SURVEYING THE LANDSCAPE
Pirate Notebook No. 273
Friday, July 21, 2006
By Denny O'Brien
LeClair legacy puts faith
Keith LeClair rounded third on Monday. I
can only imagine the greeting when the Hall-of-Fame East Carolina baseball
coach sprinted home.
My guess is it was a reception of heavenly
high-fives, a headfirst slide through the pearly gates, and a glorious
home-run trot across streets of gold. But that had to pale in comparison to
that face-to-face meeting with the Head Coach he followed so faithfully
before and during his five-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
The conversation between Maker and His new
masterpiece no doubt was a joyous one. The reward was one that beat any
lucrative Major League deal — an eternal contract with a no-cut guarantee
and home field that puts any baseball cathedral to shame.
This is the prize when you stand in life's
batter's box and take signs from the same Coach that LeClair followed. And
when you face the nastiest pitches of a broken world without wavering, a
sparkling cap of jewels becomes your badge.
That's why today should be one in which the
celebration overshadows any trophy presentation or ticker tape parade.
Because Monday was a day of ultimate triumph, despite the fact that we had
to experience a loss.
This week has been one in which we all
reflected on our most indelible memories about the legacy LeClair leaves at
East Carolina. Those include the unrivaled accomplishments of his teams on
the diamond, as well as the courageous battle he waged against ALS and the
strong faith in God that fueled his fight.
On the field, LeClair proved that success
at East Carolina didn’t have to be contained by a ceiling, or by the
parameters in which the Pirates were placed by outside forces. Despite the
stiff challenges everyone acknowledges, excuses never were used as a crutch
for his team’s failure to achieve.
That’s because ECU won under LeClair. It
won big. And it won despite the fact that its venue hardly compared to the
local Babe Ruth facility on which many of the players he recruited once
An inadequate Harrington Field meant any
series against other baseball bullies would be staged on unfriendly turf. It
also meant that two No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament would displace the
Pirates in the Bayou, while another would temporarily relocate them in
Wilson and Kinston.
LeClair took an East Carolina program that
already was respectable and made it a national contender. He did it in a
conference that, while solid, hardly received any regional recognition, let
alone on a national scale.
He leaped over the geographic disadvantage
that many labeled too high to hurdle. The Pirates not only matched up to the
in-state contingent from the ACC, they surpassed them to the point that
LeClair became the face of college baseball in North Carolina.
So much so that the supply of tickets to
ECU home games often couldn’t meet the demand. Not to mention the fact that
the overflow herd of fans that grazed the Jungle created a hostile
environment for opposing teams that was rivaled by few.
LeClair also became the lasting thread that
gave East Carolina’s constituency a common bond at a time when an internal
power struggle nearly severed the ranks completely. Though many within the
tightly knit fan base were forced to choose sides in the fall during that
tense period, the spring provided a cease fire during which it could again
East Carolina's baseball program overcame
these deficiencies because LeClair had a vision that belied the clichés that
most in his scenario almost certainly would have embraced.
This wasn’t about winning records or
postseason appearances. ECU’s mission from day one was a destination that
few previously considered.
East Carolina has made it to the doorsteps
of the College World Series twice because LeClair dared to dream. He dared
to envision ECU as a national power that called one of the nation’s finest
baseball palaces home.
LeClair taught East Carolina that it can
succeed at a level that many have long insisted it can’t. He also taught its
constituents to have faith through even the most difficult of circumstances.
That is just one of the many gifts LeClair
so generously gave us during his 40 years. But it's not the greatest. That
distinction would be the living example that he provided, one in which his
talk was backed firmly by his walk.
LeClair didn't carve the perfect path for
us to take through life's twisting journey. What he did was provide an
incredible reminder of the right one to follow.
Take it, and there's no question about
where it leads. That's what LeClair would have you remember the most.
an e-mail message to Denny O'Brien.
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02/23/2007 02:03:11 AM