Kevin Cooney

Kevin Cooney has spent 20 seasons as head coach at Florida Atlantic University. He has compiled more than 700 victories with the Owls and more than 850 wins in his 24-year career as a head coach. Cooney has spent the past five seasons offering his thoughts on baseball - and other things - for Cooney's Owls finished their first season in the Sun Belt Conference at 36-22 in 2007.




March 21, 2008

Souls of the Departed

Well, here we are on Good Friday, preparing for a big conference series against Middle Tennessee. Since last week, we have played six games and managed to win five, including two of three with Louisiana-Lafayette. There was an added game on St. Patrick's Day, which produced a win against Cornell, then two wins against teams from "the Swamps of Jersey" – Rutgers and NJIT.

Usually something about our week grabs my subconscious and helps to put our games in some sort of context. Then I sit down and try to give voice to those thoughts and feelings.

This past week was no different, yet as the games unfolded, there were varied themes running through my mind.

The Lafayette series provided an opportunity to focus on revenge for the hard-fought sweep at the hands of the Ragin' Cajuns last season. Despite the wonderful generosity of the Cajun fans, it was a bitter weekend for us. But this year was different as Mickey Storey outdueled Danny Farquhar, and we nailed the Friday-night win13-6. After failing to muster anything against their pitching last year, it was gratifying to see our guys pound out clutch hits against the Cajun bullpen.

Saturday's game belonged to ULL's Hunter Moody. The big lefty stranded 11 of our runners while giving a clinic on pitching tough with men on base.

Mike Obradovich returned Sunday after a two-week rehab for a sore shoulder and flashed the quality that we saw last season. OB went four-plus innings, giving way to freshmen Mike Gipson and Glen Troyanowski. Our two young relievers were up to the task of holding down the Cajuns while our hitters provided the needed support for a 9-2 win.

Any March 17 game here provides its own theme - St. Patrick's Day!

Green bases, shamrocks painted on the field, green shirts and socks and The Pogues, Dropkick Murphys, U2 and the Irish Rovers providing the atmosphere.

The added theme was one of opportunity for young pitchers to get their chance. These games don't come without risk. If the opponent is struggling and you rest your regulars, the playing field is somewhat leveled. Doing this makes some games a bit more nerve-wracking than they might appear to be.

We started slowly, trailing 2-0 in the fifth, but home runs by Justin Ferriera, Jeremy Griffiths and Mike McKenna eased the pressure. Chris Schmitt did a great job bailing us out on the mound. It sure made that night's corned beef and cabbage easier to swallow.

Fred Hill and the defending Big East Champion Rutgers Scarlet Knights arrived Tuesday. Much of last year's team is gone, and I'm sure Fred will get the young Knights going, but Tuesday was our night. Mike McKenna and Travis Ozga broke open a close game in the fifth with big home runs giving us our 11th straight win over the Knights.

On the road to Basra stood young Lieutenant Jimmy Bly
Detailed to go through the clothes of the soldiers who died
At night in dreams he sees their souls rise
Like dark geese into the Oklahoma skies
Well this is a prayer for the souls of the departed
Those who've gone and left their babies brokenhearted
This is a prayer for the souls of the departed

Thursday's game with NJIT came one day after the five-year anniversary of the war in Iraq. We all remember the feelings that ran through our country after September 11, 2001. Hardly a soul felt we weren't justified in our deployment of troops into Afghanistan in an effort to neutralize the Taliban and find the perpetrators of the mass murder on that beautiful September morning.

But last week's grim anniversary reminded us of the cost of our leadership's subsequent decision to carry the fight into Iraq. Five years later, nearly 4,000 American soldiers are dead, over 30,000 returned wounded and thousands of Iraqis are dead and displaced.

As someone whose last 30 years have been spent with young men the same age of those who fight our wars, those losses seem to be a bit more personalized. I look at the guys in our dugout and imagine their lives if it were them patrolling the streets of Baghdad or Kabul.

Last night, we were honored to have a veteran of two tours in Afghanistan throw out our ceremonial first pitch.

John Wilson, like "young Lt. Jimmy Bly" is from Oklahoma. He spent a total of 18 months as an infantryman in combat throughout the mountains of Afghanistan. John also served with his National Guard unit in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Sergeant Wilson is attending Palm Beach Community College while he finishes his reenlistment in the Florida National Guard.

Center fielder David Wilson was the catcher for his brother's first pitch.

If this war wasn't personal to our guys before, I think the sight of one of their own family in combat fatigues playing catch with their teammate while both teams and the entire crowd stood and applauded brought it home.

In honor of all the men and women like Sgt. Wilson who serve for us, and in particular for the souls of the departed, we offer a simple thank you and God bless you.


"Souls of the Departed" from Bruce Springsteen's Lucky Town