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

Dig into the LeClair archives...

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


LeClair Responds


The season may be over for East Carolina, but Keith LeClair is still swinging away. On Monday, the ECU Hall of Famer and former Pirates baseball coach fielded e-mail questions from fans in a two-hour session.

Following is a transcript of samples from LeClair's exchanges with participants touching on everything from triple plays to 'vacuum cleaners':

LeClair Interactive Transcript

Jim Crooke: Coach, I remember one thing about this Pirate team. The triple play turned Duke back to the dugout. I have never seen one in all my days of baseball. Have any of your teams accomplished this?

Coach LeClair: Jim, unfortunately the one triple play I remember most happened against the Pirates in 2000, against UNC Asheville to end the game. Let me try to explain this odd play the best I can. It was the second game of a double-header, so therefore it was a seven inning game.

The Pirates were down 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth, but had the bases loaded with nobody out. Erik Bakich was at the plate and Nick Schnabel was on third. Erik hit a one hopper down the third baseline that was fielded by the third baseman, who reached to tag Nick but missed, but in the process stepped on third and threw to first. In the confusion, Nick ran home on my command and the first baseman threw home for the third out, completing the most bizarre triple play I have ever seen to end a game.

I was confused, the players were confused and most of all the umps were. To make a long story short, that was the last seven inning game I ever agreed to play as a head coach.

Carter Powell: Keith, which do you think will take you further in regional play, gorilla ball or billy ball? I've noticed that most of the teams that advance play billy ball. I really miss you.

Coach LeClair: Carter, great question! I think if you're going to win big games against great teams you have to play some billy ball, especially if you have an outstanding pitching staff. Scoring opportunities usually happen on a few occasions throughout the game and it's imperative that you make them count, which means situational hitting becomes such an important part of winning those close games. That doesn't mean gorilla ball won't win some championships. Look at LSU for example in the 90s, but you better have some consistent gorillas that you can count on.

Danny Whitford: How does the culture of baseball in general in Eastern North Carolina, from the T-Ball ranks on up, compare with other places you're familiar with?

Coach LeClair: Danny, by far and away, this region, particularly Greenville, has the best youth baseball I have ever seen in my years of recruiting. My hat goes off to all the recreation departments in this area that make it the best.

Jay Surles: First of all, on a personal level, I want to thank you for your continuous support and prayers for my good friend, Chris Carter. He was inspired by you, and your words always perked him up, as well as other readers of his web site. Chris is in a better place now, and is probably "the athlete he never was up in heaven. I just wanted to let you know what an inspiration you are to many people. To battle through your ALS, and to reach out to others ... is something to be admired. I wish you all the best!

On to other things. What a disappointing ending to the ECU season! They accomplished most of their goals. And by most teams' standards around the country, it was a successful season. However, the obvious goal of Omaha was not reached. You and I know that no one is more disappointed than the players and coaches (and you) who spent countless hours/years preparing for this opportunity.

It appears that most of the guys drafted are going to go. I would be interested to hear you discuss (A) What goes into the decision making process on whether a guy should go pro or not. Oobviously money plays a part. Also talk about high school kids getting drafted and deciding whether or not to play college ball, and any thoughts or opinions you have on that matter. (B) What are the chances that ECU reloads next year and makes another run at Omaha with practically a new look team?

Coach LeClair: Jay, several things go into the process of deciding whether to sign as a junior or going back to school to play your senior year. Obviously money is a factor, because if you do come back as a senior you have lost all your bargaining power unless you're a high draft as a senior. Most senior draftees get a thousand bucks and a plane ticket to your next destination, which isn't much. A lot depends on your development stage as a junior and if there is room to improve or accomplish anything else at the college level. For instance, some guys have down junior seasons and may get drafted a lot lower than expected and can improve themselves as a senior. A great example of this would be Khalil Greene at Clemson, who was I believe an 11th round pick his junior year and a first round pick as a senior. That decision made him well over a million dollars, not to mention he is already playing in the big leagues. That's just a few reasons of many on this issue.

To answer your second question, the Pirates should be very good next year with all their young pitchers returning, and Mr. Vacuum Cleaner, Billy Richardson, playing short. Big question is whether (Darryl) Lawhorn decides to sign or come back. If not, a lot of newcomers will be asked to play right away, especially in the outfield. To be honest, you never know what you have from incoming guys until they strap an ECU uniform on and play. But, I look for the Pirates to be in the hunt and develop as a team as the season progresses and hopefully host a regional in our new stadium.

Q: Is pitching starting to catch up with hitting in college? It seems like scores are lower these days.

Coach LeClair: I am a firm believer that good pitching will most likely always slow down good hitting clubs, but what I have noticed more this year is the base on balls ratio to innings pitched, which has been surprisingly low. That in and of itself will take runs off the scoreboard and Coach Eason has been a mastermind of that theory over the years at ECU.

I also believe the bats are becoming more in tune with the game versus five years ago, which is great to see. Hopefully, in the near future, even more work will be done to institute the fundamentals of the offensive game, like bunting, hitting and running, running and hitting, and situational hitting. I guess I am a baseball purist.

Q: What is your theory on non-conference scheduling?

Coach LeClair: Great question! A lot of my decision making going into scheduling depended on the experience I had coming back. Obviously, an older club can handle a much tougher grind of having a difficult non-conference schedule versus a young inexperienced club. I think its important to balance your schedule and have some RPI schools from fifty to a hundred to play early and then go ahead and play several top twenty-five schools before conference. If you go too strong too early, especially with a young team, you can really dig a hole and lose a lot of confidence. You have to put a lot of thought into what is best for your club.

Q: There has been discussion of moving the college season back a couple of weeks. Good idea?

Coach LeClair: It's about time college baseball woke up and finally has a plan in motion to push the season back. The college baseball arena has lost a ton of money over the years trying to play baseball in early February and competing with basketball. This is the best thing that could ever happen for baseball at the collegiate level. The way I look at it, what's two weeks if the outlook could mean more fan support across the nation and the chance of bringing in more cash? Cha-ching, cha-ching opens many eyes in the
collegiate world.

Q: Recruiting foreign players is prevalent in college basketball. Why do you think it isn't done more widely in college baseball? The Dominican Republic immediately comes to mind.

Coach Leclair: Boy, the questions get better and tougher all the time. In the past we did hit Canada pretty hard, bringing in Lee Delfino and Jason Mandryk, who both had outstanding careers. But, the problem baseball runs into recruiting kids from foreign countries, especially the Dominican Republic, are a couple different obstacles — the first being grades. A majority of those kids are not qualifiers and have a hard time passing their entrance exams, not to mention having the ability to speak English. Second, most kids from foreign countries need a lot of money to come to America and enroll in a university and unfortunately baseball doesn't have that kind of scholarship money. Plus, most baseball players in foreign countries come from poverty-stricken areas. You do not see France, Italy and Russia producing too many major league all stars. Well, my answer may be far from perfect, but that's just a few of many reasons you do not see more foreign players.

If you have a question or comment about the Pirates in particular or baseball in general, get a learned response by firing your best pitch at Ol' Condo. Submit your message by clicking the following e-mail link: E-mail Coach LeClair.

02.23.07 10:27 AM


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