March 1, 2005
THE ROCKET, AND A BLACK AND BLUE BIG TEN WEEKEND...
Did you ever see the movie Father of the Bride? I'm so old that the version I saw was with Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor. Well, I felt like that guy last week as we made the final preparations for our 25th Anniversary Dinner.
There were so many things to be settled, from the ticket sales, the table settings, to the lighting, music, and decorations. Don't get me started on the seating arrangements!
My daughter Maggie will definitely be urged to elope when her time comes.
All the while I'm playing party planner, we were preparing for a three game series with Purdue. Well, the others were preparing. I was at practice once for about ten minutes, but that's why we have good assistant coaches.
Friday night it looked as if Will Mann was back in the groove. We even jumped out in front with a two run explosion in the third inning. That is written facetiously because of our penchant for not scoring much until the eighth or ninth innings.
But the lead was short lived as Will left a pitch up and Andy Dahl launched a grand slam to left and put the Boilermakers in front 4-2. We put together a solid answer in the bottom half and took a 5-4 lead. After tacking on another run in the seventh, our bullpen held Purdue down and we had the first W in the books.
Now it was time for a sleepless night worrying about the next day's game and the dinner. The forecast was for rain and Clemens was in Houston as Grand Marshal of the rodeo, then attending his son's game, and finally scheduled to fly into Boca Municipal Airport at 6:00pm for a 6:30 reception.
Saturday's game went according to form...Purdue jumped out to a 3-0 lead as Mike Crotta wasn't as sharp as last week. But a big part of being a pitcher is hanging in there when you don't have your good stuff until you find a way to get through the day. Mike did exactly that and I sent him out for the seventh. He hadn't yet pitched that long in college, and I thought he had enough to get through it. A lead off double made me regret that decision. I should have pulled him there and let the bullpen salvage the day, but I really wanted Mike to be the one to shut the door. It backfired after an out, as Mike gave up a single, and we were down one heading into the bottom of the seventh.
We had come back in the third to tie the game at three on a Lipman single, a Widlansky sacrifice fly, followed by Fonseca's triple and Bobby DiLiberto's inside the park home run. Now we were again faced with another late inning comeback. Brian Lipman came through again with a big double to put us ahead for good. Knight and McBryde did the rest and it was off to the dinner.
It's hard for me to put into words just how impressive a person Roger Clemens was that night. We had worked hard at setting things up so that he would be shielded as much as possible from the general public and the demands that would ensue. He was brought in through a back entrance and up a seldom used stairwell to a meeting room. Our players were going to be let in a few at a time to meet Roger and get an autograph.
Instead, he called them all in at once, took off his jacket and asked for questions. The session went on for 35 minutes. He told our kids everything a parent or coach would want their sons or daughters to hear. I was there for a small part of it, but it was amazing. The looks on our kids' faces as he passed around his World Series ring were priceless.
Downstairs, the open bar cocktail hour and silent auction were in full swing. We had a big screen tv set up that played the highlight tape of our 2002 Regional Championship. It's set to music and was a big hit with the people. Juan Pierre from the Marlins was there and he said the tape was getting him pumped to start his season. JP did a great Q & A with Tommy Hutton. He was another perfect representative of what's good in baseball. He spoke about his work habits, his daily routine, and his college experience. It was great.
Then Roger took the stage and Tommy threw him questions. His answers went far beyond any typical sports clichés. The thing that struck me was how much of what he said was referenced by his status as a parent, as much as a star player. He really touched a chord with the very young kids and the older fans.
He would have gone on all night if we wanted, but I knew his plane was set to leave shortly. We gave him an FAU Blue Wave game jersey, (size 52 !!) and he donned a new Astros jersey and helped us auction it right there. Tony Fossas, who was Roger's teammate in Boston, told a funny story about his first appearance in the Big Leagues in relief of the Rocket. Tony then served as my straight man for the auction.
Clemens then left to much applause and affection from the Boca faithful.
We honored Carmen Cali for his call - up by St. Louis this fall. He gave a short, but eloquent speech honoring his Mother and Father. It was a real touching moment. Carmen Sr. had major surgery in NYC on Monday, but I knew there was no way he would miss this night.
We then announced our first Baseball Hall of Fame class, to be inducted next January. The list was headed by Coach Steve Traylor who started the program and later coached at Duke, and is currently at Wofford. Steve's .714 winning percentage at FAU will never be equaled. The rest include Jack Penrod, Mike Ryan, Nick Presto, Keith Foley, Scott Hay, Todd Moser and the late Doc Schneider. It's a great group, to whom we all owe so much.
I expected the next morning for our guys to come out smoking against Purdue. Roger Clemens and Juan Pierre had just given them the best pep talk any athlete ever heard. Instead we were flat as could be and played very poorly. The Black and Gold guys from Purdue beat us 9-3. Our head coach got ejected. At least he was fired up that day.
The next night we faced the Big Blue of Michigan, and a pitcher that had about 50 scouts and cross checkers in the stands. I was also in the stands, or more accurately, out on the left field hill. Our new conference rule on ejections requires any player or coach to serve a one game suspension immediately following his ejection.
I had a nice spot on the hill behind third base. But seven scantily clad Michigan coeds showed up and proceeded to sit about five feet behind me. After an inning, I felt it better to get up and move around a little. I was sure our dugout noticed their arrival and I didn't want to hear about it. Plus, how much 19 and 20 year old female conversation does a 54 year old male want to hear?
Derek Feldkamp from Michigan lived up to his potential. We mustered one run off him in the second on freshman Mike McKenna's single, but that was it for the night. We had our chances, but failed to get the big hit. Something needs to change soon about our hitting with men on base.
Mickey Storey pitched well in his first start. He gave up four runs, but only one was earned. He deserved better. Culp, Knight, and McBryde pitched well in relief, but we couldn't push anything else across the plate.
So tomorrow we go to Jupiter and play the St. Louis Cardinals in an exhibition game. Carmen Cali is slated to be their sixth pitcher. It should be a good day.
Back to Clemens one last time...
That night I got home and Maggie was still up with MB. She and Luke had miraculously been on their best behavior throughout the dinner. She kissed me goodnight and asked her Mom to lie down with her. I heard them talking and walked to the bedroom door to listen.
MB was trying to explain just who this special man was. Maggie was having a hard time. She asked if he was rich and famous, and MB told her he had made more money than we could ever imagine. In fact he had his own plane to fly him here. "So he's like a rock star?"
Yes...the Rocket is like a rock star...but more. KC