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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, March 3, 2010

By Bethany Bradsher

Keith LeClair: A life to live by

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

Keith LeClair
(ECU SID Archive Photo)
From the Dugout
Keith LeClair authored a regular column, From the Dugout, on starting in September 2003. He expounded on baseball and its many aspects, ranging from strategy to rivalries to ethical questions. His columns were widely read by the Pirate Nation as well as by fans around the world who were inspired by the life lessons he exemplified. In declining health, LeClair penned 35 columns before deciding in August 2004 to focus his full energies on Bible study, sharing his faith through devotionals and relishing his remaining time with his family. Leclair passed away in July 2006.
View Keith LeClair's From the Dugout Archives.

It’s been a path strewn with priceless memories, grown men’s tears, untold generosity and near-constant reminders of the things that endure far beyond sports. Through the year I spent researching and writing a book about Keith LeClair, I have become a guardian of a story with the power to transform anyone whose life has been interrupted by hardship.

That book, Coaching Third: The Keith LeClair Story, will be available this Friday, and the approach of the release date has given me ample opportunity to reflect on the man so many called “Coach” and the ripples still felt from his extraordinary life.

Last March, after Lynn LeClair agreed to let me undertake this project, I traveled to upstate South Carolina to interview Lynn about her life with Keith. For hours that must have felt longer to her, she unearthed stories and emotions and entrusted them to me. Even J.D. and Audrey, now 12 and 15, agreed to share memories of their dad.

Trips to South Carolina and New Hampshire followed, interspersed with dozens of phone calls and face-to-face interviews.

After talking to 63 people about Keith, I had a rich, colorful portrait of the man, from a New England childhood to college years in Cullowhee to triumphs and trials in Greenville.

I was impressed to become acquainted with the young Keith who grew up in tiny Walpole, NH, and to learn that everyone considered him focused, driven and mature beyond his years. Those are qualities that were completely consistent with the hard-nosed, Omaha-focused coach who took the reins of the Pirate baseball program in 1997.

I talked to the men who were shaped forever because they played on a LeClair team for a year or two. At least a dozen of Keith’s former players from ECU or Western Carolina are now coaching at the collegiate level, and each draws daily inspiration from the coach who showed them how to win through hard work and a relentless pursuit of excellence.

Those stories alone, the ones from his healthy days, would have been enough to set Keith apart. But when he was diagnosed with ALS in 2001, the real measure of the man emerged, and he showed everyone who was watching what it meant to move beyond enduring and to actually thrive as his body deteriorated.

He took stock of his life to that point and realized that baseball had occupied center stage for too long. He started to read his Bible and pray throughout his days, and he spoke to several churches about his refashioned priorities: His Christian faith first, family second, then baseball.

When Keith got the Eyegaze computer that allowed him to communicate with people who visited his home and corresponded via e-mail, he spent hours studying the Bible and writing Christian devotionals that he then sent to friends and former players. Above all, he was compelled to tell others about the hope he had found in Christ and to urge them to follow Him with their whole hearts.

His life was too short, and his death at age 40 still leaves a gaping hole in the lives of his family and close friends. But while Keith’s story is marked by sadness, it is also characterized by laughter in the most surprising places, and lives that will forever be more generous, less petty and more focused on faith because they intersected the journey of Keith LeClair.

For more information about Coaching Third: The Keith LeClair Story, visit

E-mail Bethany Bradsher

Bethany Bradsher Archives

03/03/2010 03:42 AM

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