DWYER LANDS STARRING ROLE AS VCU ACE

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Sophomore Heath Dwyer is 6-5 with a 2.88 ERA for VCU this season.

Sophomore Heath Dwyer is 6-5 with a 2.88 ERA for VCU this season.

RICHMOND, Va. – The son of two part-time actors, VCU sophomore Heath Dwyer appears to have inherited a flair for the dramatic.

Dwyer, who nearly majored in theater at VCU, has played the part of a hero of late, delivering a handful of potentially season-saving performances. In his last three starts, the left-handed pitcher has thrown three complete games and is 2-1 with a 1.73 ERA.

He should’ve taken a bow after his last effort. On May 4 against first-place Saint Louis, Dwyer outdueled Alex Alemann, one of the Atlantic 10’s top pitchers, spinning a five-hit, 10-strikeout, complete-game shutout. The win helped the Rams take two of three from the Billikens and kept VCU’s A-10 Tournament hopes alive. Gutty and important as Dwyer’s gem was to VCU, especially for a sophomore, it did not catch Rams’ Coach Shawn Stiffler by surprise.

“I’ve never looked up and thought, this occasion is too big for him,” Stiffler said. “[He has] a maturity level of, you can drop him in New York with a quarter, and he can get home.”

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FLYING SQUIRRELS HONOR PAUL KEYES

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Sunday at The Diamond, the Richmond Flying Squirrels honored late VCU Baseball Coach Paul Keyes in a pregame ceremony. The Squirrels also wore special black and gold jerseys and patches with Keyes’ jersey number, five. Appropriately, on May 5 (5/5), the Squirrels won 5-1.

keyes-homeplate

FARRAR PLAYS THE LONG GAME

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VCU senior pitcher Ryan Farrar is 4-4 this season with a 3.73 ERA in 10 starts.

VCU senior pitcher Ryan Farrar is 4-4 this season with a 3.73 ERA in 10 starts.

RICHMOND, Va. – Ryan Farrar needed some time to think. His professional baseball dream was dangling in front of him like a carrot on a string, and he had a potentially life-changing decision to make. He walked out of his parents’ kitchen and onto the front porch and buried his head in his hands.

The Pittsburgh Pirates had called in 11th round of last year’s amateur draft and made the VCU left-handed pitcher an offer. It wasn’t run-out-and-get-a-Rolls money. It wasn’t even what Farrar had mentally set as his minimum requirement, but it was a chance to play baseball for a living. On the other hand, Farrar still had one year of eligibility remaining, another year of college, another year to polish his skills.

A lot of players would spring out of their cleats for a shot at pro ball. But Farrar was waging an inner war.

“It was awful,” he says. “I just sat on my front porch by myself. I didn’t want to be around anyone, and I was pulling my hair out of my head and thinking, ‘How can I turn down this kind of money to go play baseball?’”

Farrar looked his boyhood dream in the eyes and said, “No thanks.”

He told the Pirates it was about the money, but Farrar says that was a convenient excuse, his “out pitch”, if you will.

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TAKE A LITTLE OFF THE TOP

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Last night, following the first Key Dog Strikeout Cancer Classic (won 5-4 by VCU), both VCU and Old Dominion had their heads shaved to raise cancer awareness:

P.S.: Check out the sweet breakdancing moves by VCU junior infielder Tom Crimi at the end.

 

LET’S STRIKEOUT CANCER

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Tuesday at War Memorial Stadium in Hampton, VCU and Old Dominion will wage a battle against cancer. The Rams and Monarchs will play at 7 p.m. in the first Key Dog Strikeout Cancer Classic, named for late VCU Baseball Coach Paul Keyes, who passed away in November after a battle with cancer. Proceeds will be donated to Keyes’ family.

Afterwards, both teams will be shaving their heads at home plate to raise cancer awareness.

MATTALIANO: KEYES MUCH MORE THAN A COACH

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Mick Mattaliano was a member of two CAA Championship teams.

By Mick Mattaliano

This is an article no one wants to write and is more painful for its audience to read. This weekend, the VCU athletic community lost one of its leaders in Coach Paul Keyes. Many of us who had an opportunity to play for him, lost much more. It is hard to describe the influence Coach had on all our lives, and rather than speak for others, I’d rather just tell what impact he had on my life. I am certain it’s a story that many former players, coaches and anyone who had the chance to spend time with Coach Keyes would echo.

