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Diamond Diary by Kevin Cooney

March 21, 2005


8:30 am

Most years, St. Patrick's Day is a real good time at Florida Atlantic. We usually raise the Irish tricolor, get some U2 and Van Morrison, or The Chieftans on the sound system, paint shamrocks on the bases, and wear green hats, sleeves, and socks.

Our lineup card always has an inordinate number of Mc or O' names in it. Imagine a batting order with McSpano, O'Biernbaum, McLipman, or O'Casanova!

For some reason I have been ejected from games quite often on this day. Some would say the early departure was designed to get a head start on the corned beef and cabbage. But no one likes to get run by an umpire, especially when you're dressed that foolishly.

This St. Paddy's Day finds us riding up I-95 in the rain, headed for Buies Creek, North Carolina. Chip Smith and his Fighting Camels are waiting for us in the second week of Atlantic Sun Conference play. I've seen Lawrence of Arabia a few times and never saw one camel fight. But the new Campbell University camel logo is nice. It no longer reminds me of my Dad's "cancer sticks" that help put him in the grave.

In 2003, I wrote about our history of interesting trips to Buies Creek. There always seems to be something interesting on this trip.

Right now it looks like the weather will be the next story.

Chip and I spoke yesterday and decided it would be best to change our night game to a four o'clock start. The forecast is for a high in the 40's and a chance of rain or snow flurries.

That's just great.

A bus load of suntanned Floridians heading into weather that, back home, results in special shelters opening for the homeless, warnings to bring pets and plants indoors, and kids at bus stops dressed as if they were in the Iditarod.

I did make Chip an offer I felt he couldn't refuse. Actually I knew he would.

Our usual sleeper bus was booked for this trip, and I refuse to ride in a standard sit up bus for more than two hours. But there is another company in North Carolina that was able to service us.

My offer to Chip was to have the bus pick him up and come play the games in Boca and weather more conducive to baseball. It was 86 yesterday.

We would pay for the bus, his hotel, and the kids' meals. They would get a free trip to sunny Florida and the glitter of Boca Raton. Pretty sweet deal, right?

No deal.

It was a lot to arrange on such short notice. He would have to arrange for his players to be excused from class, and a host of other administrative entanglements.

But Chip's also a smart guy.

Campbell is 10-1 at home this season, and they have yet to win a game on the road. Plus, his kids are more accustomed to playing in this sort of weather. Bring on those spoiled Florida boys!

I can hear Chip now.

So here we are, with whatever meager cold weather clothing we have, hoping the weather man is wrong.

Ex-Boy Scout that I am, I'm ready.

Back in the day, baseball undershirts were made of wool, and did a good job of keeping you somewhat warm. I still have mine from college. I also brought two cotton ones, our "Victoria's Secret" shirt, a pair of longjohns, and extra socks.

I tipped Coach Fossas to a good secret. Bring an extra pair of nylon wind pants, and wear them under the game pants. A jacket and some batting gloves and I'll be good to go.

Now, if I can just find a metal garbage can for a dugout fire, things will be perfect.

My fear that the history of close games against Rutgers was due to change was accurate. But the change was for the good, as we jumped out to 7-0 lead in the first inning and never looked back.

We got a solid performance from Brandon Kloess in his first start on the hill. Brandon has been in the pen till now, but has starter's stuff. He pitched a solid five innings and the lead gave us a chance to use some of our freshman pitchers who have seen limited action.

It was nice to generate some early offense for once. The Rutgers pitcher was trying to pitch despite some arm problems. Evidently, he's a fifth year senior who's just trying to tough it out. I admire his guts.

Mascia and Hutton each had a hit. More importantly, they looked better at the plate. Each of them had good swings compared to the past month. We need to get those two back to the players they really are. Actually, they have to get themselves back. The hard work is all on them in the pursuit of that natural, comfortable feeling in the batters' box that has been missing thus far.

I like and hate the road.

It's good to get away and enjoy the reduced office responsibility, and the other duties that go with being home. Getting a chance to see the interaction of the players as they travel is always interesting. The bus is the best place to get a feel for your kids. Twelve to fourteen hours on a bus can reveal a lot.

Players always remember, and talk about these bus trips. Our alumni weekends are filled with stories from the road.

I like that our only responsibility on game day is to show up and play. If it rains, or there is some sort of problem, we just wait for our hosts to take care of everything. No pulling tarps or raking fields, just sit back and enjoy the efforts of others.

But my family's not here.

Despite how hyper and difficult Maggie was this morning, or how much Luke annoyed me last night, as soon as I'm gone- I miss them terribly.

