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 27, 2008

Talk Softly but Carry a Big Stick

That phrase was first uttered by Theodore Roosevelt to describe how he handled Congress and later used as a metaphor for Roosevelt's foreign policy.

The phrase perfectly describes Florida Atlantic outfielder Mike McKenna.

Mike played high school baseball on Staten Island and spent his summers with the Bayside Yankees. A teammate and friend of Mike's was the focus of our recruiting that year. Both kids attended our camp and expressed interest in attending Florida Atlantic.

Mike's buddy was a catcher and had the higher profile, but a scout from their area called and told me not to count out Mike McKenna. His opinion was that Mike might wind up being as good as or better than the other kid. "Mike won't say a word; he'll bust his tail, and can flat out hit!"

Talk about an accurate scouting report.

Mike's freshman year, with gale-force winds howling across to right, I sent him up to pinch hit against a solid TCU club. "Nobody can hit one out to left today, just stay back and try to get a ball out to right" were my last words to Mike as he excitedly grabbed his batting helmet and headed for the plate.

McKenna launched the first college pitch he saw into the teeth of the wind and the ball landed 400 feet later behind the "impossible to reach" left-field fence. Coming down the dugout steps amidst the high fives of his amazed teammates, Mike swore to me that he didn't try to pull the pitch. It just happened.

It "just happened" three times in Mac's first three at-bats last Friday night against Middle Tennessee. The first gave us a 2-0 lead, the second a 4-2 lead and the last opened the game up 7-2. None of these shots were cheap or wind-aided, and all three were to a different section of the ballpark. It was something to see.

Mike's seven RBI, along with home runs by Tom Hatcher, Nick Arata and Travis Ozga, backed a solid outing by pitcher Mickey Storey to give us a nice opening win in a series that would be a tough one for both teams.

Saturday's forecast was for a deluge to begin later in the day. Our 4 p.m. start time looked bleak, so we decided to begin early and try to beat the rain. After three solid innings of one-hit pitching by Jeff Beliveau and 11 runs by our offense, the skies opened up, and the game was halted.

Later that night, our guys returned to the field in a light drizzle and did some heavy lifting, dumping the standing water from the tarp and re-covering the field. I then asked them to return Easter morning at 7:30 a.m. and repeat the process in preparation for the 9:30 resumption of Saturday's halted game. 

Maggie was up at 5:30 begging for the Easter Egg hunt to begin. As I arrived at the field in the early morning darkness, I felt like Mary Magdalene going to the tomb on that first Easter Sunday. There was no one there until our guys straggled in and got to work. When you watch all the "March Madness" this weekend, just try to envision basketball players ever doing the physical work baseball kids do so routinely to play their games.

We held on to win 13-6 and got ready for the final game. It was going to be tight because the weather promised to turn rainy again.

I hate when the weatherman is right.

Middle Tennessee showed some character jumping on us for three early runs. McKenna homered to cut its lead to two in the fourth, but the Blue Raiders came back to extend the lead to 7-3 in the sixth, and our hopes for a sweep looked as bleak as the weather.

As rain began to fall, our guys began to hit.

Nick Arata hits so many of his home runs to the right of our scoreboard, that our fans have dubbed it "Arata's Alley." As the rain set in, I looked at the lag that was now blowing out toward the aforementioned Arata's Alley. Two runners on base, a 3-0 count and a favorable wind influenced me to give Nick the green light. Arata didn't need the wind as he smoked a three-run shot right up the alley making it a one-run game.

The rain was increasing as we continued to get runners on base. A throwing error gave us the lead, and we headed for the seventh ahead 10-7.

The Blue Raiders mounted a threat, putting two runners on with one out, but a lightning bolt forced all personnel off the field, and then the deluge came to wash away Middle's comeback and send us home with a hard-earned Easter sweep.

For his exploits last week (12-22, 6 HR, 19 RBI) Mike McKenna and his big stick earned him National Player of the Week by every college baseball publication issuing such honors.

It was a pretty good week for the quiet kid from Staten Island.