Diamond Diary by Kevin Cooney



March 15, 2005

BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH...

Shakespeare warned us about this day in his play, Julius Caesar. It always is a time for me to beware, because each year we usually play Rutgers University around this date. If you like close games decided in the ninth, or extra innings, don't miss an FAU - RU game.

We last lost in 1998. Since then the scores have been, 5-3, 5-4, 6-5, 9-8, and 12-11. That last game saw us come back from an 8-3 deficit to force extra innings, only to have Rutgers take the lead with three runs in the 10th. But we went on to score four in the bottom to pull out our fifth straight win.

That pattern is due to change; I just hope it won't be tonight.

This opponent always means a lot to me because I am from "the swamps of Jersey". It's a tough state to get out of your blood.

I grew up in a small town in the northeast part of the state. Cedar Grove is about a half hour drive from Yankee Stadium or Madison Square Garden. The ski slopes of Vernon Valley are the same distance to the north. Belmar and Asbury Park would take me about an hour down the Garden State Parkway. Our altar boy trip each year was to Bertrand's Island at Lake Hopatcong. That old rickety wooden roller coaster was scarier than any ride down at Great Adventure.

Two weeks of each summer were spent in a cottage at Ocean Beach, where my brother and I body surfed, played miniature golf, and, at night, netted crabs off a dock by the bay. The Garden State Arts Center was a great place to buy lawn tickets and, for two dollars, see Meat Loaf, Jackson Browne, or James Taylor.

Essex Catholic was in a six story converted insurance building in Newark. It was a thriving place for 2800 young males, trying to make some sense of adolescence, under the watchful eyes, (and hard rubber straps) of the Christian Brothers of Ireland. Girls were found at CYO meetings and dances. Those sweaty nights in the church basement and a Battle of the Bands, or a night at Immaculate Conception HS (what an ironic name) where a nun would pry you off your girl during a slow dance, and caution you "to leave room for the Holy Ghost"!

New Jersey is where my Dad went seeking work in 1941, because he was tired of tending bar in Scranton. After the war ended he drove a bus for Public Service for over 30 years. He and my Mom lived in Irvington, and propped my brother up at the bar at "Uncle Mike's" tavern. They moved to Cedar Grove six months after I came hook sliding into the world, and settled in on "mortgage hill", for $10,000 - no money down.

I even stayed home for college. Montclair State was just over the hill past the reservoir where we used to skinny dip. (Did people really drink that water?) There were great teammates and great coaches at that school, and I am better because of them.

Fred Hill later coached there and then was hired by Rutgers to jump start a moribund baseball program.

They picked the right guy. That little Irishman is the most energetic, hardest working, baseball man you ever saw. He quickly got the Scarlet Knights back among the best programs in the country, let alone, the Northeast.

His departure from Montclair opened the door of opportunity for me in the fall of 1983.

That team went 17-1, splitting a doubleheader with Upsala on the last weekend. Our record was good enough for the late Bill Dioguardi to entrust me with the head job. Four years later I was driving south on the Jersey turnpike, heading for the sunny state of Florida.

My car broke down when I arrived in Boca. I should have taken that as an omen. This was not going to be as easy as I planned. But 18 years later, things have worked out pretty well for this son of "The Garden State".

Let's hope tonight is a good night for "The Sunshine State".

MORE ON THE IDES...

It was announced today that our basketball coach will not be retained.

Sidney Green is a nice man who will now have to regroup and start over elsewhere. It's a fact of life that coaches get fired. In college basketball and football, it's not an unusual or new story. Heck, even college baseball coaches are held to a hotter fire than ever before.

All I know is that I have managed to outlast four basketball coaches, two presidents, and three ADs.

It's not easy to get fired. You have to face your family and friends and deal with the perception or reality of a public failure.

I remember when I was told that I wasn't being rehired, (1991 - see my bio for details) the hardest part was lying in bed wondering what I would tell my sons, Jim and Jeff. How would I explain that their Dad was no longer a baseball coach? They each thought that I was special because of my job, but would I be special to them as a regular working guy? Thankfully it worked out that we still don't know that answer. I got rehired and am still a coach.

There is a trickle down effect with the firing of a head coach. The entire staff usually is let go as well, as a new boss would probably want his own people. So when we feel badly for Coach Green and his family, remember too, that the loss is being shared by other men, their wives, and young kids.

It's a business. We just try not to translate that fact to our players.

Sometimes it's hard to hide. KC

 

 

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