Eric Cooper didn’t handle adversity very well upon joining the Queens-based Midville Dodgers U18 travel team. After he allowed a hit or an error was committed behind him in the field, few as they may have been, his shoulders sagged and eyes became glossed over.
“As soon as something bad happened,” Dodgers coach Greg Modica said, “you could see the frustration. Everything bothered him.”
The reaction didn’t come out of nowhere. The lanky 6-foot-6 southpaw didn’t win at all his junior year at St. Edmund’s Prep in Brooklyn, the team finishing winless, at 0-17, in the CHSAA’s Brooklyn/Queens division.
Cooper, who also played first base and served as a designated hitter for St. Edmund’s, said it got to the point where he didn’t enjoy going to practice or preparing for games. The team’s confidence lowered with each setback, as did his own.
“We couldn’t put anything together,” he said. “It wasn’t that much fun.”
Cooper, who had previously played for the Joe Torre Panthers, joined Midville this summer at the urging of Modica, whom he had taken pitching lessons from in the fall. When Modica saw his body language sag at the outset, he made it clear to him this would be different.
“We have your back,” Modica told Cooper. “Just focus on what you have to do on the mound.”
After picking up his first victory on the mound, Cooper was greeted by sarcastic applause and back slaps. He kept on winning, racking up a 4-1 record in seven starts, 2.33 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 33 innings pitched this summer. Next week, he will be one of the Dodgers’ primary starters in the NABF World Series in Jackson, Miss.
“It seems like we are just going to another tournament,” he said. “It hasn’t hit me yet. It’s pretty cool.”
Armed with an above-average fastball, curveball and changeup, Cooper has made an impact for a Dodger club that was already stacked with plenty of pitching and has compiled a 30-7-1 record.
“He’s got a bright future,” said Modica, who pitched parts of six professional seasons, two in the San Diego Padres organization. “He’s got the body everybody looks for. He has a nice arm.”
Added Modica: “He’s so much more relaxed now. He understands he can make a mistake.”
Cooper said he is pitching with much more confidence these days. He doesn’t feel like he’s on a tightrope, having to make perfect pitches and limit the opposition to one or two runs.
“We’re going to score runs, we’re going to make the plays in the field,” he said. “We have a good team.”
Next spring will be different, he said, back at St. Edmund’s Prep. But Cooper said this summer has prepared him better for his senior season, which he has begun to look at in an optimistic light.
“I know I’ve improved and I think a bunch of guys I played with have improved,” he said. “I think we’ll be able to put something thing together and get some wins.”