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East Carolina Hall of Famer and
former baseball coach Keith LeClair.
 (Photo: ECU Media Relations)

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Editor's note: This feature
coordinated by Denny O'Brien.


From The Dugout

By Keith LeClair

Pitch for pitch with Nick Schnabel

I thought this week readers would enjoy hearing from one of our own former great Pirates, Nick Schnabel, who is currently on Coach Randy Mazey's staff at East Carolina.

Many of you probably remember watching Nick play on the great 1999 and 2000 teams as the second baseman and number two hitter.

In all my years of coaching, Nick Schnabel was the best defensive player I have coached or played against. He had the softest and quickest release, and that allowed him to do about anything with a baseball. Later you will find out how he developed those hands.

After playing two years with the Pirates, Nick was drafted by the Montreal Expos and went on to play four years in their minor league system. I asked Nick some questions that I think a lot of fans would be interesting in hearing, so sit back and enjoy Nick Schnabel's reflection on his professional baseball career:

Q. Having experienced playing professional baseball for almost four years, what was the biggest difference between pro ball and college baseball?

A. Playing at East Carolina, the goal was to get to Omaha. That's why we played so that the team would succeed. In pro ball every one wants to move up the ladder. They play for themselves rather than the team.

Q. Explain the difference in mentally preparing to play a 142-game professional schedule versus a 56-game collegiate one.

A. You really have to take everything in stride. Not getting too high or to low. It's a long season and you have to realize you're going to have some peaks and valleys.

Q. How big of an adjustment is it for college players going from aluminum bats to wood?

A. It's a big adjustment. That's why I feel that summer ball played with wooden bats is so important for these college guys. A lot of those "jam shots" or balls off the end of the bat are going to be outs rather than bloop base hits.

Q. Do you think college baseball should switch back to wooden bats?

A. Yes. But it will never happen. Everyone wants to see the long ball. You put a wooden bat in some of these college guys' hands and scoring would go way down. Then you would have to play some real baseball, bunting, stealing bags, hit and run.

Q. Everyone talks about the adjustment college players have to make in swinging wood, but as a second baseman what types of things did you have to learn concerning the pivot? We all know middle guys are protected in college, but in pro ball you're fair game.

A. I was fortunate enough to learn at a fairly young age to hop and get out of the runner's way. On close double plays, I came across the bag, clearing myself as I caught the ball. I had pretty good hands, which helped me get the ball off to first base pretty quick. I got hit a few times, but I was in the air, allowing me to take a bruise rather than a torn knee ligament.

Q. Take us through a season where you were moved up and down about seven times. How tough is it to adjust to the different managers and styles in the mid stream of a season?

A. It was pretty tough moving seven times. Looking back on it, I'm glad it happened. I played with some awesome guys and learned more that season than any other. I had Tommy John as a coach. What a great experience! It wasn't tough adjusting to the managers. They knew what they were getting from me, they knew what kind of player I was. My game didn't change. I showed up and got after it regardless of my manager.

Q. Did you find managers having the same goals as the players in trying to make it to the big leagues? How do managers balance out trying to win, but more importantly develop players?

A. Yes and no. A few managers I had wanted to move up and eventually manage in the big leagues. But some were content with where they were at, helping younger guys get there.

Q. Now that you're coaching at ECU, how different is it than playing?

A. It's a little different. But I feel good out there. I always knew that I wanted to coach so the transition has been smooth. You're still competing out there and that's something that won't go away.

Q. What would you advise an 18-year old kid drafted out of high school thinking about signing to play professional baseball?

A. If you're not going to get enough money to set yourself up for life, go to college. I can't tell you how many kids I've played with that signed for $20,000 that got released two years later. Now they have no education, can't play in college, and probably no money left. Pro ball is a grind, you had better be ready not only physically but mentally.

Q. Do you think the game has changed at all over the last ten years.

A. I think the emphasis on the long ball and scoring a bunch of runs has taken over. You see less attention given to defense and the little things — bunting, stealing bases. Although I find it interesting looking at the current world champs, a team that played good defense and did all the little things.

Q. OK, I am putting you on the spot. How bad is steroid use in the game today?

A. Bad!!! Minors on up. It's almost like if you haven't taken steroids there is something wrong with you. Organizations know their players are using. That's a fact, but they don't care. The "do whatever it takes" approach is where players are at today. Because if you don't, you might be out of a job.

Q. Can MLB do anything to stop it?

A. They could try to test everyone, but the players' union would not agree to that. I think the fact is they don't want to. Take away all those home runs, do you think those stadiums sell out? Do you think television ratings would be as high? No way. Not to mention the fan backlash if they found out most of the position guys are on the juice.

Q. You're commissioner for one day. What would you do to the game, as far as making any changes?

A. That's a tough question. I don't really know. I wouldn't change the Pete Rose ban like Selig might do.

Q. Tell the readers what your HS coach made you do to have better hands.

A. Juggle. If you can juggle and get good at it, you can catch a ground ball and react to funny hops. Get away from the video games, go outside and throw a ball off the wall until it gets dark. Practice!

Q. Last question. What was your greatest ECU moment in baseball.

A. This is my favorite question because I have so many great memories from 1999 and 2000. I would have to say scoring the winning run in the conference tournament against VCU. It epitomized one of Coach Leclair's teams —play hard all game, fight and claw until it is over.

Fire your best pitch at Ol' Condo: Sound off to Coach LeClair...

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02.23.07 10:27 AM


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