NEWS, NOTES &
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
By Bethany Bradsher
Diamond Bucs gearing up for
They play a game that inspired the moniker “the
boys of summer,” but college baseball players often practice in climates
better suited to a Winter Olympics pursuit, especially in the preseason.
With these mild January temperatures, though,
the Diamond Bucs and their new coach have been given a break. They hope it’s
a good sign as they set their sights on the warmth of Omaha in June.
“Fortunately, the weather’s baseball weather,”
Billy Godwin, who succeeded Randy Mazey as East Carolina's head coach
in October. “That’s been a blessing. Just last week, we were able to get in
five very quality days in the first week of practice.”
With eight seniors and 15 letterwinners
returning, the Pirates are taking their first steps toward improving their
35-26 record and extending their streak to eight consecutive NCAA tournament
appearances. The emphasis during the offseason was on boosting conditioning
and sharpening fundamentals, Godwin said, and he is already seeing the
fruits of that regimen on the practice field.
“The offseason was really where we were able to
lay the groundwork,” Godwin said. “We have seen guys get a lot better from
were they were in team practice (in the fall) to now. We really feel like
the guys have come back in great shape.”
The season opener against Maryland is just over
two weeks away on Feb. 10, but at this point Godwin and his staff are going
through the paces of daily plans and trying not to look too hard at the
schedule. There’s a handful of clichés — building a foundation, it’s not a
sprint but a marathon — that are tired but all too true for a team looking
down a four-month road.
And that journey won’t allow much time for
coasting. The baseball Pirates are certainly the only ECU team whose
schedule includes two of the past three NCAA champions (Cal State-Fullerton
and Rice) and a Conference USA lineup that features some of the perennial
powers in the sport.
It will be their first full season at
Clark-LeClair Stadium, the venue that has been comfortably broken in but
still has a touch of that new-car smell. And the Pirates will have ample
opportunity to test the advantage of their home field — their first 15 games
and two-thirds of all of their contests will be played in Clark-LeClair.
The opening of the baseball season will be
heralded this weekend at the annual “Meet the Pirates” luncheon, which sold
out all 390 tickets five days before the event. The lunch, which will
feature an autograph session with players and coaches, is always popular but
didn’t sell out last year, said Robin Taylor of the ECU sports marketing
I know that Pitt County follows its college
baseball team with exceptional fervor, but Saturday’s sold-out event led me
to conduct an informal poll of the Pirates’ first five opponents to learn
whether the enthusiasm surrounding the ECU dugouts is unusual.
Sports information employees at the first three
schools I contacted — Maryland, College of Charleston and Duke — said that
no events would be held to usher in the baseball season. In a reversal of
the Pirates’ fortunes, the Maryland Terrapins have to play their first 10
games on the road, said a Maryland media relations representative, and a
schedule like that dampens the excitement of a preseason fan event.
Penn State’s baseball booster club, the Dugout
Club, is organizing a luncheon, and UNC-Wilmington has the most headline
punch with its fourth annual Spring Training Baseball Banquet on Friday
night. The speaker will be Grady Little, the former Red Sox manager who was
recently named the skipper of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In recent years, the UNCW banquet has brought in
two World Series champion managers — Jack McKeon from the 2003 Florida
Marlins and Terry Francona from the 2004 Red Sox. Friday’s dinner isn’t sold
out yet, said Tom Riordan at UNCW, but the seats are filling fast even
though the ticket price — $50 — makes ECU’s $7 lunch look like a steal.
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