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.




May 13, 2008

The Ties That Bind

You sit and wonder just who's gonna stop the rain
Who'll ease the sadness, who's gonna quiet the pain...

Last weekend was the last time I will ever sit in the dugout at Florida Atlantic as their head coach. The weekend was an emotional one for me for many reasons, not least of which was the recent slide of our team. We've struggled the last few weeks while trying to get our two best relief pitchers healthy, and have gone from a contender for the regular season Sun Belt title to a team trying to find itself.

So all the thoughts of the past and the future were being held hostage by the reality of the present. It was difficult to approach the weekend in the frame of mind I would prefer - one in which I could reflect on the past and enjoy the moment. The task at hand was far more important.

We knew Friday would be a battle, facing Chase Ware from Arkansas State who is one of the top three pitchers in the Sun Belt Conference. The big righty was on top of his game, surrendering only one run and striking out seven in his eight innings of work.

Our lefty, Jeff Belliveau was up to the task, before leaving in the eighth when a blister on his throwing hand ripped open. Our bullpen woes continued as we proceeded to turn a 1-1 game into a 7-2 loss.

Saturday was scheduled to be a big day as the FAU Athletics Department took time before the game to honor me and my family. It was done nicely, with very kind words by my bosses Craig Angelos and Frank Brogan, and a great gift from my former and current players - a John Deere utility vehicle!

Coach Kessinger and his players and staff were gracious to sit through all the speeches and ceremony for someone they don't even know. My sons Jeff and Jim joined Maggie, Luke and my wife Mary Beth on the field. Luke steered the John Deere to a stop in front of home plate as if he were an experienced valet parker.

It was a hot and humid afternoon, and as the game started, my hope for a complete game from Mike Obradovich looked like a dream. I just hoped we would score enough runs to make the bullpen a non-factor.

The Indians came out swinging, but OB was on his game. I think he threw a mere nine pitches the first two innings. Our offense put it in gear and the rout was on as we scored six in the first and a total of 20 for the day. Obradovich went a solid six shutout innings in the heat and the pen held things down the last two for a 20-2 win.

One more victory would secure a spot in the conference tournament and relieve some pressure.

Sunday was Senior Day which subjected Arkansas State to another pregame ceremony. Ten seniors and their families shook hands, shed tears, and snapped pictures. It was a nice scene.

Prior to the start of each game, The Rising is played as our players are introduced. This post-9/11 Springsteen song is a spiritual tribute to those who experienced that day, and its aftermath, and somehow found the strength within to do their jobs and carry on with their lives.

Mike McKenna took over the job of signaling the announcer to cue the music, and Sunday was no different. I watched Mike as the song began and Arata waited for his name to be called. This was Mike's last time doing this. He went through the usual chest bumps and back slaps, then I watched him seek out each and every player and shake their hand. I could see the emotion on his face. I could feel it in my throat.

Six years ago I started playing that song and it still gives me pause. Yeah, I know- it's not a typical sports start up song. I doubt it gets the blood going like something the kids might have picked, but it has a message. Each year I'd remind our guys what it represents and hope they would respect it. I know Mike McKenna did.

After 21 years coaching at FAU, realizing this was the last time, I just hoped we'd play well.

Mickey Storey has struggled mightily this year. I can't explain and will not try to recap or analyze his season. But as a person who loves that kid like a son, it's been painful to watch. I wanted him to pitch well more than anything else on Sunday.

McKenna started us off with a bang as he hit a towering home run into the wind and way over the left field fence. It was the first of four hits for Mike that day. He was on a mission.

But for Mickey, things went differently. After a promising first inning, the Indians managed to score seven runs through five innings. As we batted, I shared some private thoughts with Mickey and prepared to send him back out for the sixth.   

Down by two in the fifth, a rainstorm appeared from nowhere as we rallied. It was obvious the umpires were trying to complete the inning and make the game official. I just hoped we could at least tie it. Alex Silversmith came through with a two-RBI single to knot things at seven and the tarp was pulled. last home game and I'm sloshing around in the mud pulling a smelly old frog-infested tarp.

On top of things, we had agreed on a 4 p.m. curfew in light of ASU's flight back to Jonesboro. As we waited out the rain, lightning struck, ensuring a longer delay. We now were faced with having time to play just one more inning.

It would be one inning, winner take all.

I sent Brett Cannon out and hoped for the best, but things went south and when the inning ended we were down 11-7. Now we were down to three outs in our home season.

David Wilson led off and worked an 0-2 count into a walk. Nick Arata singled and was replaced by Troy Bubley as hope began spreading through our dugout. ASU got what they needed when Jeremy Griffiths grounded into a double play.

One out left.

If I knew anything it was that Mike McKenna, now at the plate, was not making an out in his last at-bat in Boca. Mike laced a single to right and we were down three.

Travis Ozga has swung at some balls out of the zone this year, but at 4:15 pm Sunday, he was a very disciplined hitter. Ozga walked, bringing Will Block to the plate.

Will's a great competitor. If you asked him about his season, he'd be the first to admit that he has failed more in clutch situations than ever before, but Sunday would be different.

He got everyone's heart racing when he pulled a fastball hard to left, but foul. The count ran full, Block stepped in as the pitcher got the sign.

In an instant we all knew it was gone, it was hit that hard! Block doesn't usually show much emotion on home runs but this one was different. He pointed in the air and raced around the bases.

Tie game.

That's the way it would end, but a tie counts as half a win so Block's home run has us in next week's tournament.

I saw many familiar faces this weekend which reminded me that  FAU Baseball was one of "the ties that bind" so many people together. They reminded me of how special the years here have been, and how much all those players and this place mean to me. My wife said that as she climbed the hill Sunday to the spot she has sat all these years, she started to cry.

She wasn't alone.

It's a long dark highway and a thin white line
Connecting baby, your heart to mine
We're runnin' now but darlin' we will stand in time
To face the ties that bind
Now you can't break the ties that bind
You can't forsake the ties that bind


The Ties That Bind - Bruce Springsteen -
The River