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.
March 7, 2006
Songs about Texas
Pat Green is a local hero in Forth Worth and the rest of the great state of
Texas who has amassed a rabid following for his songs about life in this
sprawling giant of a state.
They say everything is big in Texas, and at least musically, not much is
bigger than Pat Green. He writes and sings with a passion about that which he
knows best - his home and the people who most influenced his life as a
singer/songwriter. We pulled into town last night about two weeks late to see
him perform at Billy Bob’s, the Mecca of country music in Fort Worth. Brett
Cannon, one of our pitchers, is from this area, and told me he switched to all
Pat Green on his IPOD shortly after our plane left Fort Lauderdale.
We arrived yesterday with few problems - our American Airlines flight went
smoothly. Seeing the flight attendants reminded me of my wife who flew with
American for over 10 years before shifting gears to stay home and try to raise
Maggie and Luke. Some days, I know she misses the rush of takeoffs and landings
and the good people with whom she worked. I wonder how she would have handled a
smart-ass baseball coach and a plane full of players?
TCU let us use its facility for practice yesterday. What a great setup. They
have a double-deck stadium, which gives a real big league look to the
grandstand. The fans are right on top of the field, with little foul-ball
territory, which has to help batting averages.
We hit in their cages and did some simulated defensive work in the outfield,
but I wisely declined their offer of using the whole field in exchange for
putting down their tarp when finished. We had enough tarp rolling already this
season. Mike Crotta had an encouraging bullpen session with Coach Fossas. Tony
had identified some mechanical problems in Mike’s delivery, which if corrected,
we hope will help Mike. The big guy adapted well last night to the changes -
Mike’s very intelligent and an easy guy with whom to work.
Coach Roig has been given a big charge for this season on the road - no chain
pizza and local eateries whenever possible. Last night he set us up with some
real good food at Cousin’s Barbeque. Not only did everything taste great, but
the manager also gave us five free dinners, and I worked him for two free
t-shirts. This first road trip is off to a good start!
Last Tuesday we faced Tony LaRussa’s Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium. The
game was sailing along in a scoreless tie, as Tony Fossas masterfully managed
our entire corps of relievers against his former skipper. I was just enjoying
the afternoon sun and the fact that we hit some balls real well and our pitchers
were dealing. LaRussa was sitting outside the dugout with his staff, seemingly
Then we scratched out the first run of the game in the seventh and things
LaRussa moved to his normal place in the dugout and seemed to start managing.
Fossas told me his plans for the last two innings, and for the first time, I
questioned his choices. We argued good-naturedly, and he accused me of big
leaguing him now that the game was close and we were winning.
We entered the bottom of the eighth protecting a one-run lead and wishing
Mike McBryde were available to pitch. But he wasn’t. A dropped foul ball and a
routine fly ball lost in the sun led to a double and a three-run home run to
give their Tony a win. My Tony insisted I blew it by suddenly getting involved
at the end.
LaRussa is a solid, down-to-earth guy. He was nice enough to spend some time
talking with Fossas and I after the game. We discussed his book, Three Nights
In August, about which I wrote in June. Specifically we talked about how he
opened up and revealed a personal side that was originally unintended. Fossas
told him about my writings and how the personal view sometimes seems to be what
people enjoy. Maybe the audience of this diary has grown by one more.
The bus should be here soon for the park, and our first game of a very
important series. It’s time to right the ship and do a better job of playing all
phases of the game more consistently. Our offense needs to get it going, despite
facing a TCU pitching staff with some good numbers. We’ll be a little
shorthanded in the infield - Widlansky is out, and Nick Arata has a shoulder
injury that will likely keep him out tonight and possibly until next week. Danny
Cook has been hobbling all week on a sprained ankle, but should be good to go.
Another infielder will be serving a suspension for missing class. But even if we
get down to nine guys, we need to scratch and claw our way to a good weekend.
TCU’s pitcher proved the old baseball adage true - nothing beats good
pitching. A 94 mph fastball and a hard slider thrown consistently for strikes,
set the tone for our evening. We struck out 13 times by the time TCU went to its
pen in the ninth. We managed to make it interesting at the end as Ovy Ramirez
doubled in our first run, and we proceeded to load the bases with two outs to
bring up the tying run. But a groundout to short broke our backs and ended the
game 5-1 TCU.
Tonight, I plan to have separate meetings with our pitchers and catchers, the
infielders, and then the outfielders. I saw some truly unsettling things last
night that need to be addressed and rectified. Some are so seemingly simple, one
would think there was no need for discussion, but many of our guys are young,
and new to certain situations. Talent is nice, but experience wins. We need to
get experienced in a hurry.
It’s now five years that I’ve been documenting the everyday ups and downs of
Florida Atlantic baseball. Truth be told, it is a much more enjoyable task when
we are winning, and things are going well. Times of struggle present challenges
to us in many forms. My take to our guys is that challenges present tremendous
opportunities. As we work each day to make ourselves better, we grow stronger
because of the struggle. Recognizing the benefit of difficulty is a mature
response. Young people, for whom things have always been easy or successful,
must learn to adjust and move forward through the morass of failure and
No one said life is easy.
Saturday night (at the ER)
Just when you start to think things can’t get much worse, they usually do.
The game was bad enough - a 10-5 loss wherein we struck out 17 times and walked
11 TCU hitters, five of whom scored to ensure the Horned Frogs’ win. But our
injury list continues to grow.
