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Diamond Diary by Kevin Cooney

Jan. 31, 2005

Glory Days...

That song was probably being sung in the minds of quite a few former Blue Wave players as they loosened up on Saturday for our annual Alumni Game. It was like old times as I threw BP to 35 of our guys who helped create the program whose 25th birthday we celebrate this spring. As usual, I threw nothing but cutters in on the hands of lefties John Edward Raffo and LJ Biernbaum. Those two were always trying to drop and lift against me so they could watch their shots get up, into the famous "Wally Wind" that blows everything out in right field.

The worst BP performance was a tossup between Mike Gavino and Jim Cooney. Jim's girl friend, Marin, was anxious to see him hit for the first time. He told her, "I can't hit, I'm not a baseball player, I'm a pitcher." My boy didn't lie.

Our current squad won handily 13-1. The go ahead run scored on a throwing error by an alumnus playing second base. I don't have the "hart" to mention his name, but needless to say he will never live it down.

Coach George Roig was playing for keeps. His long run for a fly ball, and subsequent dive in left center drew a roar of approval from our dugout. I'm sure he'll here about it today in practice!

The question asked most often by our players was in reference to Shaen O'Connor..."Was he THAT big when he played here?"

The answer is no, but Shaen put on a show playing second base. He asked me why I played him behind the plate all those years.

Tim McNab made a relief appearance with a haircut that would not have passed muster in '02. Tim pitched for the St. Lucie Mets last summer. Their season was cancelled at the end because of the first hurricane. Tim got a call from the front office one day, promoting him to Triple A. "Hey, I'd love to go, but I'm putting up hurricane shutters on my house!" Timing is everything in life.

Carmen Cali worked a scoreless inning. Our kids were anxious to see our newest Major Leaguer in action. Carm seems totally unaffected by his new status, unless you count the 22 inch rims!

Former hitting coach, Jim Lyttle was in attendance. I think I saw him working extra with Tommy Murphy and Gabe Somarriba. That's odd.

Ryan Withey was on the DL, but managed to make his presence felt with some of his cutting observations on everyone, particularly his ex roommate Zack Roper.

It was a fun weekend that kicked off with Coach Mac's annual Happy Hour, Friday night. Some parents of alums made it to the party, and there were enough little kids running around to open a day care center. The lies and stories were flying fast and furious.

The biggest reaction came when Bobby Spano and Mike Cox walked in the door. The two Florida west coast guys finally made it to an Alumni Game. Spano still can only bunt or hit in the clutch.

After the game, we went to Wackadoo's on campus to chow down and distribute awards to last year's team. We had many parents from the past and from our current team, so we basically took over the place.

We used to have a big dinner each fall and do this, but I always felt uncomfortable. So often, a new player's parents would be raving about their son's decision to be here, and how happy they were with his choice of college. Many times I would already know that their son was probably going to be cut or red-shirted and I really felt uncomfortable. I think we'll keep this in January from this point and alleviate that problem.

I think some of the patents had as much fun as their sons. It was nice to see The Calis', Biernbaums', McNabs', O'Briens', Browns', Mrs. McCarthy, Mrs. Fiorentino, Mrs. Brannon, and "Cowboy" Ken Burton watching their favorite players back in action on our field. Parents spend their entire lives playing with, and watching their sons play ball for so many years, and then it all suddenly ends. Sure some lucky ones get to see their sons in pro ball, but they don't see as many of their games, and it's nowhere near the same thing.

If there was one prevailing sentiment expressed by parents and players alike, it was that these were the best days of their lives. It was nice to hear it said, because I am always preaching that to our players. Nothing will ever compare to your college years. The games mean so much, and it's all over so fast. Pro baseball is a great experience, but it is an individual thing. Your college team and its games take on a different sense of importance.

The most touching part of the day was the presentation of the Doc Schneider Alumni Award. We try to give this to an alumnus who has shown the sort of love for, and dedication to, FAU Baseball that Doc exemplified over the past 24 years.

In light of Doc's death this fall, the award was especially meaningful.

Tim Burton transferred to FAU in 1996 and played three seasons for us. His senior year was a special one as the 1999 team had one of the most memorable seasons in college baseball. Tim was an integral part of that year as he shared the closer's role with Brett Schreyer. You don't win 34 straight games and 54 total without great relief pitching.

Tim played pro ball until retiring after the summer of 2003. He returned to FAU as a student and worked for us as an unpaid manager. Tim continued in that role throughout this past fall, and it was a proud moment to see him and my son graduate together in December. It's not how fast you run the race, but whether you finish that counts.

I asked Tim why his grades were so much better during the past year and a half of school. He replied that it's different now that he's paying for it.

When he accepted his award Saturday, Tim spoke eloquently about his feelings for the program and his time spent here. But as he recalled how Doc would be there with a wet towel on a hot day, or a pitcher's jacket on a cool night, his love for our lost friend was evident as his voice cracked and his eyes welled up with tears.

If you can measure a program's success by its people as well as its wins, Florida Atlantic is at the top. KC



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