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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:
The 'All-Condo' Team

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

Heís back, and this week heís got one heck of a match-up for you. Youíve heard of the All-Madden team in football. Get ready for the All-Condo team.

Check out the make-up of what it takes to be a member of such an illustrious group, as well as Coach LeClairís 2003 Dream Team. On paper, the Dream Team looks to have the edge. But never count out the group of blue collar workers coach LeClair has assembled for his 2003 All-Condo Team.

If you have a question about baseball, past or present, feel free to aim your best pitch right here:

Or, if you just want to send Coach LeClair a personal note, do so at this address:

The 'All-Condo' Team

By Keith LeClair

2003 Dream Team

This dream team is made up of players who I would select to put the best possible team together to win, say, an Olympic Gold. Understand, I can pick only one player per position, so therefore many outstanding players for the 2003 season had to be left off. I have taken into consideration stats, what each player meant to his team, and overall makeup. Itís not easy when you get down to the top three or four. I know this will be open for some debate, but thatís what this is all about. So, feel free to email your opinions and questions as to why I picked particular players.

First Base: Todd Helton, Colorado Rockies: He is one of my favorite players to watch play the game. He plays hard everyday and is consistent both at the plate and in the field. He doesnít get the credit he deserves because of playing in Coors Field, but year in and year out he hits just as well on the road, both for average and power. This year hit .358, drove in 117runs, had 33hr and an incredible .458 on base percentage, which is the most important stat in my book. What led to this high number was the 111 walks he collected. On top of all this, he is a great person who has tremendous faith. I also had the privilege to coach against him at Western Carolina and witnessed the farthest hit ball I have ever seen in my life. It went so far, my pitcher instantly came down with a sore arm. I would take Todd Helton on my team any day.

Second Base: Marcus Giles, Atlanta Braves: This guy is a throwback to the old-time players. He is only about 5í6Ē and plays hard everyday. Whether he is hurt or not, he wants to be in the lineup. He has the grit you look for in a second baseman, especially the way he hangs in there turning the double play. He is always dirty at the end of each day because of how hard he plays. He ended up hitting .316 with 21hr and 69rbi's and 14sb with a .390 on base percentage. He also had his best year in the field with a.982 fielding percentage. It should also be noted that he hit his 21hr in one of the toughest parks in the majors. Giles is the prototypical overachiever.

Shortstop: Alex Rodriguez, Texas Rangers: I really tried not to give this to Alex Rodriguez, but when it came right down to it, in the end I just had to. I had to overlook what he gets paid and evaluate him as a player and person. His numbers speak for themselves -- .298 average, 47 HR, 117 RBI, .396 on base percentage, and a remarkable .989 fielding percentage. What helped me make this decision was hearing Jerry Narron, who managed A-Rod in Texas, talk about how hard Alex worked day in and day out to make himself better. Even after games, Alex would spend several hours talking baseball and trying to find an edge to win. What also helped in making this decision was a special on ESPN that showed how hard he worked in the off-season. Itís undeniable that Alex Rodriguez is one of the top three players in the game today. Put the money aside and you will find he works hard and is not content on being an average player. He truly wants to be the best.

Third Base: Bill Mueller, Boston Red Sox: Before you jump all over me about this pick, it has nothing to do with the fact he plays for the Sox. Bill Mueller has had to prove the skeptics wrong at every level he has played. He is a switch hitter who people thought didnít have enough power to play third base everyday at the big league level. But this year he had a breakout year and was a mainstay in the Sox lineup. Mueller hit .326 with 19 HR 85 RBI and a great .398 on base percentage. What made Mueller so valuable was his ability to switch-hit and make match-ups difficult late in the game. I like Mueller because he has persevered through all the critics and has proven them wrong. He has worked hard and is a hard-nosed guy to have on your team.