When I arrived as a freshman walk-on in 2004, Coach hardly took notice of me. While being young, I assumed it was because he didn’t like me. That was never the case with coach and freshmen; you had to earn his respect. As I wallowed on the bench for a year, I wondered if I had what it took to be a Division I baseball player, but more importantly, how was I going to make Coach take notice of me and think of me as a contributor.

My sophomore year, after resisting the temptation to transfer, I was determined to prove to Coach Keyes that I could be someone he could rely upon. Sure enough, halfway through the season I worked my way into being the No. 1 option out of the bullpen. After one dismal weekend performance at UNC Wilmington, Coach Keyes went on one of his epic rants, ripping the team. Every player knows these meetings well, because Coach would do it once a year, where he would basically go down the entire roster and find fault with something you were or were not doing.

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KEYES LEAVES LEGACY AT VCU

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Paul Keyes 1962-2012

For the second time in less than six months, VCU Athletics has lost one of its own far too soon. In June, it was men’s soccer player Yoram Mwila. Saturday, it was longtime baseball coach Paul Keyes.

Although we knew Keyes was facing long odds – the last couple of status reports hadn’t sounded encouraging – we clung to hope. We prayed for one final ninth-inning comeback. It was not to be. Paul Keyes was an all-too-young 50 years old when he passed away. Damn cancer.

Keyes took a leave of absence in April to concentrate on fighting the disease. But after baseball season, he returned to the office a few days a week. He was noticeably thinner, and he talked a little softer, but overall, he seemed healthy and refreshed. There was a positive energy I hadn’t seen in him before. He seemed to appreciate the little stuff more.

I ran into “Keydog” early in the summer in the mailroom. He had been gone for a few months, fighting the damn cancer. I had been out of the office as well. My son was born three months premature and had spent more than 100 days in the hospital. I wanted to ask Keyes how he was doing and tell him that I was happy to see him in the office. But the only thing he wanted to talk about was my son. I appreciated that.

“How’s the little one?” he wanted to know. It wasn’t a long conversation, but after a few minutes, he offered simple, but undeniably true, words of encouragement. “Just love, man.” He delivered them with a warm smile. The good ones always seem to know the right thing to say.

We will miss him greatly, and I cannot begin to imagine the loss his wife, Trisha, and their three children, Paul Jr., MacKenzie and Kyle, are feeling right now. I hope they find peace in knowing Paul’s impact on others. He was a good man, and I hope someday it makes them smile.

Coaches, administrators, sports information guys, we don’t always choose to work in college athletics to help others. Sometimes we just want to find a way to pay the bills. But I can tell you this, helping others, impacting the lives of young people, it’s why everybody stays in college athletics.

Paul Keyes was the baseball coach at VCU for 18 years, not including his time as an assistant. He won a ton of games (603) and lifted VCU Baseball to unprecedented heights. But for all the trophies he won, for all the games he managed, none of it carried the weight of the lives he impacted.

We like to point out that 36 Paul Keyes’ players signed professional baseball contracts. That’s 36 guys living their boyhood dream, including major leaguers Sean Marshall, Brandon Inge, Scott Sizemore, Cla Meredith, Cody Eppley and Jason DuBois. But for every kid that Keyes helped become a pro baseball player, there were 20 more who became teachers, bankers, businessmen, firemen, you name it. Lives changed. Hundreds of 18-year-old high school kids walked out onto the field at The Diamond with wide eyes, but left four years later as men. That’s one hell of a legacy.

There’s a school of thought that the best way to preserve the legacy of loved ones lost, to keep them alive in our hearts, is to talk about them frequently and share their wisdom. A man only lives so long. An idea lives forever. With that in mind, I offer my memory of Keyes that I hope endures: Just love, man.

MORE THAN JUST A COACH… LIFE LESSONS FROM KEYDOG

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by Scott Day, VCU Assistant AD for Athletic Communications

March 9, 2007. I can remember it like yesterday. I was a 23-year-old who was just 13 games into his career as the Assistant Director of Athletic Communications with the VCU Baseball team.

It was a beautiful Friday night at Brooks Field in Wilmington, N.C. and the Rams had just opened up a critical CAA series against the Seahawks by pounding them, 13-3. I was headed to the bus ready to enjoy a happy coaching staff postgame.

As I walked onto the bus and handed the boxscores to Coach Keyes, Coach Stiffler and Coach Haynes, I was greeted with, “Why are we bringing you along if you’re not going to fight for our players?”

I must have looked like a deer in headlights to Coach Keyes. I was shocked. We just won 13-3 against the one of the favorites to win the league, why is he so upset?

