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Diamond Diary by Kevin Cooney

MARCH 3, 2005


Well, here we are, leveling off at 35,000 feet above the great state of Florida, en route to visit Wayne Newton and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. I'm a little nervous about this flight because my life insurance policy lapsed last month and I don't think the new one is as yet in place. I really hope the Delta people are on top of their game.

I've got a great seat; I'm on the aisle, with Trainer Andrea Harrison separating me from Coach Tony Fossas and his plans for next year's dinner. Tony already has a commitment from Tony LaRussa of the Cardinals, to be our next special guest.

Andrea's face didn't actually light up with its normal effervescence when she saw the seating arrangements. Stuck between two old smartalecky coaches wouldn't be Andrea's favorite way to spend the next five hours of her life. Now, if it were Bo Hart and Matt Damon...different story!

We did spend the first ten minutes having a religious discussion. Andrea is famous with our 2002 team for her steadfast beliefs in the face of a furious assault by former coach, Bob Deutschman, during a bus trip in Alabama. She parried every thrust Bobbo made that night. It finally took the intervention of Coach Lytlle to defuse the discussion, and get everyone settled down for a good dinner.

Anyway, Andrea is a non-denominational Christian, Tony is a Serfardita Jew, and I'm a Roman Catholic. That's some row. We talked about some Catholic stuff, and then I told Andrea that she had changed my life.

She had given me a book for Christmas called The Case For Christ, which greatly influenced me to reexamine some things. That, coupled with my wife's example, has given me a different outlook on the religious part of my life. Andrea said she was humbled that I would say such a thing. I should probably tell my wife about her influence as well, I need all the help I can get.

The new world order is upon us...I now have a laptop. When we've been on the road these entries have been a pain in the neck for SID Dawn Elston. I have always had to bother her by borrowing her laptop after a game so I could get down my thoughts. Borrowing also included Dawn having to coach me up on the proper usage of a laptop. Now, I can make entries without bothering her. I will admit that the first sentence took nearly ten minutes. But I think Andea has helped me find my way across the keyboard.

Flying is not my favorite form of travel. Give me Johnny and our sleeper bus anytime. It's not that I'm afraid, it's just that we have to be with the general public (civilians-I call them) and I'm always worried how our kids will behave. The bus is also much more comfortable. Guys can stretch out and sleep on the beds that open up, they have booths with tables for studying, (ok-for playing cards) and we stop or leave when we want. But it does take a little longer. Counting our layover in Salt Lake City, our travel time from departing campus to the hotel in Vegas should be around 10 hours.

I guess Delta beats Johnny's bus. We would only be in Mobile by then. I think we'd be hard pressed to make tomorrow's BP at that rate.

So far this season we are 6-4...not exactly the start we expected. A combination of sporadic hitting and poor defensive play have led us to this point. But I'm hoping the road trip and the change of environment help get us going. Who knows? I always say that there's no way to tell what's going on in the minds of 18-23 year olds.

Yesterday we played our annual game against the St.Louis Cardinals. We lost 9-2 thanks to two dropped fly balls, a ball through an infielder's legs, an infielder being late to the base on a steal, and a two-run double that was two feet foul! Larussa said he was going to tell the ump it was foul but he didn't want to show up the umpire. Thanks Tony.

The game was 4-2 in the eighth, when things went south. I's a shame, because Carmen Cali came in for the ninth, and it would have been interesting if the score were closer. Carmen looked great. He struck out two and got the last out on a fly ball to right. Tyler Stevens came back after taking strike three and said,"I don't know what that pitch was, but it was dirty!"

Jeff Blair, Shaen O'Connor, and Joe Cali were there with Carmen senior and Joe's girl friend, along with two of Carmen's friends. It was a loud cheering section. It would've been louder but last call for beer was in the seventh inning.

My neck is stiff and Fossas wants to watch a movie on the laptop, so it's time to stop. I hope there's nothing eventful to add until the first game tomorrow. KC


Desert Rain...

