May 19, 2007
IT'S ALL COME DOWN TO THIS...
Tonight I'll be on that hill `cause I can't stop
I'll be on that hill with everything I've got
Lives on the line where dreams are found and lost
I'll be there on time and I'll pay the cost
For wanting things that can only be found
In the darkness on the edge of town
A young man from New Jersey wrote those words back in the 70's about a man who lost everything because he felt most alive racing cars in the darkness on the edge of town. That same darkness has had an equal affect on others in different ways. Anyone who competes for a living, whether in the courtroom, the concert hall, or on a baseball field has probably felt their skin tingle hearing those lyrics.
I'm sure that Coach Danny Price at FIU shares my sentiments and nervousness about tonight's game and this season defining series. It could be that the winner this weekend goes to Mobile and the loser goes home. We each started the season with higher hopes for our teams, but the season is a long, mysterious ride, full of unexpected twists and turns.
An old coaching friend once told me that each year you will have a nice surprise, and each year there will be a disappointment. That has usually held true; you just hope the nice surprises outnumber the disappointments.
An in-state rivalry takes on an added dimension tonight. For the first time since 1998, Danny and I face off as conference rivals rather than just meeting mid-week with little at stake.
Today was spent trying to avoid weighing all the mathematical possibilities the conference standings present. I sat on my porch with an extra cup of coffee, but gave up and headed in to the office. Everyone I met asked for the scoop on what we needed to make the conference tournament. Then we met as coaches and the topic was the same.
I know that at some point in my life, I won't again venture down to "the darkness on the edge of town" with my stomach twisted into knots praying my players perform to their level of ability.
I just hope there is something in life to replace this feeling.
NONE BUT THE BRAVE...
Now who's the man who thinks he can decide
Whose dreams will live and whose will be pushed aside
Has he ever walked down these streets at night
And looked into the eyes of
None but the brave
Teddy Roosevelt spoke about being the athlete in the arena, laying it all on the line. He's been quoted by nearly every modern president hoping to catch some of TR's karma. Judging by those lyrics I think Springsteen was also a Teddy fan..
Those of us who have spent time in the arena of sports understand fully what Roosevelt meant. There is much to be said about the athletes who put their hearts and souls out in public view, trying to beat someone else who is doing the same thing. To me that's the beauty of the game. To be brave enough to dedicate your life to the pursuit of all that is good in competition, and in the case of coaches, perhaps help young people reach the potential they hold.
Just a short time ago you could count on baseball coaches staying 20 to 30 years in the same job. Sure there would be some down years in that time; athletics is a cyclical business. Baseball wasn't like football or basketball where coaches were fired if they didn't win all the time.
Times have changed.
There is a new generation of administrators in the college ranks.
It's rare to see a former coach in the chair of the Athletics Director. The trend now is to fundraisers, businessmen, and public relations guys. Not many of them have lived through seasons where your best player unexpectedly left school, got injured, or just plain had a lousy year. Not enough of the current crop of bosses has ever been "in the arena". Maybe they would be better at resisting the urge to fire a guy with over 1,000 wins in his sport, simply because the last few years haven't been stellar.
If he had been in a coach's shoes, maybe the boss would sit down with the coach and see what could be done to help. The easy answer is to listen to the 10 or 12 crackpots posting on internet message boards, or worse yet, a newspaper writer ranting on his blog. There is no editorial control over those guys, who love to track how many hits their blogs get. In the meantime a coach gets tried in the court of public opinion.
As we enter this last week, there are strong rumors about the impending firing of some veteran baseball coaches by some CEO types who have a vision of what those programs should be. One of those coaches had his university president state publicly that "FIU is fortunate this coach chose to make his home here."
If the rumors are true, and those bosses are the "men who think they can decide whose dreams shall live, and whose shall be pushed aside", I hope they can live with themselves.
YOU DON'T NEED A WEATHERMAN TO KNOW WHICH WAY THE WIND BLOWS...
In the Sixties, that line from Bob Dylan was co-opted by an American anti-war terrorist group who named themselves "The Weathermen". I didn't need a weatherman yesterday- one look at the pennants atop our pressbox told me all I needed to know...the wind was blowing out to right. We play better with the wind blowing out, that's for sure.
In the first inning, Danny Bomback stepped in with a runner on first and none out. Normally, in big games, I like to get on the board early and will often bunt in that situation. Danny looked down and I flashed the hit sign. One pitch later Bomback's 14th homerun landed on top of our batting cages in right. We tacked on another to lead 3-0, but FIU roared back with four of their own in the second and things again got tense.
But it was our night as we unloaded four more homeruns enroute to a 19- 8 win in the first game of this crucial series. Bomback got robbed by the FIU right fielder or else he'd have joined Will Block with two homers on the night. Block now has seven homeruns in his last nine games.
BP starts in a few minute for the second game...I've gotta go check the wind.