Left Field: Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants: Letís get the record straight, I personally donít like the way Bonds treats people and the lack of hustle from time to time on the field. But putting all that aside, he is the best in the game today and possibly of all time. He did impress me this year in the playoffs when he left his earring out. I may catch some criticism from that statement, but I guess I am old-fashioned. Putting all that aside, letís take a look at Bondsí numbers for the season. You have to take into consideration he missed 32 games this year and still ended up with these numbers: 341 avg., 45 HR, 90 RBI (because nobody would pitch to him with men on base), 148 walks, only 57 strikeouts and a .529 on base percentage (no you didn't read that wrong) plus a .749 slugging percentage. These are wiffle ball numbers in the backyard. And he did all this while his father was sick and passed away during the season. You canít look past what this man has accomplished, whether you like him or not.

Centerfield: Juan Pierre, Florida Marlins: I really donít care about numbers on this position, because Juan Pierre is, in my book, what made the Florida Marlins click this year. Nobody wants to face this guy because he puts so much pressure on your defense with his speed. He is always bouncing around trying to make things happen, whether itís bunting or slapping the ball around the park. This guy makes things happen both on offense and defensively. He scores runs and takes runs away with his speed in the outfield. Here are Pierre's numbers: 100 runs scored, 204 hits, 65 SB, and are you ready for this one? 35 Ks in 668 at bats. Put this in perspective to how extraordinary of a stat this is. Soriano for the Yankees almost struck out as many times in the playoffs as Pierre did all year. That number is mind-boggling, considering Pierre does not sit versus lefties. This guy is fun to watch and I would love to have him on my team any day.

Right Field: Gary Sheffield Atlanta Braves: When Gary Sheffield first came up to the big leagues he was a guy that had trouble fitting in and most organizations wanted nothing to do with him. Even though he was a great talent, clubs just didnít want the extra baggage. I listened to Sheffield speak this past year on a TV show and he talked about how he had turned his life around. You hear a lot of guys say they have changed over the years, only to find out later their wasnít much of a change at all. Sheffield mentioned he had married a Christian pop singer and that he had given his life to Christ. Whatever it may be, I donít think there is any disputing what this guy has accomplished on the field the past couple of years. He plays hard and all his teammates enjoy being around him, which is a switch from his past. His numbers this year speak for themselves: .330 avg., 39 HR 132 RBI, 86 walks 18 SB, .419 on base percentage, and only 55 Ks in 576 at bats (not bad for a power hitter). And on top of all this, Sheffield has one of the best arms in the game from right field. I personally think Sheffield has come into his own as a player and person over the last few years. What I like best about Shef is he fired his agent and is negotiating all contract talks himself. I hope more players follow suit in the future.

Catcher: Jorge Pasada, New York Yankees: I know I may catch some heat about this selection, but I honestly feel Pasada is the best all-around catcher in the game. He plays nearly every day, having caught 142 out of 162 games this season and he still has the ability to put up outstanding numbers while being solid defensively behind the plate. Take a look at these offensive numbers: .281 avg., 30 HR, 101 RBI, 93 BB and a .405 on base percentage. Those are outstanding numbers for a catcher who plays every day and most of the time is beat up and sore. And on top of all that, Pasada is a clutch player in the crunch and possesses great leadership qualities. He is also a switch hitter. That didnít hurt him in my selection. Not to mention he threw out 40 percent of would-be base stealers.

RHP: Roy Halladay, Toronto Blue Jays: I really was tempted to pick Josh Beckett, but decided he couldnít qualify because he did not pitch enough innings during the regular season. So, Halladay was my next choice and he certainly wonít disappoint me, or anyone for that matter. He is a big strong kid who has nasty stuff and throws strikes. He will throw in the low 90s and has a great twelve-to-six breaking ball, which is rare to see now in the bigs. Take a look at these numbers he posted this season. He was 22-7 with a 3.25 ERA. He tossed 9 complete games. In 266 innings, he gave up only 253 hits, and the next stat is mind-boggling Ė 32 BB with 204 Ks. I know as a manager with these numbers I will be in every game he pitches. Thatís why Roy Halladay is on the 2003 Dream Team.

LHP: Andy Pettite, New York Yankees: This guy is Mr. Consistency that very rarely gives you a bad outing. He has perhaps one of the best cut fastballs in the game, especially from the left side, and he holds runners on first with the best pickoff move in the game. I love his demeanor and the fact that very few things rattle him. His numbers may not show the dominance that others possess, but this guy is a winner and always pitches well in the big game. Lets take a look at his numbers for the 2003 season: 21-8 record, 4.02 ERA, 208 innings pitched, 50 BB and 180 Ks. Again, not dominating numbers, but he does the little intangibles to win games. Also note that American League starters will always have a little higher numbers in the hit category and ERA, because of the DH.

