Kevin Cooney

Kevin Cooney has spent 20 seasons as head coach at Florida Atlantic University. He has compiled more than 700 victories with the Owls and more than 850 wins in his 24-year career as a head coach. Cooney has spent the past five seasons offering his thoughts on baseball - and other things - for Cooney's Owls finished their first season in the Sun Belt Conference at 36-22 in 2007.




March 7, 2008

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly


Tuesday’s game against Boston College served as the good this week, as we got a nice win the old fashioned way. Instead of mashing home runs and banging balls all over the field, we used some run manufacturing to win with a couple of sacrifice flies. Our defense held its own to support the outstanding pitching of a trio of newcomers.

Adam Morrison left after three hitless innings and gave freshman Mike Gipson the reins for the next four. The freshman from Palm Beach Central H.S. was up to the task. Mike mixed an 89-90 mph fastball with a sharp breaking deuce and kept the Eagles hitless through the sixth. But in the seventh, Mike hit a wall, and his night was done. Lefty Alex Pepe got us out of the inning but then, with two out in the eighth, faced a good right-handed hitter with the tying run on second.

It was time to find out a little something about one of our new guys.

Glen Troyanowski looks like he’s about 12 years old out there on the mound – until he
throws the ball.

Glen is blessed with a 90 mph fastball and a hammer of a curve. In his first start against Mt. Saint Mary’s, Troy pitched five innings for a win, but it was a struggle. He was up in the zone and threw only one changeup the whole night. In practice the next day, we had a little talk; actually I talked, and he nodded his head a lot.

Guys who throw hard and up in the zone don’t last long against aluminum bats. Pitchers who can’t change speeds better be throwing harder than 90-91. Freshmen who don’t adjust don’t succeed.

In a tight spot against one of BC’s best hitters Troyanowski’s first pitch was a changeup at the knees for Strike 1. His next pitch was a ground ball, and the inning was over.

As we batted in the bottom of the eighth, I weighed my impulse to get the kid out of  there feeling good about his first real test under fire and let him build on that in his next outing, against my desire to raise the ante and send him out for the ninth with a one-run lead.

Risk versus reward – a failure could slow his development, but a save might just produce a closer for us. I don’t gamble anywhere but on the baseball field: no lottery tickets, poker tournaments or football pools, but this was too good to pass up for me.

The kid with the baby face went out for the ninth and struck out the heart of the Boston College order to earn his first college save.

The bad came the next night.

Senior Chris Eberhart was walking a tightrope on a rainy night throughout the first five innings, but had a 4-1 lead. In the fourth, I punched the walkie-talkie to our bullpen and said to get Chris Schmitt ready to finish the fifth if needed, or else start the sixth. I didn’t wait for a response, putting down the walkie-talkie and hoping Ebs would get through the   fifth to qualify for the win should we hold on. The inning over, I radioed down that Schmitty was in and turned my attention to our half of the inning.

Three quick outs later, I didn’t see anyone coming from the bullpen. Where’s Schmitt? I pressed the walkie-talkie and yelled his name again. Then I noticed the walkie-talkie’s red light was not lit. My heart skipped as I turned the knob and it crackled – for the first time that night!

It had never been on all this time.

Schmitt wasn’t coming.

I looked at Ebs and he started ripping off the ice bags and wind-milling his right arm as he ran out to the mound. Meanwhile, I was looking for somewhere to hide while praying we could get three outs without any damage to the score or Chris’ arm.

Two pitches later, we had two outs. Six runs later, we were still seeking the elusive third one of the inning. A nightmare inning put the Eagles on top to stay, as our defense struggled, and we couldn’t hit our way back.

It was our worst game of the year, and I was sure to tell our guys that the bad performance included the coaching. But I encouraged them to quickly put it behind them and prepare for UALR, our first conference series on Friday. There was no sense rehashing what had passed, we needed to focus on what was to come.

What was to come has thus far proved to be ugly.

Hitting coach Norberto Lopez was in the emergency room during the Wednesday debacle with some sort of inner ear problem and was grounded by the doctors for our flight to Little Rock.

He may be the lucky one.

Our flight Thursday was stuck on the runway in Fort Lauderdale for 2½ hours because of weather. We finally landed in Houston with 10 minutes to make our connection to Little Rock. I felt like an Australian Sheepdog nipping at the heels of our 25 players trying to herd them faster to the next terminal.

They held the plane as we arrived sweating and panting.

We sat for about 10 minutes when they said eight volunteers needed to get off the plane, receive a travel voucher and fly out early the next morning. I sent Coaches Mac and
Fossas with six players off with the promise to see them tomorrow. Five minutes later they were back. No hotel rooms in Houston available.

The next announcement called for the woman and her little boy sitting behind me to come forward. They were stand-by passengers who, along with a few other poor souls outside, were getting bumped. I went to the flight attendant and said I’d take a couple of guys and sleep in the airport, but they couldn’t throw that kid and his Mom off the plane.
The gate agent listened and told me to wait. She returned and said we could get everyone on if I’d authorize the removal of our bags.

The little guy and his Mom got a round of applause as they walked down the aisle to their seats, and I think we have two new FAU fans.

It was a short ride through the 26-degree night to our hotel. Will Mann took a bunch of guys to Denny’s for a 3 a.m. snack while I shivered under the blankets in my room.

It’s now Friday afternoon, and it’s been SNOWING all day. Our game is optimistically postponed until tomorrow. We’ll try to play two with Ernie Banks nowhere in sight.

I was down in the lobby and saw some guests pointing out to the parking lot. Curious about the attraction, I strolled over and smiled at what I saw. There was more than half our team outside in an all-out snowball fight. Guys were sliding down a hill as they ducked fastballs made from the white stuff.

Naturally I packed a good one and whistled it past Storey’s ear, just before Troy Bubley nailed me right where I should have been wearing a cup! As I retreated, it looked like someone had called in an air strike against the old guy.

Sometimes we forget they’re just kids.

Even on an ugly day.