Cards' Matheny delivers message to ailing college team

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JUPITER, Fla. (AP) A half-hour before St. Louis took the field for an exhibition against Florida Atlantic University, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny walked across the field and into the visitors' dugout.

He wanted to shake some hands and deliver a message to Florida Atlantic players.

''Just let them know we appreciate what they are doing and wish them luck the rest of the way, and also acknowledge the fact that they've got some stuff that they're going through and just try to encourage them to stay by each other and walk through that stuff,'' Matheny said.

FAU earned an NCAA tournament berth last year. What followed, however, shook the Owls.

Coach John McCormack's father, a fixture at FAU's ballpark for more than 20 years, died in his sleep the summer after the Owls were eliminated from the Gainesville Regional.

A couple months later, McCormack learned he needed surgery to remove a tumor in his cheek caused by neuroendocrine cancer. The aftereffects of radiation treatment and chemotherapy, which McCormack completed days before the start of spring practice, forced him to miss FAU's season-opening trip to Mississippi State and caused him to arrive later than his team did on Wednesday.

In November, doctors diagnosed starting catcher Kevin Abraham with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Abraham is taking a semester off from school to get treatment.

Abraham threw out the ceremonial first pitch on Friday prior to the Owls' home opener, then said the cancer is in remission and he hopes to play baseball again.

''I know the story with John over there,'' Matheny said. ''His team is going through a tough time. It was just an opportunity to thank them. They're in the middle of their season. They got off to a good start.''

Matheny spoke with McCormack for a couple of minutes before addressing the Owls.

''It was awesome,'' said McCormack, who earned his 250th victory as the Owls coach on Sunday. ''He was a great guy. I've always heard good things about him. He was fantastic. He just told the team that, `I heard you guys are playing well. Keep it up. We'll be following you.'''

The Owls are 7-0 in college play. They led St. Louis until a 12-run burst in the eighth inning gave the Cardinals a 13-6 win.

FAU players said they appreciated Matheny's talk.

''He just spoke about how Kevin's situation can bring us closer,'' first baseman Esteban Puerta said. ''He nailed it. That's really what's going on.''

Matheny also entertained, offering a humorous explanation as to why the Cardinals' Wednesday lineup was devoid of major league regulars.

''One of the funny comments was, `I'm not starting my starters because I heard that y'all are pretty good and I can't risk that,''' FAU center fielder Billy Endris relayed. ''We were all laughing.''