Closer: Eric Gagne, Los Angeles Dodgers: You want dominating numbers? Well here they come. I am not even going to explain myself or beat around the bush on this one. Record, 2-3. ERA,1.20. Saves, 55. Save opportunities, 55. Innings pitched, 82.1. Get this next one Ė 37 hits, 20 walks, and are you ready? 137 Ks. I rest my case. He is the most dominating closer right now and has the demeanor to go with it.

Designated Hitter: None: I refuse to pick one since both leagues donít use the DH. I just want to see Pedro with a bat in his hands in the near future, so all this bean balling stuff will end. If I had to pick one, it would be Edgar Martinez for Seattle.

I hope you enjoyed all this and look forward to any questions you may have.

2003 All-Condo Team

Now, onto the All-Condo Team. Where Denny picked up my college nickname, I have no idea, but since he did I should explain how I got it. My freshman year in college, I was a skinny kid from the sticks of Walpole, New Hampshire. I went to Western Carolina to play baseball for Jack Leggett as a walk-on, and one day in the weight room, Coach Leggett said, you're getting as big as a condo. I may add that this was steroid-free. That name stuck for four years and thatís the story of Condo, which brings us to the All-Condo Team.

This team is based on guys who work hard and have overachieved in their expectations of making it to the big leagues. I was an overachiever myself and had to work hard for everything I got, so this should be a lot of fun. Some of these guys may seldom play, but thatís not what this is all about.

First Base: John Olerud, Seattle Mariners: This guy has been a consistent big leaguer for many years now, while doing it all with a metal plate in his head. That is why you see him playing the field with a catcherís helmet. He was once considered an outstanding pitching prospect before his head injury. Olerud is a quiet guy that just shuts his mouth and plays the game. Not only is he a great hitter, but also a gold glover in the field. He plays the game with such ease, many people assume he isnít giving his best effort, which is the furthest thing from the truth with all that he has had to overcome. He is my pick for All-Condo at first base.

Second Base: Bo Hart, St. Louis Cardinals: Bo was a mid-round draft pick out of Gonzaga University and made it to the big leagues when Fernando Vina got hurt. He is a true overachiever in every sense of the word. Tony LaRussa and the fans fell in love with this kid because of how hard he plays the game. He battles every at bat and will do anything to help the team win. He plays a lot like one of our former Pirates, Nick Schnabel.

Shortstop: David Eckstein, Anaheim Angels: This kid is the Ben Sanderson of Major League baseball. He was a low round pick by the Boston Red Sox out of the University of Florida and got released by the Sox and picked up by the Angels. All he heard his whole career was that his tools would never be good enough to make it in the big leagues. He didnít have enough arm to play short, he wasnít quite fast enough and he could never hit big league pitching. Guess what, he proved all the critics wrong. He may not be a superstar, but I will take this little, gritty, hard-nosed guy on my team any day of the week. In fact, he was the major reason why the Angels won the World Series in 2002.

Third base: Mike Lowell, Florida Marlins: This is a great success story about a man who had to overcome testicular cancer before even thinking about coming back to play baseball. Lowell was drafted out of Florida International by the New York Yankees. After being the Yankeesí top prospect for several years, things just didnít seem to be panning out with the Yanks and he was traded to the Florida Marlins. Not long after that is when Lowell came down with cancer and not only was in a battle for his baseball career, but rather his life. In less than a year, Lowell persevered through his cancer and has gone on to become one of the premier third basemen in the game today, not to mention picking up a World Series ring to boot. My hat goes off to this man who is certainly the ultimate overcomer.

Left Field: Jeff Conine, Florida Marlins: Why Jeff Conine? Because I love to watch this guy play the game. Conine is the same age as I am and still plays the game like he is 20. I have always been a big fan of his, even before coming to the Marlins. His primary position is first base, but the way he played left field in the playoffs, I had to sneak him in the outfield to make the All-Condo team. He was the only player on the Marlinsí roster this season that was a part of both their World Series championships. He played his collegiate baseball at UCLA and was originally drafted by the Baltimore Orioles before coming to the Marlins. Conine is also regarded as a world-class racquetball player. I like this guy and his approach to the game and thatís why I put him on this team.

