Diamond Diary by Kevin Cooney



May 22, 2006

SCOREBOARD WATCHING... HANDLING STRESS... AND... A SWEEP!!!

THURSDAY
One of the age old traditions in baseball is scoreboard watching during the heat of a pennant race. A game proceeds at its normal languid, pastoral pace, when suddenly the home crowd erupts as their rival's loss is posted on the out of town scoreboard. The home team has inched closer to clinching a spot in the playoffs!

College baseball isn't any different- except the FAU scoreboard's missing bulbs make reading our own score difficult. Thanks to the computer age of Gametracker, fans with internet access can follow a crucial game as it unfolds. At the park, while your own game is in progress, the PA guy will give periodic updates of scores. When that happens, the dugout is suddenly quiet, as all ears strain to hear the good, or sometimes, bad news.

This audio intrusion just adds another layer to the stress and tension of coaching in a big game or series.

That's just what I need.

How does a coach handle the stress of game day in the season ending series that will determine which teams will continue playing, and which ones who will clean out their apartments and head home?

I don't know about my peers, but I kept an 8:30 am appointment at the dentist.

The hygienist asked if I had been under a lot of stress lately. It seems my teeth appear to be ground down a bit more than the last visit. I spared her the details and just shook my head yes.

After that relaxing start, the next thing on this 55-year old coach's schedule was a kindergarten graduation. Unlike the other oldtimers in attendance, I was a father videotaping his son, not his grandson.

Luke Cooney, age six, was part of a Broadway caliber parody of The Sound of Music, directed by Mrs. Lucas and Miss Lisa at St. Jude's school. Luke looked just like one of the Von Trapp kids- complete with shorts, suspenders, and lederhosen.

The words of Rogers and Hammerstein were adapted to fit the learning experiences of Luke's class during their first year in school. It was a great show and testament to the hard work of the kids and their teachers. Mrs. Lucas was living proof that "the show must go on", as she had given birth the day before but was there as the curtain rose.

The other parents were all smiles as they enjoyed the show, but the one old father seemed to be the only one crying!

I admit to being an emotional Irishman, but this was something more.

Maybe I was the only one who had already raised two kids, which certainly provided a broader perspective to the event. I looked at those kids through the eyes of a father who had already made many of the mistakes these other parents hoped to avoid. My kids and I have already experienced the highs and lows that are all part of growing up as fathers and sons.

Every one of those freshly scrubbed, innocent faces held all the promise that being six years old entails. They haven't given much thought about life that is anything but filled with hope and trust. Hope that their world will always be bright, and trust that their parents will help make it so.

I left Luke and his classmates behind, as they attacked their cake and howled at baby pictures of each other on a big screen, and headed for the office.

It was time for the Stetson -Gardner Webb game on the computer.

Fossas and I grabbed some sandwiches and hoped for the best. But the news from Boiling Springs didn't go our way, as the Bulldogs won it in the ninth. We needed to beat East Tennessee just to remain tied.

Before BP ended, the second game had Stetson in front 4-0 and a rain delay in progress.

We turned our attention to the game at hand, and with two outs, scored four runs in the first inning, Alex Silversmith drove in Tim Mascia, who had doubled, and Mike McKenna delivered the big blow with a three run homer. Mickey Story was on the mound, and the night looked promising.

Mickey plunked the ninth hitter leading off the third. A single, a balk, a sac fly, and another single, and the Bucs had cut our lead in half. The tension was back.

But Mickey was on a mission. He made some adjustments and started racking up the strikeouts, as he retired 16 of the next 18 batters. Meanwhile, we built an inning in the sixth.

Danny Cook beat out an infield hit and Mike McKenna walked on four pitches.

A sac bunt was in order, but Will Block was swinging a hot bat and we would be leaving the eighth and ninth hitters the task of driving in the runs. I let Will hit away, and he drilled a single to left. Now, faced with the same decision as Nick Arata stood in, I made the same choice-bang, another single, another run across the plate.