We survived a cramped flight to arrive in the city in the desert and it rains. UNLV only bought a home plate tarp last month, and lucky us, it gets brought out tonight! When play was stopped we had a 2-0 lead with McBryde on third, one out, and Jonathan Shapland at the plate. Of course, each team will have to change pitchers, as we try to complete today's game and then play Saturday's scheduled contest.

The forecast is for rain until 10 am followed by clearing, and then more rain. We'll be lucky if we get to finish this game, but the weather Sunday looks good. We may wind up only getting two games played on this trip.

Everybody made curfew last night. We have a very young and inexperienced team this season. Many of them don't know what is expected of them on road trips, but as my old coach used to tell me, "It's our job to teach them."

The University of Washington softball team has some rooms on our floor. That made things a little interesting when our guys were dropping their laundry off at the assigned room. We need to pay a little closer attention to how we're dressed in the hall.

After breakfast, Coach Roig and Coach Fossas joined me on a little tour of the Vegas strip and some of the hotels. This place is basically Satan's version of Disney World. I never saw so much pornography and advertisements for sleazy entertainment since the heyday of the old Times Square.

Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of good, clean fun available in this town. It's just that it seems difficult to escape the dark side of what people are selling. Maybe I've gotten more sensitive because I have a daughter.

Coach Fossas won $40 on two hands of Blackjack and called it a day. He wanted to save his luck for the game. I'm down one dollar so far. I played a slot machine that takes dollars and lost the only one in my wallet. We'll see if I'm luckier tomorrow.

Prior to the game, we had a little meeting about our enthusiasm level over the past three weekends. I told our guys that it seems that we went into the season confident that we were a good team, but we have played with little emotion or passion. I've seen more excitement about the plane trip than our games.

At home, we had all our relief pitchers out in the bullpen, leaving the dugout a little empty. So tonight I told everyone to plan on staying in the dugout unless told to go down to the pen. So we get to the park and find the smallest dugouts we've been in outside of Bethune-Cookman's. Everyone was piled in on top of each other like sardines in a can. But hey, we were enthusiastic and scored two in the first.

So, who needs to be comfortable?

Well, I can hear Coach Fossas snoring. That's my signal to call it a night and try and drown him out.

Saturday Night...

It has been a long day. I realize that Las Vegas is a city that never sleeps, but I can't keep up that pace. My head will hit the pillow as soon as I can get this written. All the plans that Coach Fossas had for us to be out on the town have been cancelled. Tony has realized that he is officially an old man like me. He is exhausted. We're going nowhere tonight. The sock I brought with all of Luke and Maggie's quarters still has not seen the lights of a casino.

We picked up last night's halted game and Mike Crotta kept the shutout going. He and Will Mann combined for a 5-0 win that looked easy. Some of our dormant bats came alive today. Jonathan Shapland responded to his insertion into the three spot of the batting order with a big RBI, and Mascia and Hutton each drove in runs and looked better at the plate. Brian Lipman, who was the A-Sun Player of the Week was 3-for-4.

It was nice to see someone else have to work on a wet field in preparation of a game. The UNLV kids and coaches did a good job, considering their limited experience with rain. Two days in the desert and two days with rain.

Chris Salberg started the second game and deserved a better fate. We haven't scored much for Chris in his four starts. He was in a jam in the fifth with two outs and a runner at second when the ump missed a check swing that should of ended the inning, but led to a walk. We also didn't play great defense behind him. But the big play in the fifth was a throw from centerfielder Mike McBryde to nail a Rebel runner at the plate while we trailed 2-1. Catcher Justin Martin took a big hit in a plate collision, but held onto the ball. The runner was called out and ejected. Tempers flared, but the umps and the coaches did a good job of cooling down everyone. Marty was ready to fight the nearest Rebel, but he calmed down and we changed pitchers and finished the inning.

