In the 4o year history of the USF baseball team, there have only been four coaches. Herbert “Beefy” Wright, Jack Butterfield and Hall of Famer Robin Roberts. And in 1983, Roberts hired a fresh kid — at the time St. Leo’s baseball head coach — who, less than three years later on June 24, 1985, took over the reins of the program and has stayed at the helm for the past 20 years.
This 50-year-old St. Petersburg Beach native has skippered the team in more than half of the games the USF baseball program has ever played, taken the team to nine postseason appearances, been a conference coach of the year five times, sent 69 former Bulls players to the majors and in 1994 did something no other team could do — beat Miami at home, snapping the Hurricanes’ 22-game home streak.
This traditional coach holds just about every coaching record there is for USF: most wins in a season (52 in 1986), games coached (1,179), most NCAA tournament appearances (nine) and highest ranking when the team was No. 1 in 1989.
Recently, coach Cardieri sat down with Oracle Sports Editor Mike Camunas to give his take on dance moves, steroids and Congress, his legacy at USF and, of course, the game itself.
Oracle: You’ve been here over 20 years. How long do you plan on staying?
Eddie Cardieri: As long as (USF) will have me and as long as the good Lord will bless me with my health. There’s always a certain age where you look at retirement and know what those rules are really. 30 years, 62, 65. I don’t know. That’s way too long down the road for me to look but you know, as long as they’ll have me.
O: You’re only 50, you’re still a young guy.
EC: We’ll I think so, but (my players) think I’m an old man.
O: So what keeps you at USF? What gets up you up every morning, year in and year out?
EC: It’s a great place to work. I’m kind of like (USF football coach Jim) Leavitt; in fact that this is my hometown, I’m from St. Pete Beach. My entire family is here. The university has just grown to unbelievable proportions. Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen unimaginable growth and all the progress we’ve made as an athletic department. And we just try to be the best we can be as an athletic program.
O: What’s your fondest memory you can think of?
EC: Ah, there’s been so many. Oh, probably the conference championships, the regional appearances, some of the bigger wins. I couldn’t really put my finger on one of them, but a good one was the day I was hired here, and that was 23 years ago to be Robin Roberts’ assistant. That was one of the happiest days of my life, aside from marrying my wife and having my children. But you forgot to ask me what the worst moment was.
O: Alright, tell me when that was?
EC: In the 1996 regionals. We lost to Florida in Gainesville in a fourteen-inning match and in my opinion, the winner was walking all the way to Omaha that year. Hands down, that was the worst moment I can think of.
O: Sounds like it. Speaking of your kids (Nick and Joel) have you always been their coach?
EC: No, I never have. I’ve talked to them about baseball and worked with them, but I’ve never actually been their coach.
O: What still gets you excited about coming out here and playing everyday? Is it putting on the jersey or just walking out onto the field?
EC: I love the games. I love seeing the players everyday. Like you said, putting the uniform on. (Tuesday) we’re playing Kent State. Doesn’t matter who we’re playing, I just really enjoy the ballgames.
O: Going to Hawaii this years helps, too, right?
EC: It took us a long time to get there, and it just worked out in a great way.
O: Who plays Eddie Cardieri in the Eddie Cardieri movie?
EC: Kevin Costner.
O: (Laughs) He’s always a baseball player.
EC: Yeah, he has all those aspects and has more experience in baseball movies than anyone.
O: Which one of his baseball movies is your favorite?
EC: Bull Durham. There are too many good lines in that one. (Laughs)
O: What’s the best baseball nickname you’ve ever been given or ever heard?
EC: I’ve never been given (one) because everyone just calls me EC. But the best one I have ever heard has to be Scrap Iron.
O: Who was named Scrap Iron?
EC: (Former major league infielder) Phil Gardner. Scrap Iron. Because he was such a scrappy player, you know?
O: So do you look at Tampa and still consider it a baseball town?
EC: I think it’s a great baseball town. We have the Devil Rays, we have the Yankees with their spring training, and you can also drive 30 minutes to an hour and hit any big-league spring training camp. High school baseball is great in this area. I think it’s a great baseball town.
O: You like being that hometown hero?
EC: Yes, but I wouldn’t consider myself a hero. The guys who fight in the wars for us, they’re my heroes.
O: But you favor those players from around here. There’s a lot of guys on the team from around here.
EC: There’s so much talent around here that we don’t have to go far from home to recruit, but there is a lot of competition for that talent. Especially from SEC teams.
O: Will you ever read Juiced?
EC: No. Number one, I don’t read a lot of books. I’m working on one right now, it’s called the Bible and it’ll probably take me the rest of my life, and number two, while I’m glad these (steroids) are out in the open, and in the long run will bring about a lot of needed changes, I just don’t have a lot of respect for the guy who did it (Jose Canseco). That’s my personal opinion, and no more than that.
O: You think Congress should stay out of it?
EC: No. Baseball has had a chance to do some things on their own, and I don’t think the results have been very good. If it takes an act of Congress, than that’s what it takes.
O: So you’re reading the Good Book, how do you think it will end?
EC: (Laughs) It’ll never end. It’ll just continue to teach you life-learning type lessons, and it’s funny how much of it you can apply to baseball.
O: You have to be honest, are you a Devil Rays fan?
EC: Yes. I don’t root for anyone like a die-hard fan, like a Yankees fan. But I really enjoy going to the Trop and enjoy the game. I know a lot of people complain about the stadium, but I really enjoy going there to watch games. And I know (GM) Chuck LaMar, and (coach) Lou Piniella, and (pitching coach) Chucky Hernandez. I enjoy watching them all.
O: Can’t beat the air condition during a June afternoon game.
EC: It’s comfortable. Comfortable way to watch a game. Different, but comfortable.
O: What would you rather have for dinner: Steak or pasta?
O: You, an Italian, wouldn’t want pasta?
EC: I like pasta. My mom’s sauce is the best, but I love a good steak. My favorite food is stone crab claws, though.
O: You’re making me hungry. Who from baseball would you like to have that dinner with?
EC: Pete Rose. The way he played baseball, everyone should play like that. He was the best.
O: Alright, singing or dancing?
EC: Dance. I’m a terrible singer and I like dancing when no one else is around.
O: Do you consider yourself lucky?
EC: Sometimes. No, I am very lucky One of my sons is the manager, he’s redshirted and the other is injured right now. I tell these guys are very lucky because we are physically able to come out and compete and I think God. I thank him every night.