Prior to the game, Ovy Ramirez had a bad-hop grounder hit him right in the
chops. He broke off a large part of one tooth, loosened two others and has two
pretty fat lips. All that concerned him was if he could still play. The TCU
trainers got a football mouthpiece for us, and Ovy was good to go. He was 3 for
5 with a RBI, so they may rethink their cooperation the next time. At dinner,
the poor kid couldn’t eat, and his teeth hurt enough that we figured he better
go for an X-ray.
Unfortunately, Ovy has company.
TCU has a real nice facility, but the dugouts are dangerously close to home
plate. There is a short fence across the dugout that protects you from about the
chest down, but the on-deck hitters are probably no more than 25 feet from the
hitter, and at a perfect angle to get smoked by a foul ball.
As we again rallied in the ninth, Anthony Albano was drilled just below the
rib cage by a scorched foul ball as he stood in the on-deck circle. As the big
guy hit the ground in pain, I hopped the short fence and got to him as he
staggered to his feet and laughed! Captain Albano probably laughed
because he was still alive. There are a number of places where that ball could
have landed and done critical damage.
After dinner, Anthony complained that he felt nauseous, which isn’t a good
sign. Our trainer, Tammy Cook, told me we needed to rule out any internal
damage, so she packed Anthony and Ovy into our rental car and headed for the
hospital. A night which, because of our poor performance, promised to be long,
now has taken a turn for the worse.
Trainers work long hours for less-than-good money. They need to be there
hours before practice or games begin, and leave long after they end. This sort
of overtime is not any trainer’s favorite.
So a recap of the wounded - McBryde and Widlansky (hamstring), Arata
(shoulder), Cook (ankle), Ramirez (grill), Shapland (quad) and Albano
Ms. Tammy Cook is earning her money.
The day started with good news for our ER duo. Ovy was cleaned up and told to
see a dentist at home, while Albano’s tests were negative for any internal
injuries. Good news was certainly welcome to me, and I hoped that it was a sign
of things to come.
The 17 strikeouts were still weighing heavily as I packed up to leave the
hotel. One of the morning news shows ran a list of the American soldiers killed
last week in Iraq.
There were 17 names.
These were young men whose ages probably averaged out to be the same as the
guys on our team. Before we got off the bus, I took a minute and shared my
concerns about our hitting, particularly the fact that we took so many third
strikes. We lacked aggression when we needed it most. I asked our kids if those
17 fallen soldiers fought to the end, or went meekly, hoping for some one to
bail them out. Nothing can be gained by sitting back and hoping for the best. I
urged our kids to be like those soldiers - perform the mission with grit and
determination, and fight till the end.
We jumped out in front with some aggressive baserunning by Tyler Stevens, but
five of our first six outs were strikeouts. Fortunately for us, Brandon Cooney
was carving up the Horned Frogs in his first start. They managed to push across
the tying run in the fourth, and then took the lead in the fifth.
In the eighth, it was time to scratch and claw to salvage a tough weekend.
Alex Silversmith led off with a single, and Mascia bunted him into scoring
position. Tyler Stevens already had a hit, and a run today. We needed him again.
Stevens beat out a slow chopper to shortstop - first and third - no one out.
Ovy Ramirez is our best hitter and a pretty good bunter. Coach Fossas and I
debated the option to safety squeeze and tie the game, but our best hitter needs
to swing and give us a better chance for a bigger inning. Ovy smacked a single
to right-center. The game was tied, with runners on first and second.
Will Block pinch ran for Stevens at second as Mike McKenna stepped into the
box. Mac executed a perfect hit and run to right, scoring Block and sending
Ramirez to third.
Jordan Hafer is a big guy with power, but he’s also a good bunter - now the
safety squeeze was the choice. Hafer laid down a perfect bunt past the pitcher
allowing Ovy to breeze home with a big insurance run.
A 4-2 lead entering the ninth was made for Mike McBryde, but he’s
unavailable, so as Fossas says, “we’ll patch it up.”
Chris Eberhart had entered in the seventh and pitched well, but the strike
zone shrunk for the leadoff hitter in the ninth. We went left-handed with
Bradley against their lefty. TCU pinch-hit a righty who singled to put the tying
run on first. Crotta was warm in the pen, but we kept Bradley in to field the
bunt. Anthony got to the ball in time, but his throw sailed past Cook at third,
scoring one and putting runners at second and third with none out.
We brought in Mike Crotta, and at the urging of Coaches Fossas and Roig, we
intentionally walked the next hitter loading the bases for a force at any base.
Their 3-hole hitter, Keith Conlon, hit a hard groundball to third. Danny Cook
bobbled it enough to prevent a double play, but we had our first out at home.
I turned to Fossas and said “Crotta’s a good kid who has really struggled.
God needs to give him a break.” Tony nodded as Andrew Walker smashed a ball up
the middle. Crotta is 6'7, and threw out his bare hand, deflecting the ball to
Will Block at second. Block flipped it to Fonseca for one. Fonz fired a strike
to first -DP! Game over!
A nice American Airlines flight attendant just poured me a cold one (Sprite)
so it’s time to go. Some guys really answered the bell today to salvage a big
win at the close of a real tough weekend.
We stood at the edge of a dark place and found some light - Somewhere
Between Texas and Mexico.
Regression, Depression, Confession (2/27/06)
Cardinals, Owls and Captain Albano (2/20/06)
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)