Jan. 16, 2005
25 Years of FAU Baseball...
At our first practice of the '05 season last week. I told our players that they were the 25th baseball team in the history of Florida Atlantic University. Their surprised faces told me that there weren't many who were aware that we are, in fact, the "Silver Anniversary Team".
Now, to many schools, 25 years is a drop in the bucket, but Florida Atlantic University is only 40 years young, and our athletic programs certainly reflect that comparative youth. We played Cornell a few years back, and their media guide listed records from the 1800's!!!
So my usual first practice speech needed to not only address this season, but pay homage to the players who preceded us here.
25 years ago, Head Coach Steve Traylor led a squad of newly found players, fewer in number than this year's pitching staff, to a respectable 15-16 record. Their season featured an opening day win against St. Thomas University and a six-game win streak to begin the year. I'm glad they didn't go undefeated - that would've been tough to match! The next year they were 42-14 and advanced to the championship game of the NAIA District 25 Tournament. Recruiting pays off. Coach Traylor went on to ring up a career record at FAU of 268-107. That's a sizzling .714 winning percentage for those of you that are mathematically challenged.
Duke University noticed all those Florida Atlantic wins and snatched up Coach Traylor in the fall of 1987. He went on to rebuild that program to the successful level of their heyday in the `50's.
As my first boss used to tell the story, Steve's departure led FAU to conduct a "nationwide search". "Five people applied, four turned us down, so we hired Cooney."
I guess the joke's on him...18 years later I'm somehow still here.
So what's the plan for the 25th year?
Well, we plan to field a hard working, exciting team that proves itself worthy of the history of this program.
I told our guys last week that they have a blank canvas on which to paint their own history.
It's time for Will Mann to step into the footsteps of guys like Jorge Vega, Todd Moser, and Randy Beam. Mike McBryde and the rest of the bullpen have to perform like Joe Cali, Rich Clabeaux, and Tim McNab. If we approach any level of the success of the pitchers who have preceded us, it could be another great year.
In the offensive side, the heirs apparent to the power hitters of the past are waiting for their turn. Jordan Hafer, Brian Lipman, Jonathan Shapland, and Robbie Widlansky seem to be the best shots at coming close to Mike Ryan, John Edward Raffo, and Jack Penrod, in the home run category.
I really think that this team may not be the power type of the last few years. Our run production may have to come from a variety of methods. Regardless of the style we play, one thing is for sure...we will play hard and always do our best to live up to those who built the program.
New Tricks For An Old Dog....
Our practice format has been changed for the better thus far. Coach Roig came up with some ideas that have led to what I think have been pretty productive and spirited practices. We are also making better use of the extra field with which we are blessed, here at Florida Atlantic.
Our position players are broken into three small groups that are rotated from our cages, to the main field, and then to the practice field. In each segment there is an opportunity for a lot of quality work on hitting, bunting and baserunning, or individual defense. The small size of the group and a coach for each has provided a better format for all this work.
As part of our conditioning, each group runs from station to station. The practice and main fields are about 200 yards apart, so players are repeatedly on the move. One freshman said he was dreaming all night about running back and forth.
Meanwhile our pitchers are split into groups throwing pens, doing drill work, and PFP. Everyone joins in a segment of team defense on the practice field, and then runs to the main field for BP.
The practice ending conditioning is alternated between a baserunning drill, a progressive sprint program, and a position specific sprint program. Each position player replicates all of the defensive running that he does in a game. It really eliminates boredom and is certainly effective.
Our players have responded very positively to this format. Their work ethic was outstanding last week. Yeah, I know, it was the first week of practice. But I think that a positive tone has been set that will carry through.
Everyone here knows what is expected.
This program has been on a roll for some time now.
Since 1999, Florida Atlantic has made five NCAA regional appearances, been in three regional championship games, won the Tuscaloosa Regional, and made one Super Regional appearance. FAU has won two regular-season conference championships and one conference tournament championship. Our 273 victories and .720 winning percentage during that time, trail only two teams in the state of Florida. In the past six years, 38 FAU players have been drafted or signed by Major League Baseball, with Carmen Cali making his debut with the St. Louis Cardinals last September.
The challenge in 2005 is to keep pace and take us beyond. We all want the same thing; a trip to Omaha. But making wishes won't get it done; working as hard as last week all season is the first step.
Speaking of Wishes...
Lately while walking our dog at night, my daughter Maggie would ask me which star is "the wishing star". Clueless, I would use my old Boy Scout skills and point out the North Star. Maggie would look up, close her eyes, and make a wish. She would never tell me her wish, in fear it wouldn't come true.
In a Catholic Mass, a family always brings the gifts to the altar during the offertory. As we entered St. Jude's this morning, an usher asked if we would bring up the gifts. As we took our seats, Maggie was beaming as if it were again Christmas morning.
It turns out wishes do come true.
Each night, this little six-year old girl was wishing upon a star that her family would be chosen.
I think I'll give Maggie a suggestion on tonight's walk. KC