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Pirate Notebook No. 53
Wednesday, February 20, 2002

By Denny O'Brien
Staff Writer and Columnist

Location Ripens ECU for Baseball Dynasty

[ Jump to 'Heists Not a Part of Logan Recruiting Strategy' ]


Since Kevin McMullan joined Keith LeClair's East Carolina baseball staff prior to the 2000 season, the Pirates have accomplished many of the goals they set out to achieve on the diamond.

During McMullan's first year, ECU claimed the CAA tournament title en route to earning an NCAA number one seed, eventually falling just one game shy of a Super Regional appearance. The Pirates followed that by capturing their third-consecutive top seed last season, this time advancing one step further by hosting Tennessee in the Super Regionals in Kinston.

McMullan, however, didn't leave St. John's to stock up on conference titles and regional appearances. The Dumont, NJ, native actively pursued the ECU vacancy largely due to a vision he shared with LeClair — a College World Series berth.

It's a vision the 34-year-old assistant coach had three years before landing in Greenville.

"In 1997, I came down here as a coach with St. John's," McMullan said. "Eddie Blankmeyer was the (St. John's) head coach, and I was the recruiting guy.

"But when we came down here to play East Carolina, I said 'This place is awesome — this place could get there.' When we left, I said to Eddie (Blankmeyer), 'If we were here, we would be in Omaha in ten years. Guaranteed.' This is a great site, beautiful town, great school, and a fair facility from what we were used to up north."

That was just his preliminary observation during the Red Storm's brief stay Down East. Nonetheless, it was enough to strike within him an interest in the East Carolina baseball program, one which he perceived as having a tremendous upside.

Now that he has spent two banner-winning seasons in purple and gold, McMullan can offer a more well-informed opinion about the reason for ECU's success, which has been matched by few programs over the last three seasons.

"When you look at Greenville, North Carolina, and Eastern North Carolina, this really is a tremendous baseball area," he said. "People really are passionate about the sport of baseball.

"And when (Coach) LeClair came in and said from day one that Omaha was the goal, I think that raised everybody's consciousness in this area even more. Then, in those first two years when we went to the regionals, it exploded."

But even before LeClair took over the Pirate program, Eastern North Carolina had a fervor for America's favorite past time. The evidence was in the youth leagues across the east, from the Little League to Babe Ruth levels, all the way up to high school and Legion ball.

While East Carolina was solidifying itself as a football school, Greenville, much like other communities in the eastern part of the state, remained a baseball town. At all levels, Greenville teams were successful on the diamond, largely due to good athletes, top-notch facilities, and quality instruction, not to mention strong local backing.

"That's the thing," McMullan said. "People are just passionate about baseball in this area. The community is involved, and if you can put a good product out there where you're doing things the right way, people are going to get behind it and support it."

The region's affinity for baseball has made McMullan's job as recruiting coordinator almost a cinch. He doesn't have to look far and wide to pluck diamonds in the rough, with the fertile recruiting grounds blooming in his backyard.

The ECU roster is now filled with Greenville products — eight to be exact. Two of those — seniors Bryant Ward and Clayton McCullough — are everyday starters who should figure strategically into the Pirates' success this season.

The pitching staff, too, is anchored by local talent. Goldsboro native Sam Narron has baseball in his blood and is a pre-season All-America pick. Greenville's Will Brinson matched Narron's pre-season honor and provides the Pirates with another capable starter to go along with his dominate presence out of the bullpen.

Even with the region's concentrated talent pool, McMullan acknowledges the need to occasionally look afar to fill specific needs. In doing so, McMullan often sells the region's laid-back atmosphere and the burgeoning prestige of ECU as an institution.

"Once you get here, people are friendly," he said. "You've got a beautiful school that is well taken care of that has a very good academic program."

Such qualities helped lure JUCO All-America short stop Luke Cherry all the way from the West Coast, where he hit a stout .425 last year at Chabot College. This season, Cherry combines with center fielder Warren Gaspar to give the Pirates a California connection and solid defense up the middle.

Soon, McMullan hopes to add another tool to entice potential recruits, as East Carolina is in the midst of its stadium fundraising campaign. The new facility promises to be state-of-the-art, enabling the Pirates to pack more people into seats, while providing an attractive site for hosting future tournament appearances.

In the meantime, McMullan urges his targets to investigate the Pirates' pros and cons and to fully weigh their options. It's a strategic recruiting tactic, he says, one that usually pays off.

"We tell all our kids to do their research on us, as we do our research on them'" he said. "Once they do, I think they'll find out that Greenville is a place you can go and play for a national championship.

"It can happen here. You know why? Because it is a crazy, passionate baseball community."

It's the type of community that could eventually push East Carolina over the hump — from perennial regional power to NCAA baseball dynasty.

Heists Not a Part of Logan Recruiting Strategy   [ Jump to Top of Page ]

Perhaps the greatest signing day heist this year was the one that resulted in the sudden reversal of fortune between North Carolina and N.C. State.

On the eve of football recruiting's big day, Carolina head coach John Bunting hit the sack with the secure knowledge that Parade All-America defensive back A.J. Davis soon would wear powder blue and white. What the Tar Heels' first-year head coach didn't know was that his class gem was being crooned by rival coach Chuck Amato, who belted out an Italian-tinged rendition of the classic Dean Martin hit, "Return to Me."

Though Amato doesn't boast the best set of pipes, that last-minute lullaby proved effective. The next morning, Davis faxed his pledge to Raleigh instead of Chapel Hill, causing Heels fans to seethe and make accusations that their leader was sleeping on the job.

Such drama rarely exists in the East Carolina football office in the waning hours before signing day. What's more, you're unlikely to find head coach Steve Logan at the center of a recruiting coup de tat, nor feverishly pleading his case to a blue-chip glamour boy.

"The number one attribute, the number one value, the number one characteristic I'm looking for in a kid is he wants to be here," Logan said. "We don't beg them to come here.

"I want a young man that wants to be here, and he'll play his heart out. One of the characteristics that all the coaches that we play against say is, 'How do you get the kids to play so hard?' The answer is, it starts right now."

Logan, unlike many in his profession, isn't in the business of stroking egos, which are often inflated during the recruiting process. The nation's top guns are promised everything from immediate playing time to starting jobs by some suitors, which can lead to sudden defections if coaches don't deliver on such promises.

Thus, you won't find Logan blowing smoke at prospects.

"Everyone of those kids that signed that national letter of intent, none of them were recruited from the standpoint of 'We've gotta have you, you're the greatest player I've ever seen, we can't get along without you,'" Logan said. "We don't do that.

"We lay it all out there, and we give them a very short period of time to tell us yes or no. If he elongates, we're gone — we're out. I want a young man that really wants to be here. I think that's been a strength for us."

Such a philosophy has instilled both loyalty and a rather unique sense of pride within the ECU football program.

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02/23/2007 01:45:47 AM

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