Diamond Diary by Kevin Cooney



March 3-5, 2006

SONGS ABOUT TEXAS...

Pat Green is a local hero in Forth Worth and the rest of the great state of Texas, who has amassed a rabid following for his songs about life in this sprawling giant of a state. They say everything is big in Texas, and at least musically, not much is bigger than Pat Green. He writes and sings with a passion about that which he knows best-his home and the people who most influenced his life as a singer-song writer. We pulled into town last night about two weeks late to see him perform at Billy Bob's, the Mecca of country music in Fort Worth. Brett Cannon, one of our pitchers, is from this area, and told me he switched to all Pat Green on his IPOD shortly after our plane left Fort Lauderdale.

We arrived yesterday with few problems- our American Airlines flight went smoothly. Seeing the flight attendants reminded me of my wife who flew with American for over 10 years before shifting gears to stay home and try to raise Maggie and Luke. Some days, I know she misses the rush of takeoffs and landings and the good people with whom she worked. I wonder how she would have handled a smart ass baseball coach and a plane full of players?

TCU let us use their facility for practice yesterday. What a great setup. They have a double deck stadium which gives a real big league look to the grandstand. The fans are right on top of the field, with little foul ball territory, which has to help batting averages.

We hit in their cages and did some simulated defensive work in the outfield, but I wisely declined their offer of using the whole field in exchange for putting down their tarp when finished. We had enough tarp rolling already this season. Mike Crotta had an encouraging bullpen session with Coach Fossas. Tony had identified some mechanical problems in Mike's delivery, which if corrected, we hope will help Mike. The big guy adapted well last night to the changes-Mike's very intelligent and an easy guy with whom to work.

Coach Roig has been given a big charge for this season on the road-no chain pizza, and local eateries whenever possible. Last night he set us up with some real good food at Cousin's Barbeque. Not only did everything taste great, but the manager gave us five free dinners and I worked him for two free t-shirts. This first road trip is off to a good start!

Last Tuesday we faced Tony LaRussa's Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium. The game was sailing along in a scoreless tie, as Tony Fossas masterfully managed our entire corps of relievers against his former skipper. I was just enjoying the afternoon sun and the fact that we hit some balls real well and our pitchers were dealing. LaRussa was sitting outside the dugout with his staff, seemingly disengaged.

Then we scratched out the first run of the game in the seventh and things changed.

LaRussa moved to his normal place in the dugout and seemed to start managing. Fossas told me his plans for the last two innings, and for the first time, I questioned his choices. We argued goodnaturedly, and he accused me of big leaguing him now that the game was close and we were winning.

We entered the bottom of the eighth protecting a one-run lead and wishing Mike McBryde were available to pitch. But he wasn't. A dropped foul ball and a routine fly ball lost in the sun led to a double and a three-run home run to give their Tony a win. My Tony insisted I blew it by suddenly getting involved at the end.

LaRussa is a solid, down to earth guy. He was nice enough to spend some time talking with Fossas and I after the game. We discussed his book, Three Nights In August, about which I wrote in June. Specifically we talked about how he opened up and revealed a personal side that was originally unintended. Fossas told him about my writings and how the personal view sometimes seems to be what people enjoy. Maybe the audience of this diary has grown by one more.

The bus should be here soon for the park, and our first game of a very important series. It's time to right the ship and do a better job of playing all phases of the game more consistently. Our offense needs to get it going, despite facing a TCU pitching staff with some good numbers. We'll be a little shorthanded in the infield-Widlansky is out, and Nick Arata has a shoulder injury which will likely keep him out tonight and possibly until next week. Danny Cook has been hobbling all week on a sprained ankle, but should be good to go. Another infielder will be serving a suspension for missing class. But even if we get down to nine guys, we need to scratch and claw our way to a good weekend.

SATURDAY...

TCU's pitcher proved the old baseball adage true-nothing beats good pitching. A 94 mph fastball and a hard slider thrown consistently for strikes, set the tone for our evening. We struck out 13 times by the time TCU went to their pen in the ninth. We managed to make it interesting at the end as Ovy Ramirez doubled in our first run, and we proceeded to load the bases with two outs, to bring up the tying run. But a groundout to short broke our backs and ended the game 5-1, TCU.

Tonight, I plan to have separate meetings with our pitchers and catchers, the infielders, and then the outfielders. I saw some truly unsettling things last night which need to be addressed and rectified. Some are so seemingly simple, one would think there was no need for discussion, but many of our guys are young, and new to certain situations. Talent is nice, but experience wins. We need to get experienced in a hurry.

It's now five years that I've been documenting the everyday ups and downs of Florida Atlantic baseball. Truth be told, it is a much more enjoyable task when we are winning, and things are going well. Times of struggle present challenges to us in many forms. My take to our guys is that challenges present tremendous opportunities. As we work each day to make ourselves better, we grow stronger because of the struggle. Recognizing the benefit of difficulty is a mature response. Young people, for whom things have always been easy or successful, must learn to adjust and move forward through the morass of failure and disappointment.

No one said life is easy.

SATURDAY NIGHT (at the ER)...

Just when you start to think things can't get much worse, they usually do. The game was bad enough-a 10-5 loss wherein we struck out 17 times and walked 11 TCU hitters, five of whom scored ensuring their win. But our injury list continues to grow.

