March 21, 2006
A GREAT DAY FOR THE IRISH...
The rattle and hum of U2 filled the air as Kennesaw State rolled into town for their first St. Patrick's Day in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Things are usually pretty festive at Florida Atlantic on March 17th, dating back to my first experience in 1988. We played my former team from Montclair State; fresh off the 1987 D III National Championship, the Indians whipped FAU 5-0. I had "borrowed" an Irish flag from a display of flags in our gym which reflected the nationalities of the FAU student body. After the game, a student group had a keg of green beer, and sandwiches in the pavilion next to the field and willingly shared them with players and coaches from both teams.
Did I really do that back then?
As the years passed, we started painting the bases green, or adorning them with shamrocks. One year I painted shamrocks all over the walkway up to the grandstand, under the mistaken impression that "water based" paint meant that the green would disappear in the rain. Most have worn away thanks to foot traffic, but a few still remain, testament to my home improvement acumen.
Eventually I started buying green t-shirts and socks, then white hats with green logos and bills, for a complete celebration of Ireland's patron saint. One year I was short green socks, so I dyed some white tube socks green and threw them in my drier at home the morning of the game. My wife returned from a flight and, as usual, washed her white flight attendant blouses before heading over to the field.. When she removed them from the dryer they were all green!
My knowledge of laundry evidently was on a par with my expertise in paint.
This year, our slush fund was bankrupt, so I couldn't buy hats for the team. Coupled with last weekend's sweep by Mercer, I was more subdued entering Friday's game. I did have my son Jeff, paint three giant shamrocks on the field, and our grounds guys put shamrocks on the bases. True to tradition, there was nothing but Irish music played all night. Some of that stuff is difficult, even to my ears.
Fortunately, Mickey O'Storey showed the effects of a diligent week of practice, bouncing back with an impressive complete game win over the visiting Owls, 7-2. There were some mechanical adjustments made by Mick which seemed to make a difference.
We jumped out to an early 4-0 lead thanks in part, to a solid 4-4 night from Anthony O'Albano, and a game sealing, two-run single by Ovy McRamirez.
The only down side to the night's festivities was the word that one our only true Irishmen, Mike McKenna, will have to have his knee scoped. Fortunately it's "only" a meniscus tear, which usually means a four week recovery. He already missed last weekend, and this one, so his absence could total six weeks.
A doubleheader after a St. Patrick's game ensured that some of our fans wouldn't arrive until later in the day. It turned out that the luck of the Irish was late in arriving as well.
Chris Salberg pitched well enough to win, but was betrayed by some unfortunate play in the field, as KSU managed to score two runs on one hit and two errors and take a one-run lead that couldn't be breeched.
Our 7-6 loss was especially frustrating in light of the fact that we out hit Kennesaw 14-8, yet again, didn't play a complete game. The corner we seemed ready to turn Friday, led to anther blind alley.
The second game started off as another close one as we entered our half of the sixth tied at two. As the KSU pitcher warmed up, I told our waiting hitters that we needed a long inning; in fact, I promised to order pizza if we could stage a half hour inning and score some runs.
I was off by at least 30 minutes.
In his first start, freshman Nick Arata started things off with a bunt single. Our 230 lb leadoff hitter, Jordan Hafer followed with another bunt hit. After Danny Cook sacrificed both runners over, Ovy Ramirez launched a tape measure job over the trees in left center, giving us a three-run lead. The inning continued as day turned to night, and Arata doubled for his second hit of the inning and his first two FAU RBI's.
We couldn't get the pizza fast enough, and the concession stand was out of hot dogs so we finished the game with our stomachs growling. Oh well, it's the thought that counts.
Brandon Cooney bounced back from last weekend with a solid start, so I went home happy and feeling good about having started our climb back up from the rock bottom we hit at Mercer last week.
There was an old Mamas and Pappas song of that name. It was a little depressing as it addressed how bleak Mondays can be for people. After this past weekend, Monday had me in an upbeat mood because I had gotten a different vibe in our dugout during the KSU series. Despite McKenna's loss, I was feeling good about our chances of turning things around and having a good season.
Part of my optimism may have been the impressive performance by Arata in his first start. Nick was 3-for-4 with two RBI's, and could have had his fourth hit, but the umpire called him out on a bang-bang play at first. He also made several outstanding plays in the field which prevented our opponent from scoring.
It was also encouraging to see the continued improvement of Mike Crotta. Since he made a difficult mechanical adjustment in the TCU series, the big guy has been lights out. Hafer has raised his batting average nearly .200 points and has given us a true lead off guy, Alex Silversmith is on a tear at the plate and catching well, while our starters showed much improvement over the previous weekend.
So why did Monday turn blue?
My old college coach, Clary Anderson, once told me "Don't make rules you can't enforce." As my career continued, I think Clary meant "Don't make rules you don't want to enforce".
There is a proven correlation between class attendance and success in the course being studied. Some seasons have seen players ruled ineligible at the end of the spring term and removed from our roster as the season enters the most crucial stages of the last few weekends and post season.
The NCAA mandated APR requirements will now take scholarships away from programs whose players become ineligible or fail out of school. So a player who does poorly can hurt not only his current team, but the following year's squad as well.
Therefore I have implemented a policy of a game suspension if class is checked and a player is absent. It was my belief that no one would jeopardize his playing time, or his team's chance to win, by sleeping in, playing video games, or whatever other important things are done instead of attending class.
Does the punishment fit the crime?
Can you still pass if you cut class?
I say yes to both questions. But nearly every kid who fails and becomes ineligible does so because his lack of attendance became a factor. So if your career and the success of your team depend on going to class, how could the punishment not be fitting?
Monday I learned of a missed class and spent the day trying to be sure the facts were right. I don't want to hamstring our team by unjustly suspending a starter, because we are slowly running out of players. But the right thing needs to be done at all times. My religion teacher at Essex Catholic accused me of believing in "situation ethics", a term I had never known. It refers to whether your ethics are consistent, or do they vary according to the situation?
When you are responsible for 35 young men, is there room for situation ethics?
I don't think so. KC