Let’s rewind a bit… VCU went into the bottom of the ninth with a 13-1 lead. The leadoff hitter for the Seahawks, Jonathan Batts, hit a ball up the middle that a young, freshman by the name of Richard Gonzalez got to, but was unable to make a play on. The initial ruling in the pressbox was an error on Gonzalez. UNCW Sports Info guru Tom Riordan had discussed the play with a few of us in the pressbox and that was the majority vote. (I never admitted it to Coach Keyes, but I saw the play, but wasn’t paying full attention because I was too busy trying to finish up my game story since the game was already out of hand.)

Fast forward to the bus and there I was having no clue how to respond to Coach Keyes. He challenged me to fight for our guys on every play, that’s what my job was. At that moment, I had no clue what he meant.

(Sidenote: After discussion with both coaching staffs the next day, the play was changed to a single. Gonzalez went on to have an all-conference career and played on the Puerto Rican National Team this year.)

Nearly six years later, I look back and see that moment as one that played a critical role in who I’ve become today as a member of Ram Nation.

It was one of a million lessons that I learned from Coach Keyes. He sometimes had a different style of dealing with life, but he was incredibly insightful, caring and tremendous friend. He had an undeniable passion for baseball, his players and VCU Athletics as a whole. The only thing he loved more than those three things was his family.

As I became better acquainted with Keydog, I saw the softer side of him, particularly when I had my first in May of 2011 and Coach Stiffler had his son a couple months later in September of 2011. I can remember having Connor, my son, in the office and Coach Keyes making him laugh and I remember a specific conversation later when he was telling me about having Coach Stiffler and his wife, Jen, over to the house for dinner and how great their son, Wade, was during it. He may not have known it, but he was teaching me how to be a better father, showing me not to take for granted every moment I have with my family.

Coach Keyes had a lot of similarities with my college coach at York College of Pennsylvania. They did things in a matter that as 18-22 year olds we hated. We didn’t understand all these rules and never understand the things that we said or the things we did. But yet, years later, so many former players look back and everything makes sense.

Keydog loved to compete and was willing to do whatever it took to win. He always got the most out of his players, finding just the right buttons to push at the right time.

There are so many good coaches that affect the lives of all of their student-athletes, but it’s the truly great ones that affect the lives of everyone that they come in contact with. That was Paul Keyes. A coach, not only on the baseball field, but in life.

CODY EPPLEY VISITS VCU

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Former Ram Cody Eppley was on campus yesterday. Mike Voyack managed to catch up with him at the Black and Gold World Series at the Diamond. Eppley just finished his first full season in the Majors with the New York Yankees. The sidearmer made 59 appearances and crafted a 3.33 ERA in 46.0 innings for the Bronx Bombers. Not bad for a 43rd round draft pick.

CLOSING TIME; HAUSER THRIVING IN LATE GAME ROLE

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Blake Hauser, in his first year as VCU’s closer, is 4-1 with 10 saves and a 2.22 ERA.

A curious text message appeared on the phone of VCU Interim Baseball Coach Shawn Stiffler’s recently. It was from a recruit who had one simple burning question: “Can you turn me into Blake Hauser?”

After two underwhelming seasons in VCU uniform, Hauser is thriving this year after converting from starter to closer for the Rams, catching the attention of fans, scouts and recruits alike.

In 26 appearances, the Chesterfield, Va. native has a 4-1 record, 10 saves and a 2.22 ERA. In 28.1 innings, the hard-throwing righty has struck out 54 – an average of more than 17 per nine innings – and allowed just nine hits. If not for 24 walks, his ERA might be microscopic.

But Hauser didn’t get to this point in his career easily. Drafted in the 25th round in 2009 by the Cleveland Indians out of Manchester High School, Hauser instead chose to play for VCU Coach Paul Keyes and the Rams. Armed with an exploding, 95 mile-and-hour fastball, his arrival was met with much fanfare.

It didn’t work out like it was supposed to.

Hauser struggled with his command and posted a 4-4 record with a gaudy 7.07 ERA in 11 games, including 10 starts, as a freshman. As a sophomore he posted a 3-4 record with a 4.65 ERA in 12 appearances, nine of them starts. It was progress, but not the type of performance he or others had envisioned. Frustration set in.

“Not really towards anybody or anything, but at myself,” Hauser said. “I didn’t really contribute as much as I should have. Not even close. And I felt like I could’ve helped the team out and I really didn’t do much, and it was really frustrating.”

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