Centerfield: Jay Payton, Colorado Rockies: This is a great story I have to share with you from when I was an assistant coach under Jack Leggett at Western Carolina. During this time, I was doing a lot of recruiting and ran across this kid from Zaynesville, Ohio. I had called him a couple of times in the winter and nobody was recruiting him, so I requested that he send a video down. Sure enough, about a week later I received his video of him hitting in a batting cage. It must have been about twenty degrees out because he had on more clothes than an Eskimo. I took the tape to Coach Leggett and we watched several swings, and finally coach looked at me and said, ďCondo, this guy canít do it. So, I never gave the name Jay Payton a second thought until the following spring when we played Georgia Tech and saw the name Jay Payton leading off. That was the same year they had Garciapara and Varitek on their team. Even after seeing Paytonís name on the lineup card, it still didnít dawn on me it was the same guy on the video tape. Finally in about the fourth inning, Payton hits an absolute bomb and I look on the roster to see his name and hometown. I said, ďCoach, remember that guy in the video you said was a stiff? Well he is the one who just hit that bomb.Ē I wonít repeat what Coach said to me. Well, needless to say, Jay Payton has gone on to have a very good Major League career. This was not the kind of Kodak moment you wanted as an assistant coach.

Right Field: Trot Nixon, Boston Red Sox: My favorite player in the game today. Trot plays hard every single day and has had to overcome several skeptics after the Sox took him in the first round. But through perseverance and hardwork, Trot overcame those skeptics and is quickly becoming one of the better right fielders in the game. The fans in Boston love him and he has great respect from his teammates and coaches because of the passion he brings to the field. If you watch him play you will notice he goes hard all time whether its a groundball to short or a ball in the gap. I would take nine Trot Nixons on my team any day of the week.

Catcher: Mike Piazza, New York Mets: Piazza was drafted in like the 60th around as a favor for his godfather, Tommy Lasorda, by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Nobody would ever have dreamed that Mike Piazza would develop into one of the all-time great hitting catchers the game has seen. Although not known as a great defensive catcher, he has still managed to get the job done over the years. Piazza has worked hard to become the player he is today and may go down as one of the all-time great overachievers in the game.

Starting Pitcher: Tim Hudson, Oakland Athletics: This may very well be the toughest position for which to pick overachievers, because there are just so many guys that have made it that nobody expected to. I chose Tim Hudson, because I coached against him when I was at Western Carolina the year prior to coming to ECU, so I know his background a little better. I remember asking Hal Baird about this kid when he just manhandled us in the Regionals on the mound. Coach Baird told me they found him at a Juco in Alabama and really didnít know that he was going to be that good. He was a skinny kid who not only pitched at Auburn, but also DH'd, and if I am not mistaken, was an All-American at that position. I think he had close to twenty home runs as a junior for Auburn. He went in the draft about the seventh round with Oakland and absolutely has been dominant ever since. He is one of those guys who just is a special kid that never doubted himself or his size. He had a devastating split finger in college and still has it today in the bigs. When you see him in person, you would say no way is this guy a big league pitcher, and you certainly wouldnít think he was a great hitter in college. But the heart sometimes goes a lot farther than your tools.

Closer: Billy Wagner, Houston Astros: Wagner is listed at 5í11Ē, but that may be stretching it some to say the least. A lightly recruited kid out of high school that ended up at Ferrum College, a Division III school located in a small town in Virginia, he was throwing only in the mid-80s when he arrived in college and left throwing close to a 100. Even though he was a high-round draft pick by the Astros, it is still mind-boggling what this guy does on the mound considering he throws harder than Randy Johnson. He is a battler that produces a mighty punch in that small, but stocky frame. I just couldnít pass this guy up for the overachieving kind of players I was looking for.

Well, thatís going to wrap up the All-Condo team and I hope you enjoyed reading it. I look forward to hearing back for your comments.

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02.23.07 10:27 AM


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