This trip is worse because I will return sometime Sunday morning, strung out from the road, and then the kids and MB fly Monday morning to the farm in Tennessee. It's spring break and they haven't seen Nana and PopPop since the summer. All Luke's been talking about for a week is getting back on his 4-wheeler. He keeps saying, " I'm so esciting!"

So next week it'll just be me and the cats.

Maybe my son, Jim, will invite me to his place for dinner.

Leaving this week is harder because Luke was with me at each game last week and during two practices. He helped pick up balls during our bunting session, and even threw some pitches to the bunters. Some of our guys took turns with him on the batting tee. Before each game, I had to pitch tennis balls to him while Gardner-Webb took BP. Their guys were nice about throwing back balls he'd hit in their direction.

During games, I set up some ball buckets on the dugout steps to protect him from foul balls. He was allowed to stand up when lefties batted, otherwise he would be seated on the step watching Tony Fossas giving signs to our catcher. At one point he started drumming on the buckets, and jumping up and down. George called him our rally monkey. As skinny and little as he is-it's a good description.

I was real tempted to take him with me on this trip, but that's a long time on a bus for a five year old. Maybe when he's old enough to learn how to play poker. Right now he's struggling with Candyland!

This morning I had to be on the field at 5:oo am for a live tv interview about the congressional hearings on steroids in Major League Baseball. That kind of put a crimp in my plans for an early morning St. Patrick's celebration with my wife. Oh well, I'll be home Sunday.

Saturday Night 11:45 PM...

We've been on the bus for nearly four and a half hours. My mind is still dealing with how poorly our weekend went. I tried to stretch out and sleep, but all I coud think about is how poorly we played in our 7-6 loss on Friday, and today's doubleheader split.

The disappointment just goes right to the bone. We committed five charged errors on Friday. I honestly can't remember the last time one of our teams played that poorly. The frustrating thing is that we still nearly pulled out a win.

It was cold Friday, but it wasn't the weather that gave me a chill.

Today dawned with the promise of a better day.

Coach Fossas and I walked over to one of my favorite breakfast places. The Triangle Waffle House in Dunn, is a little family owned place. I've made it a point to stop there whenever driving on I-95 or when we are at Campbell. They have good country ham and eggs. I hoped that a good breakfast would be the way to get a good day going for us.

Mike Salberg hooked up with Campbell's Lincoln Smith in a good old fashioned pitchers' dual. We finally pushed across a run in the eighth. Mike McKenna doubled and Tim Mascia walked. After a strikeout, Derek Hutton reached on an infield single to load the bases.

We were desperate for a run. The hits had been few and far between as Mike McBryde stepped in the box. My instinct was to squeeze, despite the force at home. I was worried that a double play would end our chance to score. But I had faith that Campbell wouldn't be able to turn two with McBryde's speed.

I had no sooner voiced my thoughts to Fossas when Mike hit a groundball to short. It was going to be close- but Mike beat the relay from the second baseman as McKenna crossed the plate with the first run of the game.

Salberg went back out for he eighth. We had Mickey Storey warming in the pen. After getting the first two men out, Chris faced Campbell's Mike Priest, who brought a .484 batting average, nine home runs, and 22 RBI, with him to the plate.

I hated to take Chris out, but Tony thought Mickey's right-handed curveball was a better match up for us. He was right ;strike three on a nasty yakker ended the inning.

We tacked on another run in the ninth and Mickey went out to nail things down for us. Three k's later, it was time for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Will Mann started the last game and didn't have his usual good stuff. We didn't really like the matchup Campbell presented with Will, and our fears were soon borne out.

We scored one run in the fifth, sixth , and seventh, to cut Cambell's lead to one run. Then the wheels fell off the bus. Two singles, followed by a bunt single, loaded the bases. A walk, a fielder's choice, a sac fly, and three runs built their lead to 8-4.

The ninth saw us score two runs, but the game ended with the winning run still at the plate. The game and the weekend were lost. Another debacle in Buies Creek. I told you there was some history of that here.

After a shower in a silent locker room, we headed back to Dunn and stopped at Ernie's Buffet for dinner. This restaurant is actually in a converted supermarket. They have real good down home cooking. Fried shrimp, scallops, pulled pork, and collard greens, sweet potatoes, and great apple pie.

We had eaten there last night and the kids liked it. I figured it would be a quick meal to get us back on the road without much delay.

I hoped to change my luck and maybe pick up a win with the manager of Ernie's. He listened as I explained we had been there twice to a tune of 70 about a deal? Ernie must be a Camel fan. Paying full price for everyone is nealy as bad as losing two out of three.

So what's ahead for FAU?

The next week brings Stetson to town for a three game series, and a chance to answer the bell, get up off the canvas, and see what's in our hearts. How badly do we feel about this weekend, and what are we prepared to do to fix what's wrong?

We'll see on Good Friday. KC



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