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.




April 6, 2008

Darkness on the Edge of Town

There comes a time in everyone's life, whether as a person, a family, or a college baseball team, when they have to walk through the darkness on the edge of town. That darkness can take many forms - a relationship gone bad, a sick parent, or in our case Friday night, a pounding at the hands of South Alabama to open our conference series

Our ace, Mickey Storey got hit around as the Jaguars celebrated each shot of the night, cruising to a convincing 14-3 rout. This was a battle of two teams coming off opposite weekends; the Jags were rolling and FAU was reeling.

After losing three to ULM last weekend and an embarrassment Tuesday in Miami, we were desperate to right the ship. But instead we stood angry and shell-shocked at the end of the night on Friday, staring a five-game losing streak in the face.

We hadn't lost five in a row in ten years.

One tough part about this job is knowing what to say in times like these. Young people need someone to help them find a way when everything goes dark in their lives. Coaches all need to find their own voice in such situations.

Is it time to scream and humiliate your club? Should you challenge their manhood and desire? Do you ever know which choice will work?

I've always believed that kids are smart and will see through anything false. They know the truth, so they need to hear the truth.

We gathered in the bullpen as lightning flashed and thunder rolled. A big storm was ready to hit, but we needed to talk.

Baseball is the most difficult sport to play well; I have believed that all my life. The mental side of the game is particularly draining. There is so much time within the game for a player or a team to dwell on what's troubling them. Much of the dead action that non-fans find boring is actually the game's big challenge.

A good player needs to get the negative of the night out of his mind. It's easier said than done. Emotions often run high for the young men playing college baseball. Those emotions need to be controlled and channeled in a positive manner.

Teams are never quite as bad as it appears when all goes wrong, nor are they as good as it seems when everything goes their way, and as individuals, players must learn to handle the inevitable failures that are part and parcel of the game of baseball.

I reminded our guys that I have spent 50 years in the game. From Little League to Friday, the game has been my life. Good and bad days, winning and losing teams, I've seen them all. Our kids needed to understand the challenge they faced to get through the weekend and our current state.

It's tough to be as low as we were and head into the next day feeling optimistic, we all were aware of that. But I stressed to the team that sometimes you just have to play mind games on yourself to get back into a positive light. It isn't easy; nothing hard is ever easy.

But what choice did we have?

Tonite I'll be on that hill cause I can't stop
I'll be on that hill with everything I've got
With lives on the line where dreams are found and lost

I’ll be there on time and I'll pay the cost
For wanting things that can only be found
In the darkness at the edge of town

Saturday we came out ready to face the darkness.

The weather added to the mood, as eight inches of rain soaked Mobile all night and morning. Somehow the field took it, and in the gloom of a late Alabama afternoon we faced our fears.

Mike Gipson is a talented freshman pitcher, but the Jaguars were all over him early. Home runs were flying out and I didn't think Mike would last three innings. But he settled down and hung tough.

Meanwhile our offense kept meeting the challenge from the start, taking a quick lead only to see the Jags score five in the second to take a four-run advantage. How would we answer our starting pitcher teetering on the brink of an early hook, with a bullpen that has been, at best, shaky?

All we needed was Will Block's first home run of the season which unleashed a lot of personal pressure for Will and the team, and again tied the game.

Gipson looked in control, but in the sixth he walked a batter with two outs and gave up back to back homers to Jernigan and Overstreet - 9-8 Jaguars.

Troy Bubley got a big hit in a bunt situation and Arata and McKenna kept the rally going to put us ahead for good. Adam Morrison came in and slammed the door with a clutch relief performance.

How much better does a win feel than a loss?

How about after five straight losses?

We celebrated with some serious ribs at Dreamland and hoped for the best on Sunday.

Jeff Beliveau needed to set the tone on the mound and he did just that. The lefty from Rhode Island had great stuff and was just wild enough to keep South Al honest and me nervous.

Jeff threw a three-hitter for six and left with a 7-0 lead.

Big innings by our hitters had set us up for a non nail-biter, but wait, back came the Jags.  Four big runs in the bottom of the eighth and our lead was down to three with the heart of their batting order due up in the ninth. We needed some help, and Mike McKenna delivered it with a two-run shot to right, giving closer Glenn Troyanowski some breathing room.

Three outs later I noticed just how beautiful the late afternoon light looked in Mobile.

So now we're on Johnny Mattarazzo's bus rolling through the dark heading back to Boca. It may take 11 hours but as I sit here all I feel is pride for the guys who answered the challenge yesterday and today - the guys who got us through the darkness.


Darkness On The Edge Of Town - Bruce Springsteen