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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

Balls and Strikes with Tommy Eason

Back in July of 1997 when I got the job at East Carolina, one of the first people I called to fill a spot on our staff was Tommy Eason. He came on board as a graduate assistant working with the catchers and hitters. After one year, when current ECU head coach Randy Mazey left for Tennessee, I moved Coach Eason up as our pitching coach, a position Tommy had never previously coached.

I must say I was a little nervous about the move, but respected Tommy's knowledge of the game and his competitive desire to win.

It's now going on Coach Eason's sixth year as the pitching coach here at ECU, and I regard him as one of the best in all of college baseball. In fact, he is the best kept secret in the country today regarding pitching, and his staff's accomplishments speak for themselves. With very few high school All-Americans on staff, his pitchers have been in the top 16 three out of the last four years in earned run average (ERA). Quite an accomplishment for a guy who six years ago had never coached pitching. That's what you call finding a diamond in the rough.

He has had numerous Pirates go on to pitch professionally and has coached several All-Americans. In fact, Corey Scott, who was on board for the Pirates as a closer, came within one save of the national record of 23 saves in a season.

I had the opportunity to ask Coach Eason some questions. I hope you enjoy our exchange and gain insight into the talented pitching coach Coach Eason has blossomed into in a short period of time. Hopefully throughout the season I can bring you even more questions and answers from coach Eason.

Q & A with Tommy Eason

LeClair: Coach, how has your background as a catcher helped prepare you to be a great pitching coach, and what advantages do catchers have over pitching coaches that just pitched their whole career?

Eason: I appreciate the compliment. I think both types of coaches have advantages and disadvantages. The advantages of being a catcher-pitching coach is probably more mental. As a catcher you are taught — or at least I was — to be aggressive and take control. I also think that I have an open mind about pitching and try to let everyone be themselves. I definitely don't want to clone guys and everyone should have their own style.

Pitcher-pitching coaches usually have set beliefs about pitching. I don't think they are as open-minded and probably teach a lot of the same views as one pitching coach they confided in. Being a catcher, I had to listen and take in numerous pitching coaches' observations and teaching methods my whole life. I think the key is to listen to your players, know their concerns and give them confidence in there pitching abilities.

LeClair: Three of the last four seasons your pitching staffs have finished in the top 16 in earn ERA in the nation. Tell our readers what points of emphasis you stress to your staff?

Eason: Throw strikes and keep the ball down. We have been blessed with a great crop of guys who work hard and trust the system. The pitching staffs have to learn how to pitch at Harrington Field, a hitters park. Once we learn how to pitch here, it's easy to pitch on the road because most of the other collegiate parks are a little bigger.

Also, with the new age bats, I try to emphasize commanding the inside part of the plate. The last 18 inches of a bat are the most explosive, so pitching inside doesn't let batters get comfortable in the batter's box and keeps them from leaning over the plate and making consistent hard contact.

LeClair: Every pitcher is unique in his own way. How do you look at a young pitcher and decide what changes you will have to make?

Eason: Every pitcher has a unique quality. I think the most important thing is to try to find their niche. Once you find it, fine-tuning it is more of the challenge. Bad habits are hard to break and continuous repetition the right way is the only way to overcome such a challenge. Total transformations are few and far between, but sometimes a change of that magnitude is needed. Take Glenn Tucker, a right-handed pitcher whose velocity was 85-86 from a high arm slot, drops down to a low sidearm slot and now throws in the low 90's and has made himself into a prospect in the Atlanta Braves organization.

LeClair: Coach, what really goes unnoticed to the fan is the tremendous job you have done in keeping pitchers healthy. Tell us what program our guys go through to stay injury free.

Eason: It all begins in the training room and weight room. Strength in the core areas of the body are crucial. We put a lot of emphasis on the shoulder; doing exercises, lifting small amounts of weights and a throwing program that fits each individuals needs. Every arm works different so each pitcher dictates how much throwing and when should he throw long or just light toss.

We do a good job of progressing our guys throughout a season. Starting at low pitch counts (70 pitches) and working up to around 100 to 120 by the end of the season. The high pitch counts that a lot of schools get to tend to cause a lot of the arm injuries. We don't do that. We have great depth, so after a pitcher reaches his pitch count, it's time for the next guy to step in and do the job. If we ever do have a sore arm we give them the sufficient amount of time to rehab so that they don't have reoccurring problems. Communication is the key. The relationship between the staff and myself is very open, and I want to know how they feel each day and if a problem occurs, we take care of it.

LeClair: What stat do you put the most emphasis on when looking at a stat sheet?

Eason: I really don't pay a lot of attention to stats other than the win-loss column. The most important stat after the W/L is probably walk to strike-out ratio. We like to keep it to at least 3:1, but different pitching staffs will dictate that.

If the pitching staff is a power staff, the ratio could go up or down depending on the type of control the hard throwers have, and the same goes with a softer throwing staff. The walks will be kept to a minimum, but the strike-outs will be a little less also. If our guys throw strikes and get ahead early in the count, the stats take care of themselves.

LeClair: Last couple of questions. You have a relatively young and new staff this year. How difficult is it to mold individuals into a team staff, accepting roles they may never have done before?

Eason: Good question. The first month of the season will really dictate a lot of this. We are trying to get everyone some work so that we know what roles they will play later. Right now, the situations aren't dictating what pitcher, just whoever we feel needs work. As the season progresses, the situation will dictate the pitcher, as each individual has shown his capabilities in the early spring.

We continuously tell our guys that they dictate the number of innings they get by getting better each time out. We are still waiting for pitchers to step up and make it tough for us not to put them in the game.

LeClair: What is the key for this year's staff to help get the Pirates to Omaha?

Eason: Keeping the game in reach and giving ourselves a chance to win early in the game. We have great depth, and keeping everyone focused throughout a long season is a challenge especially when someone isn't getting a lot time on the mound. As soon as a pitcher feels like he isn't being used a lot, it happens — someone has some soreness and needs some time off and the next guy has to step up. We can't have any let downs, the next guy has to be prepared to step up. We have a great staff, they just have to mature quickly and if they do — Omaha, here we come!

If you have a question or comment about the Pirates in particular or baseball in general, 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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