Prior to the game, Ovy Ramirez had a bad hop grounder hit him right in the chops. He broke off a large part of one tooth, loosened two others , and has two pretty fat lips. All that concerned him was if he could still play. The TCU trainers got a football mouthpiece for us and Ovy was good to go. He was 3-5 with an RBI, so they may rethink their cooperation the next time. At dinner, the poor kid couldn't eat and his teeth hurt enough that we figured he better go for an x-ray.

Unfortunately, Ovy has company.

TCU has a real nice facility, but the dugouts are dangerously close to home plate. There is a short fence across the dugout that protects you from about the chest down, but the on deck hitters are probably no more than 25 feet from the hitter, and at a perfect angle to get smoked by a foul ball.

As we again rallied in the ninth, Anthony Albano was drilled just below the rib cage by a scorched foul ball as he stood in the on deck circle. As the big guy hit the ground in pain, I hopped the short fence and got to him as he staggered to his feet and laughed! Captain Albano probably laughed because he was still alive. There are a number of places where that ball could have landed and done critical damage.

After dinner, Anthony complained that he felt nauseous, which isn't a good sign. Our trainer, Tammy Cook, told me we needed to rule out any internal damage, so she packed Anthony and Ovy into our rental car and headed for the hospital. A night which, because of our poor performance, promised to be long, now has taken a turn for the worse.

Trainers work long hours for less than good money. They need to be there hours before practice or games begin, and leave long after they end. This sort of overtime is not any trainer's favorite.

So a recap of the wounded- McBryde and Widlansky-hamstring, Arata-shoulder, Cook-ankle, Ramirez-grill, Shapland-quad, and Albano-undetermined.

Ms. Tammy Cook is earning her money.

SUNDAY...

The day started with good news for our ER duo. Ovy was cleaned up and told to see a dentist at home, while Albano's tests were negative for any internal injuries. Good news was certainly welcome to me, and I hoped that it was a sign of things to come.

The 17 strikeouts were still weighing heavily as I packed up to leave the hotel. One of the morning news shows ran a list of the American soldiers killed last week in Iraq.

There were 17 names.

These were young men whose ages probably averaged out to be the same as the guys on our team. Before we got off the bus, I took a minute and shared my concerns about our hitting, particularly the fact that we took so many third strikes. We lacked aggression when we needed it most. I asked our lids if those 17 fallen soldiers fought to the end, or went meekly, hoping for some one to bail them out. Nothing can be gained by sitting back and hoping for the best. I urged our kids to be like those soldiers-perform the mission with grit and determination, and fight `till the end.

We jumped out in front with some aggressive baserunning by Tyler Stevens, but five of our first six outs were strikeouts. Fortunately for us Brandon Cooney was carving up the Horned Frogs in his first start. They managed to push across the tying run in the fourth, and then took the lead in the fifth.

In the eighth it was time to scratch and claw to salvage a tough weekend.

Alex Silversmith led off with a single, and Mascia bunted him into scoring position. Tyler Stevens already had a hit, and a run scored today. We needed him again. Stevens beat out a slow chopper to shortstop- first and third-no one out.

Ovy Ramirez is our best hitter and a pretty good bunter. Coach Fossas and I debated the option to safety squeeze and tie the game, but our best hitter needs to swing and give us a better chance for a bigger inning. Ovy smacked a single to right-center. The game was tied, with runners on first and second.

Will Block pinch ran for Stevens at second as Mike McKenna stepped into the box. Mac executed a perfect hit and run to right, scoring Block and sending Ramirez to third. Jordan Hafer is a big guy with power, but he's also a good bunter-now the safety squeeze was the choice. Hafer laid down a perfect bunt past the pitcher allowing Ovey to breeze home with a big insurance run.

A 4-2 lead entering the ninth was made for Mike McBryde, but he's unavailable, so as Fossas says, "we'll patch it up."

Chris Eberhart had entered in the seventh and pitched well, but the strike zone shrunk for the leadoff hitter in the ninth. We went lefthanded with Bradley against their lefty. TCU pinch hit a righty who singled to put the tying run on first. Crotta was warm in the pen, but we kept Bradley in to field the bunt. Anthony got to the ball in time, but his throw sailed past Cook at third, scoring one and putting runners at second and third with none out.

We brought in Mike Crotta , and at the urging of Coaches Fossas and Roig, we intentionally walked the next hitter loading the bases for a force at any base. Their three hole hitter,Keith Conlon, hit a hard groundball to third. Danny Cook bobbled it enough to prevent a double play, but we had our first out at home.

I turned to Fossas and said "Crotta's a good kid who has really struggled. God needs to give him a break." Tony nodded as Andrew Walker smashed a ball up the middle. Crotta is 6'7, and threw out his bare hand, deflecting the ball to Will Block at second. Block flipped it to Fonseca for one. Fonz fired a strike to first-DP-game over!

A nice American Airlines flight attendant just poured me a cold one, (Sprite) so it's time to go. Some guys really answered the bell today to salvage a big win at the close of a real tough weekend.

We stood at the edge of a dark place and found some light- Somewhere Between Texas and Mexico. KC

 

 

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