There seemed to be only one way to truly send out the seniors on Ohio State’s baseball team.
Give everyone a lei.
At least, that’s what Nanci Coolen thought. The mother of senior first baseman Bo Coolen thought the best way to honor her son would be to bring some of his home state culture up to him. She said lei are given out for everything just like “giving a birthday card for a birthday gift” for everything from weddings, retirements, birthdays or graduations.
She had to order them all only a couple days in advance because as real lei, made from purple orchid, they would wilt after too long.
So she bought 30 lei and had them all shipped to Columbus. A lei for each player, mother, coach and coach’s wife. It wasn’t enough just to have one for the players and coaches. After all, it wasn’t just Senior Day for Ohio State. It was Mother’s Day.
“Oh it’s perfect,” Demi Coolen, Nanci’s daughter said. “Two birds, one stone, our whole family gets to be together and celebrate both of their days.”
Ohio State made sure to celebrate both days in style, sending Bo and his family out happy with a dominant 16-6 win against Purdue to give the Buckeyes the series victory and clinch a spot in the Big Ten tournament.
It’s a particularly special day for the whole family. Nanci, a P.E. and health teacher at Punahou School, has been in Columbus since March — she’s lived in a pair of AirBnBs during her three-month stay — finishing up work on a sabbatical while Bo plays for Ohio State. Bob, her husband, has been back in Honolulu, Hawaii, coaching the Hawaii softball team and Demi has been working as an engineer for Boeing.
It’s the first time the whole family has been together since Christmas.
“It’s just great because we don’t always get to be together,” Nanci said. “But for that to happen on Mother’s Day in Columbus, to culminate, the whole thing is amazing. And then we’re actually going after the game to Eddie George’s [Grille] because that’s where they took him on his recruiting trips, so full circle and we haven’t been yet.”
“Let’s get a hit here, Bo-Bo!” Nanci screams from her picnic table down the third base-line as her son steps into the batter’s box in the third inning of Sunday’s game, her last chance to watch her son play at Bill Davis Stadium.
This isn’t something unusual for Bo, a role player with a .209 batting average in 29 games, and he said he’s gotten used to it. In fact, he welcomes it.
She was only able to attend two of his games during his first year at Ohio State in 2017 after he transferred from Cypress College. He said after a year watching the other players greet their mothers down the sideline after the games ended, it was a comforting feeling to have her there because “I got to go hug someone.”
She did not always welcome him with hugs though. Other times, he was met with critiques.
After starting Wednesday against Campbell, Coolen came away hitless with an 0-for-3 night. As he was leaving with senior designated hitter and fellow Cypress College transfer Noah McGowan, Bo said his mother had some things to say. She questioned why he took so many pitches during his at-bats.
“Mom, it was a good pitch, I don’t know what you want me to do,” Bo recalled saying.
“Well, I want you swinging at everything whether it’s a strike or not,” she responded. Since then, Bo said he has taken a much more aggressive approach to the plate.
As a coach’s wife and former softball player, Nanci is no stranger to providing this type of feedback. Bob said she is often hanging around the Hawaii softball team, not just providing them with someone to talk with for life advice, but someone to talk with about the game. Bob said she has helped inspire in his players a mental toughness that he often has trouble relaying.
“She becomes not a mother-figure, but a real figure for the young ladies that I have that they can talk to her and she’s so chipper and cheery and positive and it just was tough not having her around for my whole season,” Bob said. “She was there in Vegas when we played and we did well, we ended up going 5-2 and then after that it went all downhill.”
Moving to Columbus from Hawaii in March, Nanci had a bit of an adjustment period.
March in Hawaii is warm weather. Surely, Columbus couldn’t be too much worse, right?
So Nanci came without any big jackets, assuming that whatever cold she might be initially greeted with would change before too long.
It did not.
Bo had warned her. “Mom, the heavier the better,” he remembered telling her. Without any winter clothing, Nanci was forced to borrow some of Bo’s until eventually she went with him to buy “some puffy coats” and “some real winter boots,” Bo said.
But the one thing Nanci enjoyed about the weather that she hadn’t seen much in Hawaii was a real change of season. The transition from the winter to the spring was fun to watch, she said.
“I saw the leaves come up and the green and all of that,” Nanci said. “It’s just been fabulous.”
Still, Nanci has tried to go out and enjoy all the city has to offer. And that “big-city element” was one of the biggest reasons Bo wanted to come to Ohio State. She said he never wanted to go to a small school. He wanted to go to a big school that had a football team and where he could really enjoy the college experience.
He didn’t get that in his first year at Pepperdine, so his mom advised him to go to junior college and try for a bigger school. That sophomore year when he was being recruited by other schools, Bo received offers from plenty of smaller schools. She said he continued to put off his decision until eventually Ohio State sent an offer his way.
She remembers him saying that it was his “perfect dream school.”
But for the family, it meant Bo would be much farther away from home. This was sort of the expectation, Nanci said. Most kids from Hawaii leave for the mainland at some point. She had already gone through it once with Demi leaving for the University of Southern California and Bo had already spent two years on the mainland.
This would be the furthest from home he had been, however. Bo said it’s a three-stop process to get to Columbus from Hawaii: fly six hours to California, another three to Chicago or Texas and then a couple more hours to Columbus. In total, Nanci said it’s about $1,000 to fly one person to and from Hawaii.
One time, Nanci tried to shorten the number of stops Bo had to make on his return trip home. She had him go from Columbus to Newark, New Jersey, and then straight to Honolulu.
That flight from Newark was 12 1/2 hours.
“Don’t ever do that again,” Bo told his mom.
When Senior Day finally arrived, Bo had started to catch on about his mother’s planned surprise. He had seen the package arrive earlier and remarked on its odd shape, at the time, not 100 percent sure what exactly it held.
On Sunday morning, he finally saw what the mysterious package held in store: those colorful circles to celebrate his final home game at Ohio State.
“As soon as I saw her holding all of them, I was like, ‘Wow’ because it felt like senior day back in Hawaii with all the leis,” Bo said.
The ceremony itself was surreal, Nanci said. She had been to so many for the Hawaii softball players, so she knew what it would be like. But she couldn’t believe the one for her son had finally arrived . She couldn’t believe her son, whom she would make wear a helmet even during tee-ball, was preparing to graduate from college.
Two years ago, Bo went to Eddie George’s Grille for dinner with the Ohio State coaching staff while head coach Greg Beals recruited him to transfer from junior college. He committed on the spot.
Now, after Bo finished Senior Day with the win, the family will again head out to that same restaurant to celebrate Mother’s Day. Just like that day, he plans to order a buffalo chicken sandwich. He will recommend his mom do the same.
It will all come full circle for Nanci.