Coach Cooke to Move from the Dugout

Drew Eastland-

Longtime baseball head coach Dick Cooke will leave the coaching ranks on the field for a position in the athletic department at the conclusion of this season. He spent twenty-seven years in the Wildcat dugout. Here he is imparting his calming wisdom to Justin Lebek ‘19 during last year’s historic run into the NCAA Super Regional tournament against Texas A&M. Photo courtesy of Tim Cowie and Davidson Athletics.

After twenty-seven years of coaching, producing twelve major league baseball players, winning more games than any coach in Davidson history, and coming off the teams most successful postseason run ever; Head Baseball Coach Dick Cooke announce that he would be stepping down  from his position and embracing a new role as a senior leader in the Athletics Department at the end of the season.

Players on the team praised Cooke for his vast knowledge of the game, his calming presence, his influence, his humor, and his leadership. “He is such a calming influence on the team; he knows the rules better than anyone because he helped write many of [them] himself,” pitcher Evan Roberts ’18 said. “It will be strange to not have that presence around since he’s been around for twenty-seven years.”

Despite the position change, Cooke was animate that he would remain largely involved with Davidson. At 61, Cooke is embracing his new role as way to continue to interact with great student-athletes. “It is rare that I can step into an exciting opportunity…in theory we don’t skip a beat,” Cooke said. “I hope to interact with more student athletes in the future.”

While this is the final season for Cooke, he is still fully committed to building a great team and finishing strong. Cooke expressed excitement for the dawn of a new season. After last season’s historic run to the NCAA Super Regional, the expectations are high for this club. “This year, more than ever, we are trying to make that extra leap and prove that last year wasn’t a fluke and that this is a legitimate program that should be on the map,” Roberts said. “[We want] to continue the winning culture, we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

Although last season was a tremendous success, players and coaches were adamant that it is one step at a time. Coach Cooke described success as a fragile thing and maintained that the team only focuses on the next pitch being a strike.

“We haven’t drawn up on the dry erase board, ok here are the things we need to do so that the same thing happens as last year,” Cooke said. “You get way ahead of yourself…when you start seeing the result without remembering the step by step to get there.” The team will have to fill big holes left by key seniors from last season: Will Robinson, Westin Whitmire, Durin O’linger, and Jake Sidwell. The Wildcats lost 10 seniors from last year’s Cinderella team.

Cooke has noticed has been the catcher position as a gap in the team. To Cooke, the catcher to pitcher relationship has been crucial to his team’s success in the past. Finding someone to replace Sidwell may be a key determinant in the Wildcats success.

Sophomore Zach Nussbaum and junior Eric Jones will definitely have big shoes to fill a the catcher position. “One of the most important spots to fill will be behind the plate, our catcher,” Cooke said. “Our catchers have a lot of ownership in managing the pitching staff, maybe more so than other college programs.” Another area the team would like to see improvement in is base stealing. The Wildcats implemented an off-season system to be more effective on the base path.

This past weekend, the Wildcats kicked off their campaign to defend the A-10 title with a series against Lafayette. The team won two out of three games to take the series, and got the season started on the right note.

Opening night Friday was a special moment for the team as it marked the first game of coach Cooke’s final season. Players expressed how important getting that first win for their coach was to them.  “Going out and winning that first game on Friday was a big deal for us,” Roberts said. “We wanted to make sure we won it for him.”

The biggest take away from the weekend series seemed to be a strong presence of pitching with a need for a few hitting adjustments. Pitching is something the team hopes it can rely on this season. “Our pitchers have gotten way better and our bullpen is deeper,” senior Alec Acosta said. “We are more talented especially from a pitching stand-point.”

Team members were steadfast that this year’s team is still loaded with talent, and on paper arguably even better than last seasons. Now, the question is not so much about obtaining the pieces of the puzzle, but rather assembling it with camaraderie and cohesion. Players emphasized consistency on all four fronts of the game: pitching, hitting, fielding, and base-running. “Everyone that we bring to this program we have a lot of confidence in to meld into this new player every year,” Roberts said. “We have big shoes to fill… but it is not going to be something that shocks us or scares us.”

The ‘Cats beat the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest on Tuesday night by a score of 3-1 and are now 3-1.

Be sure to check out the baseball team as they get their season underway on the heels of their 2017 run in College Station. With high expectations to build on their success from a year ago, they are going to need a great home field advantage. You can help them out by coming to their games at home in a series against a strong Georgetown Hoya team this weekend. Their games are on Friday at 6 pm, Saturday at 2 pm, and Sunday 1 pm. Next week, they square off against the Aggies of North Carolina A&T on Tuesday evening at 4 pm before heading into a weekend series against the Mountain Hawks of Lehigh the following weekend.