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 14, 2006
A Few Good Men
When the season began, one of our concerns was that we had too many players
on our roster, which could only lead to disgruntled players frustrated by a lack
of playing time. Never did we imagine that after five weeks of play, we’d be
struggling to complete a 25-man travel squad for our first conference road trip.
Yet here we are, on a rainy morning in Georgia, preparing to take on the
revitalized Mercer Bears, with a lineup last seen in an intrasquad game.
Tuesday, we received word that Mike McBryde will be lost for the season. Not
only is Mike our best offensive and defensive player, but he also is one of the
country’s best closers. That’s a double hit. Robbie Widlansky’s return from a
nearly identical hamstring tear is slated to be in May, if at all. Woody was our
second best offensive player last year.
Ovy Ramirez, currently our leading hitter and RBI guy, had his broken tooth (TCU
series) extracted and an implant procedure begun on Wednesday. He arrived at
practice yesterday, groggy from painkillers and weak from lack of solid food.
His status for tonight is uncertain.
Mike McKenna was involved in a collision at first base in our 7-5 win over
Monmouth University on Tuesday. He seemed fine as he stayed in the game and
drilled a two-RBI double, and showed no ill effects running the bases. But
Wednesday morning Mike limped into my office, unable to sleep that night or bend
his knee. His X-rays suggest a bone bruise, which the doctor thinks could put
him on the shelf for two or three weeks. A MRI will be done Monday to clarify
that diagnosis and, hopefully, rule out any other damage. Needless to say,
McKenna is one of our few .300 hitters this year.
So, a team that has struggled mightily at the plate thus far, will have to be
ready for a challenging opponent tonight, armed with a makeshift offensive
lineup and a pitching staff of whom much will be expected.
We’ll do our best to scrap for runs, play good defense and ride our starters
and bullpen as far as they will take us.
the road again
There were no flight attendants yesterday, as we practiced in the morning and
jumped on Johnny’s bus for the eight-hour ride up I-75 to Macon, Ga. I was sure
to time our departure so we would reach Gainesville, Fla., around dinner time.
That would enable us to eat at David’s Barbeque, a FAU tradition since 1995.
They put out a good spread of great food, although the prices have jumped since
our last visit.
There are some drawbacks to being on a bus with 25 young men after a meal of
ribs, chicken and barbeque beans, but the food is still worth it.
Life on the road is exciting...we arrive in time to check in and have an hour
before curfew. The coaches are busy planning wake-up times, breakfast and lunch.
Somewhere in between there’s time to go over scouting reports.
One disadvantage to this hotel, is that breakfast ends at 9. So we wake guys
up to eat and then most go back to bed. Lunch will arrive at noon, and we leave
for the ballpark around 1:30. Today is a doubleheader, so we’ll send the bus and
Robbie Widlansky shopping for bread and cold cuts. Woody will make sandwiches
for between games. Meanwhile Coach Roig is busy arranging dinner for tonight.
They say an army marches on its stomach; I guess the same holds true for a
college baseball team.
All this talk about food means I better get up and head for the fitness room.
We may need me to pinch hit tonight
Another one bites the dust
Jonathan Shapland has been struggling thus far this season, but last night he
showed signs of breaking out of his slump. Our good hopes for Jon may be
short-lived, Shap pulled a muscle in his back during his at-bat in the ninth. We
were down two and had loaded the bases, but failed to get the big hit needed to
offset a subpar performance by Mickey Storey. We’ll see today if Shapland is
available, but it doesn’t look good.
There’s no hiding the fact that Mickey has struggled on the mound this
season. Last year, everything seemed to go his way. He made good pitches with
great stuff, and when he did get hit, balls were right at people.
When a player has always known success and suddenly struggles, it can be a
tough adjustment. We had a long meeting in my room last night. As Mickey’s pizza
got cold, we talked about his struggles and the approach he was taking. It was a
good opportunity to air things out and try to find the path back to the success
he’s had in the past.
Mickey is a smart kid who is just at a loss as to what is happening. His mind
is swirling as he seeks answers to each hit or walk in a game. We talked about
letting his mind go from what has passed to what is ahead. Focus on the next
pitch rather than the last. Time will tell.
Last night’s rain forced us to postpone the second game until today. We’ll
play a doubleheader at noon and then hit the road for home. We need a win and a
game without an injury.
As we roll down the Florida Turnpike, today will soon turn into tomorrow, but
that passage of time still hasn’t softened the blow of a doubleheader loss and
the three-game sweep by the Mercer Bears. We were out-hit, out-pitched, and
out-coached all day.
Craig Gibson has done a great job in his third year, of rebuilding a program
that had fallen into disarray. He has a talented team of kids who play hard, hit
and run the bases well. Their three starters are legit, and a solid closer tops
things off for them. Losing 7-3 and 8-5 to them is no disgrace.
But it’s tough to take.
Our main concern coming into this series was being short some of our good
hitters, but the hope was that our pitching would offset the lack of offense. It
didn’t happen. Our starters gave up 20 runs and 35 hits in these three games.
That’s not meant as an indictment - there were a number of bloop hits and ground
balls past infielders. But they are hits none the less.
We did show the effects of being short on offense, despite some guys who seem
to have gotten going this weekend. Silversmith, Fonseca and Cook swung the bat
well, and our hope is that they are finally underway.
After the game, I spoke about the need for each guy to do his job and trust
his teammate to do his. Some days we’ll hit and win when we don’t pitch, and
other times it will be the reverse. No one needs to panic and lose faith. We
have to grab the positives from this weekend and carry them into next week.
Fortunately, we play Tuesday and Wednesday next week, so we can turn the page
As we head down the road into the early hours of morning, people deal with
their disappointment in different ways. Everyone wolfed down the dinner we had
delivered and then broke into groups of card games or DVD watchers. Coach Fossas
and Coach McCormack rehashed the weekend and discussed some recruits, then
slipped off to sleep in their seats. I finished the book, One Bullet Away,
the story of a Marine Recon officer in Afghanistan and Iraq, and then stretched
out trying to sleep this feeling away. It didn’t work.
I realize my struggles, and those of our players, pale in comparison to those
of the Marines about whom I just read. My life’s work revolves around winning
and losing games - not trying to keep a platoon of young men alive as they fight
battles for a living. But struggle and failure are hard to deal with, no matter
what the stakes.
For us, it involves dealing with the unreached expectations of this young
season, and doing our best to take steps each day to get better and not lose
faith in ourselves. Sometimes you have to hit bottom before you can begin the
long climb back to the top.
Tuesday we need to begin climbing.
Songs about Texas (3/7/06)
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)