In the sixth we had the tying run on second with two out when Mike McKenna ripped a two strike, pinch hit single into center, knotting the score at two apiece. Mike has really swung the bat well each chance he has gotten.

Yesterday I had a talk with Mike about his status. He has hit well enough that we should be starting him this weekend, but I have Jon Shapland starting instead. I told Mike that Jon is the type of player that can be a force in the middle of any lineup. He has started slowly after sitting out all of last season, but I feel we need to keep him out there for awhile. Mike is a freshman who is going to be a real good hitter. I think he's got time on his side, and wanted him to know he was in our plans, but Jon was going to be in there for the time being. He smiled that NY Irish smile and said ok. Then two hours later he got a huge hit. Oh...Shapland had four hits.

Our pitching plans got thrown a curve with last night's halted game. We had planned to put Mickey Storey in the third spot of the weekend rotation, but Mike McBryde fouled a ball off his thumb in the first inning last night. He was good enough to hose a guy from center, but Mike can't pitch this weekend. He's been a dominant closer thus far, so his loss is a big one. But a guy like Mickey and the quality of the rest of our bullpen helped us absorb Mike's loss so far.

We'll bring Will Mann back to start tomorrow. He only threw two innings last night and sinkerball pitchers are usually better when they aren't real strong. We'll see on Sunday.

Brandon Kloess, Allen Knight, and Storey were tough out of the pen in the second game. We still have some pretty good arms out there for tomorrow.


Trips To Win...

A three game sweep in the gambling capital of America is just what we all needed. It's amazing how much better everyone feels this Sunday. Last week's loss to Purdue had us all pretty down. But now we're ready to start our conference play next week knowing we're capable of playing well for an entire series.

Will Mann was back on the hill today after throwing two scoreless innings in Friday's rain game. The big guy picked up right where he left off, tossing six more shutout innings before leaving in the seventh with two on and one out. Alen Knight got the next out, but then gave up a single and we were in another tie game.

Justin Martin had a rough night behind the dish yesterday. He just didn't look real confident, and I'm sure he hated being lifted for a pinch hitter. When Fossas woke me this morning, his first question was "Who's catching today?"

I told him that I felt it was important to start Justin again and show him we had confidence in him. Tony thinks it's scary how much alike we think. Martin was also his choice for the same reason.

So in the top of the eighth, Marty was the leadoff hitter. He told me he was going to get hit with one to start things off. Better than that, he laced a single to right center and the winning run was on base.

We ran Silversmith for him so Martin could get a big hand from the many FAU fans and family that made the trip to Vegas. Will all those people be in Buies Creek in two weeks?

Are there slot machines there?

Mike McBryde bunted Silver to second and Mascia walked. That brought up Jon Shapland. The big guy ran the count to 3-0. Jon's not our best guy at getting signs right, but I was sure he'd recognize a 3-0 hit sign. He took a fastball right down Glades Rd. for strike one.

The UNLV pitcher had thrown a gem to this point. He continually threw his breaking ball and changeup in fastball counts with great success. For some reason he deviated from what was working and pumped in another fastball. Whack...Shap Daddy ripped a double to right and we were on top by two.

After a baserunning debacle, the inning was over and it was Storey time. Mickey was on his game and set the Rebels down in order.

We did the same in the top of the ninth and Mickey went back out after his second save in two nights.

But like last night, he had to pitch out of a serious jam.

Nobody out, runners on the corners and skinny freshman Mickey, calmly getting three pop flies to end the game. This kid has had a good career so far!

So our first road trip is coming to an end. We had a nice dinner at the Hard Rock Café. They have a tough manager there. I tried to get him to give us free drinks or two free meals, but he wouldn't budge.

After paying an $800 check, I asked him to give me a free Springsteen t-shirt. No dice.

Vegas has no heart.

So now we're waiting for the hotel shuttle to ferry us over to the airport. Our flight is the 1:00 AM redeye.

But with three in the one's complaining. KC



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