American Legion baseball notebook: Jack Cooney brings veteran presence, leadership to Pittsfield Post 68
Wilbraham Red Post 286 lefty Troy Donohue winds up a fires a fastball with late-breaking action past Pittsfield Post 68 infielder Ian Benoit for a strike during an American Legion game at Spec Pond on a mildly humid night in Wilbraham.
"Don't give up on the inside fastball," a voice screams from the on deck circle.
The voice belongs to Post 68 left fielder Jack Cooney, the veteran leader of Post 68 this season.
Cooney's not shy with voicing a suggestion on something he's picked up during a game, or pulling a teammate aside and sharing a tidbit with them before an at bat.
Maybe its the old-school stirrup socks or the solid black cleats, but Cooney — all of 19 years old — carries himself with the presence of someone much older.
He's not the fastest or the strongest player, but he can always be counted on to complete the task at hand.
He's notched walk-off hits (his eighth-inning single against Aldenville clinched a District title in 2016), run-saving catches and rally-sparking stolen bases throughout his Post 68 career.
The Springfield College outfielder is a solid run producer out of the No. 3 spot and his experience is invaluable to a team filled with high-school aged players.
"His presence kind of lifts us as a team," Post 68 infielder Joe Traversa said. "We had a couple games earlier without him and we were 0-3 in that span. As soon as he comes back, we're back hitting like we know we can."
During his three seasons with the club, Cooney has helped lead Post 68 to district titles twice. His first season with Post 68, when he was a junior at Taconic, Cooney was one of the younger players on a team led by current collegiate summer league players Chad Shade (Pittsfield Suns) and Matt Koperniak (North Adams SteepleCats).
Cooney played his part on a stacked offense, but now he's a go-to player on and off the field.
"I've definitely taken on a different role this year, but I'm just embracing it. Trying to teach some of the younger guys about playoff baseball and winning close games," he said. "I always try to take on a leadership role, even in high school. I just try to give guys little tips, little things throughout the game. ... I'm not perfect either, so they're teaching me stuff as much as I'm teaching them."
Cooney entered the summer coming off a stellar freshman season for the Pride. He batted .357 with 27 RBI and 29 runs scored. He swiped 11 bases and was only caught stealing once.
Cooney said he learned a lot from Shade and Koperniak, especially the work ethic needed to have a successful summer through the daily grind of Legion ball.
Shade is leading the Suns in stolen bases with 17 and is tied for the lead in runs scored with 21. Koperniak is 11th in the NECBL with a .339 batting average. The former Hoosac Hurricane has 23 RBI with one home run. He's shown great discipline at the plate as well, walking 14 times while only striking out 10.
Cooney's chosen two strong players to emulate. The current Post 68 roster would be wise to follow the example Cooney is setting.
Post 68 enters the Department Senior Championship Tournament on a six-game win streak. They've gone 5-0 during the postseason, and improved offense is one of the main reasons for the strong play of late.
Pittsfield's averaging 8.3 runs per game during the streak, up from 6.8 runs per game the previous 18 games.
One of the key contributors to the offensive increase is first baseman Joe Cracolici. Cracolici is batting .727 (8 of 11) with four RBI, three runs scored and three doubles his last three games. He's been particularly hot since moving into the fifth spot in the lineup, a spot typically held by a solid run producer.
The Pittsfield General isn't afraid to swing early in the count and the assertive approach is paying dividends.
"Just being aggressive, not wasting [pitches]," he said. "Making sure that the first one is right there and just driving it. Not waiting around [for the pitcher] to mix in any off speed stuff. Just going and getting the first pitch."
Many of these players have been playing base since their respective spring seasons began in late March. Pittsfield appears to have made it over the hump and is heading into the state tournament playing its best ball to date.
"I try to get the kids to peak at the right time," Post 68 head coach Pat Bassi said. "These kids have peaked. They're doing very well."
Akeem Glaspie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @TheAkeemGlaspie on Twitter and 413-496-6252.
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