Florida right fielder Riley Cooper, a football player, is bringing a hard edge to the UF baseball team.
By MIKE McCALL
The Gators' wide receiver/right fielder has been a spark plug for Florida so far this baseball season, batting .325 (third on the team) with a grand slam, a team-high four doubles and one triple. He also robbed a home run (pictured) and has started in 12 of UF's 13 games.
And he seems to be the authority on fighting and ejections as well. A week ago, Cooper was tossed from Game 3 against Miami when he slid cleats-up into UM second baseman Scott Lawson to break up a double play. For good measure, he shoved Lawson afterward and a fight almost broke out when Canes left fielder Jonathan Weislow pushed him back on his way to the dugout.
Cooper's shove was the only show of emotion on that day for the Gators, as they lost 16-2 and were swept, and he spiced things up this weekend against Duquesne too.
When Josh Adams slapped a go-ahead home run in the fifth inning on Friday, Duquesne pitcher Gary Pierpont barked at him as he rounded the bases (apparently he felt Adams took too long to leave the batter's box). Pierpont sent his next pitch whizzing over the head of UF's Matt den Dekker, and when den Dekker approached the mound, both dugouts cleared and a brawl broke out.
Cooper was right in the middle of it, as he had to be restrained several times and was ejected (along with den Dekker, Pierpont, UF's Ben McMahan and another DU player). Florida went on to win the game 10-5, and Cooper was benched by coach Kevin O'Sullivan for Saturday's 5-3 win. Especially considering his ejection against Miami, Cooper seemed to be a likely candidate for a suspension, but no penalty was handed down (although others, including den Dekker, got three games).
The Gators (9-4) completed the sweep with a 12-2 win against the Dukes (0-11) on Sunday, and it's clear that Cooper is becoming a huge part of this team. Say what you want about his short fuse, but Florida is in desperate need of some attitude and that's exactly what he brings. Despite the fact that he was barely a member of the baseball team last season and he spends most of his time on football, Cooper might end up as a team leader if his bat stays hot, he keeps making plays in the field and he maintains his role as The Punisher.
I thought Cooper's layoff from baseball would hurt him, but he's clearly swinging the bat well. And if anything, his experience with football is helping the team out emotionally. A little fire can go a long way in baseball as long as it's focused energy, and that'll be especially important in the coming weeks as Florida starts SEC play next weekend at Arkansas and then hosts archrival Florida State on Tuesday.