Diamond Diary by Kevin Cooney



Feb. 17 19, 2006

CARDINALS AND OWLS...

You might say that this weekend is for the birds, as the Louisville Cardinals have flown south to get their new season started. The leader of their migration is an old friend-Coach Lelo Prado. Back when Lelo was just a kid he became the head coach at the University of Tampa, where he produced some of the best baseball teams I ever faced. In our last season of Division II, we lost to Coach Prado and his guys in the regional championship game. They went on to win their second consecutive National Championship. We moved on to Division I and Lelo eventually landed in Louisville.

It was a rude awakening for a kid from Tampa to suddenly coach baseball far from the warm Florida sunshine. His first home series was a cold one, but the dugout had a space heater, and Lelo was decked out in his new cold weather gear. Things were going well for the Cardinals until smoke started pouring out of their dugout- Lelo's gloves had caught fire on the heater!

We had some great battles back in the day. Of course he had some future big leaguers like Tino Martinez and Sam Militello, as well as current Tampa coach, Joe Urso. Those guys could make a young guy a good coach in a hurry. Lelo is hard nosed, gutsy, and goes about his business with a sense of humor. I think I would have liked playing for him.

What about the '06 Owls?

A 2-4 start is not what anyone had expected. If we had played a little better defense, and pitched to our potential, it could easily be 4-2, and everyone would be feeling good. If my hair was still where it should be, I wouldn't need sunscreen on my head!

We get Widlansky back today. His hamstring feels good enough to DH, so we'll give it a go. Woody's an important piece to our offense, particularly in light of McBryde's absence because of the same injury. Those two hamstrings need to heal sooner or later. I hope it's sooner. We can at least use Mike in relief for the first time, which is a good feeling.

FRIDAY...

During practice this past week, I told our bullpen that I'd do the same thing this week if Mickey Storey has a lead late in the game- go to the bullpen. Last Friday was a debacle that turned a well pitched game into a loss. But tonight, after six innings and 10 strikeouts, we iced Mickey and went to the pen. This time, things went as we had hoped- Bradley, Eberhart, and Salivar combined for three innings of one hit, no walks and no runs worth of relief pitching.

Senior Anthony Albano continued his successful comeback from last season's surgery, as he doubled with the bases loaded in the first to give us a four run lead. Jonathan Shapland later did the same, to ice the game and give us a 13-4 win.

SATURDAY...

Everybody was feeling good after our first Friday night win of the young season, and having all day before a night game gave me a chance to cut my grass. I used to spend the day of a night game watering the clay, sweeping the dugouts, and helping Coach Mac pick up trash, but now we're big time. The University outsourced the athletic fields to an outside group and I've hardly touched a rake since. Our game operations staff has done a good job making sure the facility is clean. As Maggie said to me as we drove to the lawnmower store for some oil, "Now you get time to spend with your family". Out of the mouths of babes...

Chris Salberg was the victim of some shaky fielding and a questionable strike zone in the first and the second innings and we were down 3-0. To Salberg's credit, it could have been a lot worse. The lefty hung tough and got some big strikeouts to minimize the damage.

In the FAU half of the second, we responded with a nice rally led by a Justin Martin sac fly and a two run double by freshman Will Block. It was an expensive inning however, as Robbie Widlansky re-injured his hamstring and will probably be out for a while. Woody was trying to stay in the game, but his eyes couldn't hide the pain.

Salberg had thrown a lot of pitches, so we went to Brandon Cooney in the sixth. The big guy shut the Cardinals down until a one out double in the eighth narrowed the lead to one run with a man at second. It was time for a change.

As I stood on the mound and watched Mike McBryde jog in from the pen, I couldn't help but smile. As Mike took the ball, I told him it was real nice to see him out there again.

Mike showed a little rust as he balked the runner to third and walked the next hitter. But, he got the next Cardinal to ground into a 5-4-3 double play, with freshman Nick Arata, making a clutch turn, saving the tying run. Ovy Ramirez ripped a game sealing, two out double to push the lead to 7-4 and give Mike some breathing room. He didn't need it, striking out the side to notch his first save of the year.

SUNDAY...

Last year I went seven weeks without dropping a starter from the rotation. I told our staff last week not to expect that sort of latitude. We have too many good arms, and we aren't off to the best start.

Joel Schmal had struggled in his first two starts, looking nearly unhittable early and suddenly losing it. The big lefty had his back squarely to the wall today, and responded to the challenge. Schmal kept the Cardinals off balance through six solid innings. He scattered five hits, walked only one, and struck out six.

At a different point in the season I would never have taken a guy out in that situation. But it's early, and the kid had struggled for two starts. If I keep him in a three run game and things go south, he leaves with a bad taste in his mouth. Instead, he can sit back and feel great about having thrown a gem. Win or lose, it would be something upon which he could build.

Now we needed the pen to do its job.

Another psychological decision needed to be made.

Milke Crotta's last outing was a loss in relief last week. He was roughed up and we lost a game that our ace had turned over to the bullpen with a 6-0 score. Not all of that was Mike, but he had to live all week with not nailing things down. Here we are in a 3-0 game. If Mike comes in and pitches as he can, it would have to be more beneficial than an inning in a blowout. Of course, if he fails again, a rough start could really snowball.

What purpose is served by considering failure?

Big Mike answered his challenge with a scoreless inning and two punchouts.

Meanwhile, Jordan Hafer, who made a game saving, diving catch last night in left, was in the lineup today for his defense. The big guy has had some near misses and hit the ball hard, but today he launched a bomb to right and gave us some breathing room. Alex Silversmith had a two out, two run base hit, to give us an even bigger cushion. The final score was 6-0, as Salivar, Mann, and Brett Cannon got us a shutout and pitchers' BP on Tuesday.

A SWEEP AND A CAPTAIN...

I don't like to elect captains. Our club has a guy who our staff all felt had every element a good captain needs, but I held off naming him until last night. As the fall unfolded, it didn't look as if Anthony Albano would play well enough to be in the mix this season. He wasn't throwing well after his surgery, and looked bad at the plate. It's tough to have a captain who doesn't play.

But in life, someone else's misfortune can be your break- just ask Wally Pip.

McBryde's injury unclogged a crowded outfield roster a bit, and each time Anthony was called upon, he delivered. We worked on his arm action, and his throwing is vastly improved. He's always been a good outfielder, and now his arm is close to being back. Anthony spent a tough season last year watching his friends play while he recovered from surgery. It wasn't supposed to play out that way. He was a prospect to scouts and a good senior year could have sent him on his way.

Anthony would be in the cage each day, his arm in a sling, picking up balls for the other hitters. He would soft toss to guys- guys who had taken his place.

As the fall progressed, I felt terrible for this kid. There was no way he was going to play well enough this year.

Sometimes it's good to be wrong.

Anthony's back to being the player he was, and he's our captain.

The kid is everything you'd want in a captain...or a son. KC

 

 

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