is in his 19th season as head coach at Florida Atlantic University, where
he has compiled a record of 650-403-4. Overall, he has a record of 790-453-9 - a
.631 winning percentage - in 22 years. FAU has reached the NCAA regionals seven
times under Cooney, including each of the past four seasons. This is the third year
Cooney has offered his
thoughts on baseball - and other things - for CollegeBaseballInsider.com.
Feb. 20, 2006
Cardinals, Owls and Captain Albano
You might say that this weekend is for the birds, as the Louisville Cardinals
have flown south to get their new season started.
The leader of their migration is an old friend - Coach Lelo Prado. Back when
Lelo was just a kid, he became the head coach at the University of Tampa, where
he produced some of the best baseball teams I ever faced. In our last season of
Division II, we lost to Coach Prado and his guys in the regional championship
game. They went on to win their second consecutive National Championship. We
moved on to Division I, and Lelo eventually landed in Louisville.
It was a rude awakening for a kid from Tampa to suddenly coach baseball far
from the warm Florida sunshine. His first home series was a cold one, but the
dugout had a space heater, and Lelo was decked out in his new cold-weather gear.
Things were going well for the Cardinals until smoke started pouring out of
their dugout - Lelo’s gloves had caught fire on the heater!
We had some great battles back in the day. Of course, he had some future big
leaguers like Tino Martinez and Sam Militello, as well as current Tampa coach
Joe Urso. Those guys could make a young guy a good coach in a hurry. Lelo is
hard-nosed, gutsy and goes about his business with a sense of humor. I think I
would have liked playing for him.
What about the ’06 Owls?
A 2-4 start is not what anyone had expected. If we had played a little better
defense and pitched to our potential, it could easily be 4-2, and everyone would
be feeling good. If my hair was still where it should be, I wouldn’t need
sunscreen on my head!
We get Widlansky back today. His hamstring feels good enough to DH, so we’ll
give it a go. Woody’s an important piece to our offense, particularly in light
of McBryde’s absence because of the same injury. Those two hamstrings need to
heal sooner or later. I hope it’s sooner. We can at least use Mike in relief for
the first time, which is a good feeling.
During practice this past week, I told our bullpen that I’d do the same thing
this week if Mickey Storey has a lead late in the game - go to the bullpen.
Last Friday was a debacle that turned a well-pitched game into a loss. But
tonight, after six innings and 10 strikeouts, we iced Mickey and went to the
pen. This time, things went as we had hoped - Bradley, Eberhart and Salivar
combined for three innings of one-hit, no-walks and no-runs worth of relief
Senior Anthony Albano continued his successful comeback from last season’s
surgery as he doubled with the bases loaded in the first to give us a four-run
lead. Jonathan Shapland later did the same to ice the game and give us a 13-4
Everybody was feeling good after our first Friday night win of the young
season, and having all day before a night game gave me a chance to cut my grass.
I used to spend the day of a night game watering the clay, sweeping the
dugouts and helping Coach Mac pick up trash, but now we’re big time. The
University outsourced the athletic fields to an outside group, and I’ve hardly
touched a rake since. Our game operations staff has done a good job making sure
the facility is clean. As Maggie said to me as we drove to the lawnmower store
for some oil, “Now you get time to spend with your family.” Out of the mouths of
Chris Salberg was the victim of some shaky fielding and a questionable strike
zone in the first and second innings, and we were down 3-0. To Salberg’s credit,
it could have been a lot worse. The lefty hung tough and got some big strikeouts
to minimize the damage.
In the FAU half of the second, we responded with a nice rally led by a Justin
Martin sac fly and a two-run double by freshman Will Block. It was an expensive
inning however, as Robbie Widlansky re-injured his hamstring and will probably
be out for a while. Woody was trying to stay in the game, but his eyes couldn’t
hide the pain.
Salberg had thrown a lot of pitches, so we went to Brandon Cooney in the
sixth. The big guy shut the Cardinals down until a one-out double in the eighth
narrowed the lead to one run with a man at second. It was time for a change.
