Diamond Diary by Kevin Cooney



Sept. 11, 2006

SUMMER TURNS TO FALL...

Just typing the date at the top of this page makes me pause. Last year I recounted on these pages, the way I spent that beautiful morning, and how our lives have since been affected. Like so many others, I still can't see a plane crossing a beautiful blue sky and not have the images of five years ago flash in my mind. Our generation will carry that memory forever.

Much has happened in the five years that have past.

The solidarity of our country has gone the way of the support given to us by the rest of the world's nations. Part of this tragedy is that the nations of the world were unable to sustain the empathy that made each person an American for a time. Our borders, languages, politics, and even our religions continue to divide us into armed camps of "us" versus "them".

It just doesn't seem that we have learned much since that clear September morning.

THE BOYS ARE BACK...

The end of summer signals another new beginning on campuses around the country. For baseball players, it means the end of summer ball in places like New York State, the shores of Cape Cod, the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the coastal plains of Carolina, the nation's capitol, and the heartland of the Midwest. Everyone returns to campus to begin preparations for winning a championship. We all have the same goals and take the same approach, making it imperative that no one lose sight of what's at stake with each workout throughout the fall.

Some guys return with stories of summer success, while others work to put behind them a bad experience. Whether it was a losing team, or a host family with 30 cats, an injury riddled summer, or a lack of playing time during a critical phase of development, each player faced some sort of personal challenge. The fall is the time to put to use the lessons learned from a summer spent far from home.

A LOOK BACK...

My first fall experience was in 1983.

Each day I would race from my history classroom at Mount Olive High School and drive like a madman east on Route 80 for the next 50 minutes, arriving at Montclair State in time for infield/outfield on game days. Somehow the NJ State Police never caught me. It was my first experience as a college head coach, as I replaced Fred Hill who had just been hired at Rutgers. My job was just for the fall, but if things went well, I hoped to be hired for the spring.

Seventeen wins and one loss later, the job was offered. I had just gotten tenure at Mount Olive, which basically means I had a job for life, serving to put my Mom's mind at ease. Now Bill Dioguardi, the Montclair AD, and former baseball coach, was on the phone waiting for an answer. The position was part time at a salary of $5000. Bill hoped to make the job full time, but there was no guarantee.

Life is a road filled with risks and hairpin turns, yet many of us want a sure thing before we make a move. I had a great job at Mount Olive, working with people I liked, in the town where I lived. Our teams had been successful and I enjoyed our kids. But the chance to coach at a different level, and at my alma mater, was too good to let pass. If they didn't make it full time, I figured I could always get another high school job.

Dio made the position happen before the end of the spring, a spring that ended with that MSC club in the DIII World Series.

Four falls later I was faced with another turn in the road, and another big decision.

Labor Day, 1987, found me in Boca interviewing for the FAU job. Move to Florida after spending your entire life "somewhere in the swamps of Jersey"? That was a tough decision made twenty years ago this fall.

Little has been the same for me since.

THE OLD AND THE NEW...

George Roig spent most of the past nine years here at Florida Atlantic, first as a two year player, then a student assistant, administrative assistant, pitching coach, and finally infield coach. One semester, he braved the cold of New Hampshire and worked for Coach Bob Whalen at Dartmouth University. Bob must have liked what he saw in George, as he called me this summer and told me George was his top choice to be his number one assistant.

I know that it was hard for George to leave FAU and Boca Raton-his parents live in town and love seeing their granddaughter Hannah. But this position is a good move for George's career. He will coach the Dartmouth hitters, and more importantly, serve as Coach Whalen's recruiting coordinator. He'll be back, wearing green, when we play Dartmouth in March.

Norberto Lopez never fails to tell me that he wanted to play for FAU but we didn't recruit him. A solid career at Nova Southeastern propelled Norberto into a place in the Angels farm system. He reached the AAA level and worked under Mike Soscia during spring training. Each summer and winter, I would hire him to work our high school camps and wish I had a spot for him at FAU.

Coach Lopez has an infectious, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable coaching style. I'm sure that he'll do a good job and that our players will respond to him in a most positive manner.

Norberto had been teaching at American Heritage High School and coaching at Broward Community College. As BCC's hitting coach last year, he helped Coach Deutschman's squad reach the Junior College World Series.

Now, if I can just get him to stop thanking me every day. KC

 

 

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