GRAB YOUR SUITCASE AND YOUR TICKET
THUNDER'S ROLLING DOWN THE TRACKS...
I've got my suitcase and a ticket to Mobile, despite the thunder that rolled through Boca yesterday, effectively extending my anxiety an extra 2 ½ hours. Thanks to Chris Salberg and Mike Obradovich on the mound, and Widlansky, Arata, and McKenna's homeruns, we can all grab our suitcases and head for the first stop on the way to our "Land of Hope and Dreams".
FIU had a runner at second base in the first when the rain began to fall and our guys started pulling out the Sanford and Son tarp. It's hard to tell where the patches start and the original tarp ends, but it did the trick and kept the infield dry during a brief shower.
Salberg warmed up again and got out of the jam without a run scoring.
Corey Polizzano was looking tough on the mound when Robbie Widlansky slammed a fastball over the cages in right giving us the lead, and Robbie the school record for total bases in a season. Little did we imagine that run was all we'd need; since we hadn't thrown a shutout through 53 games there was no reason to expect one at this point.
Salberg continued his outstanding season, throwing up goose eggs as the sky got darker and the weather became more ominous. The last thing I wanted was to ice Chris in a long rain delay and have to go to the pen early.
As we entered the seventh, trainer Tyler Addington informed me there was lightning 10 miles away. School policy calls for play to cease when the bolts are within eight miles. Woody's run was still the difference as Chris got us through the top half of the inning.
Nick Arata is a good bunter and we needed a baserunner. I told him top peek at their firstbaseman and if he was even half way give it a shot. Nick started to bunt, but pulled back as the first pitch sailed high. The count went to 3-1 and Nick saw FIU's Petika move deeper at first. For just a moment Arata planned to bunt, then changed his mind as Polizzano delivered.
Arata smashed a fastball off the scoreboard in right as our dugout exploded!
2-0 FAU. We had a little breathing room in a game that held our post season hopes in the balance.
Migs has had a great season, but he's played in the shadow of Woody's tremendous year. It was time for the Staten Island tough guy to put his stamp on our season. Mike had taken first pitch fastballs in each of his previous at bats which prompted a visit to the mound by FIU pitching coach Chris Holick.
I don't know what Chris told Polizzano, but McKenna is convinced he was instructing him to throw a fastball and get ahead of the count. Mike would probably be taking. Whatever the reason, Polizzano threw a fastball and McKenna nailed it into the bullpen in left.
Pack your bags boys...next stop Mobile!
There was a little matter of closing out two more innings against a great hitting team. But Salberg was dealing and I felt there was no way he'd falter. Chris pitched us into the regional in '05 beating UCF on two days rest; he'd get it done here.
But Tyller Addington was back; the lightning was here; clear the field, pull the tarp!
Thunder and lightning, and pouring rain for an hour and a half, hungry ballplayers hunkered down in the locker room, and all I could think about was the loss of Salberg because of the delay.
We got word the area was clear, so we got the tarp crew to work. I told Salberg to punch out; his work on the mound was done for the night. He took off his shoes and socks and grabbed a broom. There was standing water to move.
You gotta love a kid like that!
We could have waited until the next day to finish the game, but I didn't think my stomach could take the delay. I wanted this thing resolved as soon as possible.
Our field really soaks up a lot of water in a short time, so I knew we could resume. Everyone got to work except our grounds guys Skip Kirby and Chris May; they were at Jerry's pizza washing down garlic rolls with some cold ones while they waited for the 17 pizzas Skip offered to buy for the troops.
We warmed up Mike Obradovich to close out the night. He took the mound to Craig Morgan's "Red Neck Yacht Club", an appropriate song considering all the standing water ringing the field.
Mike made quick work of the Golden Panthers and the long day was done. We had clinched a spot in the tournament thanks to some great pitching and three clutch bombs.
Our last game is today at two. Let's hope we can get our first conference sweep on Senior Day.
On a day where we honored our seniors and their families, those guys led the way to our first conference sweep and a 6th place finish in the Sun Belt Conference.
Robbie Widlansky got things going by breaking the school record for hits in the first with the first of his three hits on the day. Woody finished the regular season batting.445! Andrew Tomlin gave us some solid relief while Justin Martin was 2-4 with a game-tying sac fly in the eighth.
Marty set the stage for senior Tyler Stevens. "Sizzle" is known more for his bouncing ground ball singles through the infield, than for his power. But in the eighth, Siz drilled a two run double to deep left center to put us on top for good and ensure our sweep.
Our "youngsters" had good days as well. Will Block hit his 18th homer in the first and Danny Bomback was 4-5 with two rbi's. Danny got us going in the eighth with a leadoff double.
So a big weekend is in the books.
Our first year in the Sun Belt had its ups and downs, but we seem to be in the up position lately.
Time to spend Sunday celebrating Maggie's 9th birthday before boarding the bus for Mobile, and the rest of the season.
It felt good to write that. KC