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.




April 16, 2008

From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)
Eight years ago Bob Deutschman, now the head coach at Broward CC, was in his second season as pitching coach at Florida Atlantic University. It was nearly time for our High School Christmas Camp when Bob approached me for a favor; could a young kid to whom he gave hitting lessons come to our camp?

I knew we had space for another paying camper, so I said sure, why not?

Deutsch mumbled something about the kid not yet being in high school, but he assured me he was tough enough to play with the older kids. Most of the time I frown on an eighth-grader being in the advanced camp, but Bob seemed intent on this kid coming.

As it turned out, the kid was in SEVENTH grade and about 5' and 100 lbs. soaking wet, but he played so well we voted him MVP of the camp!

His name was Nick Arata.

After winning consecutive state championships at Nova HS, Nick was a smooth fielding, light hitting shortstop looking for a college. We had signed his keystone partner, Will Block, and Nick was also interested in FAU.

Former assistant George Roig, now at Ivy League-leading Dartmouth, really liked Arata and was pushing hard for us to sign him. But we had already signed a high profile shortstop from Miami and had a senior returning at that position. Along with the possibility of Block starting as a freshman, the infield looked crowded.

I remember meeting with Nick's Dad and actually advising him, as one father to another, that he might wind up with a better offer if he waited until the spring to see what schools would need. Sometimes the scholarship can change in the spring for various reasons. It could be a seller's market if Nick could wait.

He didn't wait and we signed him that fall.

The shortstop from Miami opted to go to a community college and our senior couldn't play by mid-March – the former camp MVP was our starter.

Arata played most of his freshman year with a sprained labrum in his left shoulder. Every hard swing or dive for a ball produced a painful expression and a pause from Nick. His standard answer was "It's alright."

The guys called Nick "Sneaky Juice" because his small frame belied his power, particularly to the opposite field. I batted him ninth even as his hitting improved, and told him that would probably not change. I really like a guy in the ninth spot who will surprise any opponent who thinks he's a typical designated out.

Nick's freshman year produced one home run and a .289 batting average coupled with the expected solid play at shortstop. His sophomore year, Nick hit .295 and contributed six home runs.

He was still batting ninth this season when leadoff hitter Danny Cook went down with a fractured ankle. I tried a couple of options in that spot before turning to the guy I had told would always be batting ninth.

Arata has responded by raising his average nearly 60 points to .409 and sparking our offense to big series wins over South Alabama and Troy, sandwiched by a 3-5 night in last week's win over Miami.

Things looked bad Friday against Troy until a wild pitch tied the game in the eighth. Their closer was in and looked unhittable. As Nick was leaving the on deck circle to lead off the ninth, he heard me speaking to the bullpen. I was instructing Morrison to be ready if we didn't score, but not to actually get ready until he could see we would remain tied. I didn't want a tender arm used up if we pulled it out in the ninth.

Arata sent the second pitch deep over the Troy bullpen in left for a walk-off home run. After getting pummeled by his happy teammates, Nick said "Tell Morrison not to bother."

After a Saturday loss I was concerned that we would come out flat on Sunday. Prior to the game's start I voice my concerns to the team. Naturally, we were getting no-hit into the fourth; so much for my motivational skills.

But again, it was Arata providing a spark, and a 1-0 lead with a shot off the batters' eye in center.

Later, a big double by Nick gave us the lead for good, and a crucial series win.

On Monday, the former camp MVP was voted the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week after hitting .588 (10 for 17) with two stolen bases and two game-winning hits.

From small things, mama
Big things one day come

Yeah, they do.


From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)
From Bruce Springsteen's- The Essential Bruce Springsteen