Mario Duarte, batting ninth laid down a perfect bunt to move the runners to second and third. Jordan Hafer delivered Block with a sacrifice fly, and the lead was five.

Mickey Storey finished them off, and we had our first crucial win of the weekend. We need to be one game better than GWU or tied with Campbell to get in. A sweep by us and we're in fourth place, but our only sweep was back in February. Let's hope for the best and keep an eye on the rest.

FRIDAY
Today's stress buster started with me shopping for a new bike for Maggie's birthday. My daughter is not the most coordinated eight year old. I never thought she would ever learn to ride the bike I bought her three years ago, let alone need a new one. But big brother Jeff stepped in and took over for Dad as the riding teacher. It took her a day or two, but now she's Lance Armstrong.

My wife said she found a nice bike at Target, but I don't like shopping at a big chain store if there's a local place to get the same item. I went to the bike shop next to Augy's Restaurant (where all the scouts eat, so it must be good) and picked out a hot pink stingray bike. It probably cost more than the one at Target, but score one for the little guys. I loaded it in my son Jim's jeep; he's using my truck to move into the condo he and his fiancée closed on today- are my children's stations in life spread out or what? I hope Maggie likes it.

I have decided to not check the computer for scores today.

My stomach's churning enough thinking about tonight's game with ETSU. I think I'll go work out and listen to some music to get my mind off things.

I lied.

After working out I checked the Stetson- GWU game- extra innings. That's just great. But the Hatters came through, and now we need just one win in the next two games and we're in the tournament. Brandon Cooney on the hill, and our guys will be pumped to punch the ticket for the bus ride to DeLand.

Tonight was Senior Night, and our three remaining seniors did well for themselves. Thanks in no small measure to four year starter Tim Mascia three RBI we clinched a berth in the conference tournament next week with an 8-6 victory.

Freshman Will Block matched Old Man Mascia with three of his own RBI, to serve notice that the torch has been passed to a new generation, but Will Mann, Anthony Albano, and Mascia will be missed next year.

The game was a nail biter to the end, as the dangerous ETSU hitters never backed down. We had made a decision that we were prepared to use starter Joel Schmal in relief if needed to handle the Bucs' lefties, and the big guy got his first save. For the first time in days my stomach stopped churning and a wave of relief rolled over my body. We were in.

SATURDAY
Everybody else was on the field for BP at 10 am, but I was in the gym at Boca HS watching Luke's final Biddy Ball game. I'd only seen one game this year (not the one where he scored in the other team's basket) and hoped my players would understand.

We still had something to play for against ETSU. Our seed in the tournament was at stake, with a 4-5-or 6 seed being possible depending on our result and whatever Campbell did in their game with Kennesaw State.

We started slowly, as neither team scored until the sixth, when East Tennessee took advantage of a walk and two errors to stake out a 2-0 lead. But we answered back in the bottom half with three straight hits as Ozga and pinch hitter Anthony Albano set up an RBI single by Jordan Hafer.

We grabbed our first lead in the seventh as Block took the conference lead with his 16th hbp, followed by another string of three consecutive hits, this time by Mike McKenna, Nick Arata, and Danny Cook.

In the eight, we manufactured some runs and extended our lead to 7-2 .

The final ninth inning of 2006 at home held the promise of finishing fourth- a far cry from my worst fears as this story opened on Thursday. Chris Eberhart came on with a run already in and the tying run on deck to record two outs and put the finishing touches on a very satisfying weekend.

I told our guys at the end, that we've had a number of great teams at Florida Atlantic, but this is one in which I have great pride. We lost five starters and a relief pitcher, got one starter back just as we lost another, and went down to the last weekend facing elimination from any post season play.

Everything that we play for was on the line this past week.

All season, we spoke about just hanging in `till we got some guys back or our young players could come of age. We hoped our pitching would come around and carry us into the playoffs. There were some really dark days over the past sixteen weeks. It's been a grueling, challenging, and now, satisfying season.

These young men should be proud.

It's time to relax- at least until Wednesday! KC

 

 

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