As I stood on the mound and watched Mike McBryde jog in from the pen, I
couldn’t help but smile. As Mike took the ball, I told him it was real nice to
see him out there again.
Mike showed a little rust as he balked the runner to third and walked the
next hitter. But, he got the next Cardinal to ground into a 5-4-3 double play,
with freshman Nick Arata, making a clutch turn, saving the tying run. Ovy
Ramirez ripped a game-sealing, two-out double to push the lead to 7-4 and give
Mike some breathing room. He didn’t need it, striking out the side to notch his
first save of the year.
Last year, I went seven weeks without dropping a starter from the rotation. I
told our staff last week not to expect that sort of latitude. We have too many
good arms, and we aren’t off to the best start.
Joel Schmall had struggled in his first two starts, looking nearly unhittable
early and suddenly losing it. The big lefty had his back squarely to the wall
today and responded to the challenge. Schmall kept the Cardinals off balance
through six solid innings. He scattered five hits, walked only one and struck
At a different point in the season I would never have taken a guy out in that
situation. But it’s early, and the kid had struggled for two starts. If I keep
him in a three-run game and things go south, he leaves with a bad taste in his
mouth. Instead, he can sit back and feel great about having thrown a gem. Win or
lose, it would be something upon which he could build.
Now we needed the pen to do its job.
Another psychological decision needed to be made.
Milke Crotta’s last outing was a loss in relief last week. He was roughed up,
and we lost a game that our ace had turned over to the bullpen with a 6-0 score.
Not all of that was Mike, but he had to live all week with not nailing things
down. Here we are in a 3-0 game. If Mike comes in and pitches as he can, it
would have to be more beneficial than an inning in a blowout. Of course, if he
fails again, a rough start could really snowball.
What purpose is served by considering failure?
Big Mike answered his challenge with a scoreless inning and two punchouts.
Meanwhile, Jordan Hafer, who made a game-saving diving catch last night in
left, was in the lineup today for his defense. The big guy has had some near
misses and hit the ball hard, but today he launched a bomb to right and gave us
some breathing room. Alex Silversmith had a two-out, two-run base hit, to give
us an even bigger cushion. The final score was 6-0, as Salivar, Mann and Brett
Cannon got us a shutout and pitchers’ BP on Tuesday.
sweep and a captain
I don’t like to elect captains. Our club has a guy who our staff all felt had
every element a good captain needs, but I held off naming him until last night.
As the fall unfolded, it didn’t look as if Anthony Albano would play well enough
to be in the mix this season. He wasn’t throwing well after his surgery, and
looked bad at the plate. It’s tough to have a captain who doesn’t play.
But in life, someone else’s misfortune can be your break - just ask Wally
McBryde’s injury unclogged a crowded outfield roster a bit, and each time
Anthony was called upon, he delivered. We worked on his arm action, and his
throwing is vastly improved. He’s always been a good outfielder, and now his arm
is close to being back. Anthony spent a tough season last year watching his
friends play while he recovered from surgery. It wasn’t supposed to play out
that way. He was a prospect to scouts and a good senior year could have sent him
on his way.
Anthony would be in the cage each day, his arm in a sling, picking up balls
for the other hitters. He would soft toss to guys - guys who had taken his
As the fall progressed, I felt terrible for this kid. There was no way he was
going to play well enough this year.
Sometimes it’s good to be wrong.
Anthony’s back to being the player he was, and he’s our captain.
kid is everything you’d want in a captain…or a son.
The Salukis and No. 98 (2/13/06)
The Adkins Diet and a Sunday Split (2/7/06)
Here we go again (2/2/06)
Holy Innocents (12/28/05)
When You're Alone (10/11/05)
Another Beginning, a New Beginning, Never Forgetting (9/12/05)
Deja vu all over again (9/1/05)
(photo courtesy of FAU Media Relations Office)