Diamond Diary by Kevin Cooney



March 13, 2006

A FEW GOOD MEN...

When the season began, one of our concerns was that we had too many players on our roster, which could only lead to disgruntled players frustrated by a lack of playing time. Never did we imagine that after five weeks of play, we'd be struggling to complete a 25 man travel squad for our first conference road trip.

Yet here we are, on a rainy morning in Georgia, preparing to take on the revitalized Mercer Bears, with a lineup last seen in an intrasquad game.

Tuesday we received word that Mike McBryde will be lost for the season. Not only is Mike our best offensive and defensive player, he is one of the country's best closers. That's a double hit. Robbie Widlansky's return from a nearly identical hamstring tear is slated to be in May, if at all. Woody was our second best offensive player last year.

Ovy Ramirez, currently our leading hitter and RBI guy, had his broken tooth (TCU series) extracted and an implant procedure begun on Wednesday. He arrived at practice yesterday, groggy from painkillers and weak from lack of solid food. His status for tonight is uncertain.

Mike McKenna was involved in a collision at first base in our 7-5 win over Monmouth University on Tuesday. He seemed fine as he stayed in the game and drilled a two RBI double, and showed no ill effects running the bases. But Wednesday morning Mike limped into my office, unable to sleep that night or bend his knee. His x-rays suggest a bone bruise, which the doctor thinks could put him on the shelf for two or three weeks. An MRI will be done Monday to clarify that diagnosis and, hopefully, rule out any other damage. Needless to say, McKenna is one of our few .300 hitters this year.

So a team which has struggled mightily at the plate thus far, will have to be ready for a challenging opponent tonight, armed with a makeshift offensive lineup, and a pitching staff of whom much will be expected.

We'll do our best to scrap for runs, play good defense, and ride our starters and bullpen as far as they will take us.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN...

There were no flight attendants yesterday, as we practiced in the morning and jumped on Johnny's bus for the 8 hour ride up I 75 to Macon, Georgia. I was sure to time our departure so we would reach Gainesville, FL, around dinner time. That would enable us to eat at David's Barbeque, an FAU tradition since 1995. They put out a good spread of great food, although the prices have jumped since our last visit.

There are some drawbacks to being on a bus with 25 young men after a meal of ribs,chicken, and barbeque beans, but the food is still worth it.

Life on the road is exciting...we arrive in time to check in and have an hour before curfew. The coaches are busy planning wake up times, breakfast and lunch. Somewhere in between there's time to go over scouting reports.

One disadvantage to this hotel, is that breakfast ends at nine. So we wake guys up to eat and then most go back to bed. Lunch will arrive at noon, and we leave for the ballpark around 1:30. Today is a doubleheader, so we'll send the bus and Robbie Widlansky shopping for bread and cold cuts. Woody will make sandwiches for between games. Meanwhile Coach Roig is busy arranging dinner for tonight. They say an army marches on its stomach; I guess the same holds true for a college baseball team.

All this talk about food means I better get up and head for the fitness room. We may need me to pinch hit tonight

ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST...

Jonathan Shapland has been struggling thus far this season, but last night he showed signs of breaking out of his slump. Our good hopes for Jon may be short-lived, Shap pulled a muscle in his back during his at bat in the ninth. We were down two and had loaded the bases, but failed to get the big hit needed to offset a subpar performance by Mickey Storey. We'll see today if Shapland is available, but it doesn't look good.

There's no hiding the fact that Mickey has struggled on the mound this season. Last year everything seemed to go his way. He made good pitches with great stuff, and when he did get hit, balls were right at people.

When a player has always known success and suddenly struggles, it can be a tough adjustment. We had a long meeting in my room last night. As Mickey's pizza got cold, we talked about his struggles and the approach he was taking. It was a good opportunity to air things out and try to find the path back to the success he's had in the past.

Mickey is a smart kid who is just at a loss as to what is happening. His mind is swirling as he seeks answers to each hit or walk in a game. We talked about letting his mind go from what has passed to what is ahead. Focus on the next pitch rather than the last. Time will tell.

Last night's rain forced us to postpone the second game until today. We'll play a doubleheader at noon and then hit the road for home. We need a win and a game without an injury

A BEAR TRAP...

As we roll down the Florida Turnpike, today will soon turn into tomorrow, but that passage of time still hasn't softened the blow of a doubleheader loss and the three game sweep by the Mercer Bears. We were out hit, out pitched, and out coached all day.

Craig Gibson has done a great job in his third year, of rebuilding a program which had fallen into disarray. He has a talented team of kids who play hard, hit, and run the bases well. Their three starters are legit and a solid closer tops things off for them. Losing 7-3 and 8-5 to them is no disgrace.

But it's tough to take.

Our main concern coming into this series was being short some of our good hitters, but the hope was that our pitching would offset the lack of offense. It didn't happen. Our starters gave up 20 runs and 35 hits in these three games. That's not meant as an indictment-there were a number of bloop hits and ground balls past infielders. But they are hits none the less.

We did show the effects of being short on offense, despite some guys who seem to have gotten going this weekend. Silversmith, Fonseca, and Cook swung the bat well and our hope is that they are finally underway.

After the game, I spoke about the need for each guy to do his job and trust his teammate to do his. Some days we'll hit and win when we don't pitch, and other times it will be the reverse. No one needs to panic and lose faith. We have to grab the positives from this weekend and carry them into next week. Fortunately, we play Tuesday and Wednesday next week, so we can turn the page faster.

As we head down the road into the early hours of morning, people deal with their disappointment in different ways. Everyone wolfed down the dinner we had delivered and then broke into groups of card games or DVD watchers. Coach Fossas and Coach McCormack rehashed the weekend and discussed some recruits, then slipped off to sleep in their seats. I finished the book, One Bullet Away, the story of a Marine Recon officer in Afghanistan and Iraq, and then stretched out trying to sleep this feeling away. It didn't work.

I realize my struggles, and those of our players, pale in comparison to those of the Marines about whom I just read. My life's work revolves around winning and losing games-not trying to keep a platoon of young men alive as they fight battles for a living. But struggle and failure are hard to deal with, no matter what the stakes.

For us it involves dealing with the unreached expectations of this young season, and doing our best to take steps each day to get better and not lose faith in ourselves. Sometimes you have to hit bottom before you can begin the long climb back to the top.

Tuesday we need to begin climbing. KC

 

 

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