Diamond Diary by Kevin Cooney



Sept. 24, 2004

Hurricane Carmen...

It's been a busy Hurricane Season here in Florida. There are too many people who have suffered terrible losses of life and property to try and make light of the situation. Each storm sets off a flurry of activities in order to be properly prepared, followed by the cleanup and removal of hurricane shutters and other efforts to return one's house to normal.

These types of events provide a great excuse for the procrastinators of the world.

"I didn't get to your request because of the hurricane."

"My project is overdue, but the hurricane delayed me."

"I forgot our anniversary because of the hurricane."

You get the picture.

I really have been negligent about something that needed to be written at the time Frances was here.

Carmen Cali was called up to the big leagues by St. Louis a few weeks ago.

I think his first game in uniform was the Saturday of Frances. My son Jim was still in Missouri trying to get home from his season in Springfield, so at least one Cooney made it to Busch Stadium to see Carmen's first time in a major league uniform.

Since that time, I have seen Carmen pitch twice on television, including his first appearance against San Diego. It was a great moment for me because of the entire Cali family and their place in Florida Atlantic's development into a Top 25 program.

Carmen's career at Florida Atlantic was preceded by his brother Joe, a hard throwing righthander from Broward CC. Joe is the career saves leader at FAU and was a hard nosed competitor on the mound. His Mom, Mary Ellen is a sweetheart, though her introduction to me left her concerned for Joe.

Joe Cali was scheduled to transfer in at midyear after completing his associate's degree. I had not seen him pitch, but Coach Mac was convinced Joe could anchor our bullpen. Joe and his Mom were in Mac's office one afternoon in December completing some paperwork. I was not aware that Mary Ellen and Joe were to be on campus that day. I walked in Mac's office and introduced my self to them. No one said their names, so I asked Joe "Who are you?" After they left, Mary Ellen was all over Joe. "Are you sure they really want you? Do they even know you? Do you know what you're doing?????"

Needless to say, Joe reassured her and went on to have a great career for us. He made sure I knew who he was.

In October of Carmen's senior year in high school, Mac and I visited the Cali's at their home in Naples. Mary Ellen cooked us a great Italian meal, and her husband Carmen Sr. joined Joe, Carmen, Mac, and I at the table as we discussed our plans for Carmen.

The promise that I always make parents is that I will coach their son as if they were my own. At that time I had never coached one of my own boys, but I was actually referring to the way I would try to treat them as a person, as much as a ballplayer. I have learned that the person has a much longer life than the player.

I was a little nervous; Carmen was a pretty highly rated HS prospect, and we had only been in Division I for a short time. There were a lot of big name schools interested in this hard throwing lefthander with a nasty curveball.

Mr. Cali said he had one concern...was I still going to be at FAU? I could feel my face flush with embarrassment. My job security was not real strong at that time, but how did they know? I replied that my tenure was entirely up to my boss, but my plans were to stay. Mr. Cali said that he had heard rumors that I would be leaving because of our last few successful seasons. I breathed easy.

They thought I was in demand.

Mary Ellen spoke last. She said that it was Carmen's decision, but she would be very happy to see him at FAU. She said nice things about our relationship with Joe, and that she would be happy to send us her other son.

I guess I had made up from our first meeting.

Carmen showed great promise in his freshman season, but really came into his own as a sophomore. He started a midweek game against Miami that we lost 4-3. Carmen pitched great and we really should have won. That was the last game we lost for two months. We reeled off 54 straight wins. Carmen moved into the weekend rotation after the first few weeks of the streak.

After tying the national record with our 54th win, Jacksonville beat us 2-1 in the first game of a doubleheader. As our guys watched their players celebrate as though they had beaten the Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series, Carmen quietly got ready for the next game and proceeded to throw a shutout. It was a good answer by a gamer.

Carmen was part of a staff on that '99 team that had four guys, Nick Mattione, Todd Moser, Dan Jackson, and Carmen, all pitching in Double A this year. No wonder we won all those games.

I got to see Carmen in Knoxville this summer. He was on a streak of ten straight saves for the Smokies, the Southern League affiliate of the Cardinals. As we talked in the bullpen, Carmen said he hoped they would send him someplace good to pitch this fall- maybe Arizona or Venezuala. I told him that if he kept it up he might be pitching in St. Louis this fall. He gave me that big wide eyed grin of his and laughed.

When I watched him on the mound in San Diego I got goosebumps. I thought of his brother and his parents and started to get choked up.

I know what a great guy Carmen Sr. is. He did some work for us at our facility that went above and beyond a parent. I watched his pride and hurt with two sons as they experienced the highs and lows that make up college baseball. I remembered his celebration of the great game Carmen pitched in the regional. I thought of how he used to catch Carmen and Joe in the backyard, taking 90 mph fastballs off the shins. I remember him coaching an alumni game one fall and the joy he had in being around his sons and their friends.

There's nothing that compares to being a parent.

Sharing the love of a son or daughter is the greatest gift God can give us. I've watched the Cali family for a long time. The love and respect they have for each other is a pleasure to see. There were tears in my eyes as Carmen struck out Phil Nevin. Those tears were for Carmen Sr. and Mary Ellen Cali.

They were tears of joy. KC

 

 

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