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

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From The Dugout

By Keith LeClair

Pirates battle foes and polls

I was stunned the other day when Collegiate Baseball put out its poll and East Carolina stayed at No. 28 after going 4-0 and beating four quality opponents. After fighting the polls for five years as a Pirates coach, I can now speak my mind without suffering any consequences.

I do know Coach Mazey has to remain politically correct on the subject so he doesn't ruffle any poll voters who could hurt ECU. But hopefully I can at least express my opinion.

For some time now, East Carolina University has been one of the top 25 programs in the country — year in and year out — but often is left behind in some of the polls. Notice I did not say all polls, because some have been very fair to us over the years. In fact, for two years, I was one of 40 coaches who voted in the Baseball Weekly poll and I can honestly say I did it objectively and fairly.

I hear and read comments regarding the polls such as, "Its not where your ranked now, but where you are at the end of year," which I have often said myself during my coaching career.

But to be honest, the polls do have some input as to where your program is heading.

For example, recruiting becomes so much easier when you can tell a kid, "Hey, we are ranked 14th nationally in Baseball America," versus spending 30 minutes trying to sell your program on a kid who may know very little about ECU. It also allows you to go head-to-head on some of the top prospects in your home state and across the country.

Believe me, kids read the polls and want to play for a top 25 program. Hey, first impressions are big when you meet a girl and the same holds true in recruiting.

Another way in which polls can help your program is in attendance and hosting NCAA Regionals. You will have folks around town that may not come to a game all year until they pick up the paper and see ECU is ranked No. 14. Now, all of a sudden their curiosity wants to check these guys out with their little son Johnny. Bam, ten more bucks into the program and a couple of more seats in the stands to attract the NCAA for a regional site.

This is so important in hosting regional tournaments. If two teams from the same area are neck-and-neck in the bidding, who do you think the NCAA committee will choose? That's right, the one that will fill up the stadium.

Last but not least, being ranked is the best and cheapest marketing tool a university has. These polls go out to every paper in the country and national exposure is priceless, especially nowadays with the realignment of conferences so prevalent. That's why it's important to be ranked.

I guess when I saw the Collegiate Baseball top 25 poll last week and we were sitting at No. 28, it angered me — because deep down, I know the significance it can have on your program.

I will say that polls do not necessarily get you into the NCAA tournament. When tournament time comes and decisions are made on who goes and stays home, the RPI (ratings percentage index) plays a major role in these decisions. It's a formula used that takes in account your strength of schedule; your opponents; road wins versus top 50 clubs; home wins and losses versus the top 50; and a whole lot more. It is a very thorough formula that is by no means perfect, but it does take out some of the politics that can take place.

What I have learned over the years is that your schedule plays a major role in your RPI standings at the end of the year. That's why last year Houston was ranked so high with a large number of losses. Losing to a quality opponent does not hurt you nearly as bad as would a 200-ranked RPI team. It is also the reason northern schools have a complaint about the RPI system, because it is very difficult for most schools up north to play the schedule southern schools do and ultimately this is what hurts their RPI.

But for now, the system works better than anything else we have tried and it really would work well if we decided to push the season back.

Well, that's my reasons for the importance of polls. By the way, ECU has an RPI of 13 in Boyd's rating system, which is basically the same RPI used by the NCAA. It's just not official.

Hey, let's make Omaha our final marketing job for the year and on to a national championship. Take that Collegiate Baseball. Maybe we will meet College of Charleston in the finals.

Chad Tracy: "The Natural"

Chad is off to a torrid start for the AAA Tucson team. He is hitting over .520 through six games and has already hit two game-winning bombs. One, I may add, was a grand slam.

But the best stat of all is that Chad already has two stolen bases. Not bad since he did not have one all of last year. Folks, it won't be long now until you see Chad in "The Show." Just don't get impatient.

The Diamondbacks are doing the right thing allowing him to play everyday in AAA versus sitting on the bench being Randy Johnson's gopher boy. When the time is right, he will be ready and that's the most important thing.

Give Bonds his due

Love him or hate him, Barry Bonds is one of the all-time greatest players.

Whether he did steroids or not, I have no idea. But what I do know is these kind of players come around once in a lifetime.

Nobody strikes fear on the opposing team like this guy does — not since Babe Ruth, at least. He most likely will break Hank Aaron's home run record within two or three years and go down as one of the greatest, if not the greatest player of all time.

Do I love him? No, but I have a great deal of respect for what he has accomplished on the baseball field.

Tigers roaring

Hey, how about them Tigers. Maybe my prediction was not so far off the wall after all. I bet our interim chancellor, Dr. Shelton, has a grin from ear to ear.

If you didn't already know, Dr. Shelton is a huge Tiger fan and I give him a hard time about it, but I can't say much now. I hope everyone had a great Easter! God Bless America.

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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