to the hotel, we located a Firehouse Subs and
placed a generic order. There was just enough time to check in, eat and change
into our uniforms for BP.
Freshman Mickey Storey was on the hill, and I was
praying he could continue his hot hand. He didn’t let me down. Mick held the
Knights scoreless for the first three innings, and we got on the board with one
in the fourth. But our lead was short-lived as UCF scored two in the bottom half
of the inning.
After each team exchanged goose eggs, we exploded for
a seven spot in the sixth, featuring a three-run opposite field homer by Robbie
Widlansky. Now we needed Mickey to hold them. But Jay Bergman’s teams never
quit, and UCF added two of their own in their half. The lead was down to five.
Our plan was to start closer Mike McBryde in the
second game, so when Storey finished the eighth with a run allowed, the four-run
lead was less comfortable than we’d hope to take into the ninth. Our bullpen
would have to try and hold them without Mike. But a walk, and a failed double
play contributed to another run as the winning run came to the plate.
It was time to get Mike in from center and shut the
Three pitches later, the 13th UCF
strikeout of the night gave McBryde his eighth save and us the first game of the
series. Storey had 11 Ks in his eight innings – a performance that his
grandfather back in N.J. would love.
After a big meal at Bubbalou’s Bodacious Barbeque
last night, we were hoping McBryde would be fortified for his first start. I
kept him in the lineup as the P/DH, so he had to hit for himself and could later
remain in the game as our DH. It was OK for a guy like me to bat for myself, but
Mac has a tendency to get on base and run around a lot more than I ever did.
Mike pitched well, but we had some defensive lapses
that extended some innings and his stuff dropped off after the fifth. Then
things snowballed and we lost 8-1. It was tough on Mike. It was the first time
he had failed, and it hurt. You could see it in his face.
Part of the reason for choosing to start McBryde was
the emotional lift that we felt it would give our guys. There’s nothing better
than playing behind a dominating pitcher. But now what? What happens when the
plan fails and Superman runs into Kryptonite? That was the problem.
When we pulled into the hotel parking lot, I spent a
few minutes sharing my thoughts with our players. There was no point in
recounting our failures of the night, but we needed to talk about the day to
come. All I wanted was for each guy to give his best on Sunday. If we let
everything hang out, play hard and lose – so be it. Maybe they’re better than
us, and that I would accept if we let ourselves hang out an play our best.
That’s all I asked of each of our 25 guys on that bus.
Sunday, May 1
They gave it to me.
We jumped out with a quick two runs in the first and
things were looking good. But the Knights came right back and got to Brandon
Kloess for two in the home half and another in the second. I gently reminded
Brandon of the discussion on the bus last night. It was time to let it hang out
and shut them down.
Kloess answered the challenge with four straight
scoreless innings. Meanwhile, we scored three in the fourth and two in the sixth
to take a four-run lead. Chris Salberg and Mike Crotta held UCF the rest of the
way on two hits. Our hitters gave us seven more runs in the last two innings,
and the final was 14-3.
We had won a series from a great team in convincing
fashion. Picking ourselves up from the dust of Saturday night, we responded with
a game full of clutch performances. The pitchers weren’t the only story.
Danny Cook struggled Saturday night at second base in
place of Tyler Stevens. But Sunday, we needed Cookie at third base. Widlansky
was suffering from getting hit with a throw on his right arm. Danny responded
with a big day – 2 for 3 with four runs.
But the biggest boost was from our captain, Derek
Stevens had pulled a groin muscle Friday and was
still tender today. Hut jumped in and had a big day. Just when we needed it
most, Derek came through with a triple, a double and four RBI. There were a lot
of happy smiles for a guy who has had a tough year and never given up.
Derek Hutton was the epitome of what I asked from our
guys on the bus Saturday night.
We’re back in Boca with two wins and a
busload of guys with heart.
Halfway Home (4/12/05)
Lost in the Flood (4/8/05)
Good Things Come to Him Who Waits (4/6/05)
A Long Ride Home (4/3/05)
The Working Life (3/31/05)
A Good Friday (3/28/05)
St. Patrick's Day on Wheels (3/18/05)
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)