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Boone: Pirates on the cusp of greatness

[Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from Ron Cherubini's 'Pirate Time Machine No. 12'. The special feature package on former Pirate pitcher Daniel Boone ran on Bonesville's front page Sunday, March 31, 2002.]

By Ron Cherubini

Daniel Boone was well aware of how good the East Carolina baseball program was when he came from Fuquay-Varina High School to pitch for the Pirates in 1983.

Players like Winfred Johnson, Tommy Eason, Jake Jacobs, Jonathon Jenkins, were on the roster for the perennial CAA contenders and regulars in the NCAA regionals. But, as good as the teams of the preceding eras were, they were not on the national radar screen… not like today’s club.

“How many teams in the country can say they were a number one seed for three straight seasons,” Boone said. “Three… three! Stanford, Florida State, and us — ECU. Within the NCAA baseball (network), ECU is known, but as far as the pollsters, the writers, the college baseball fans, they don’t understand the talent level that is here.”

Boone, like many of East Carolina's baseball alumni, takes great pride in the state of the program today and even has to step back in amazement to fully grasp what is unfolding in Greenville with the Diamond Bucs.

“The talent level is simply incredible,” he said. “I played with Winfred Johnson, who I believe was the greatest college player I have ever seen… kind of like getting a taste of what the Yankees must of felt like with Babe Ruth. Winfred still holds the NCAA record for most pitching victories and home runs in a season. But, when you look at the roster from top to bottom today, it is truly amazing how talented this team is.”

Though Boone believes the Pirates have a long ways to go to be thought of in the same category as the Clemsons and FSUs of the collegiate world, he attributes the lower profile more to lack of name recognition than lack of talent and success.

“If we can continue to be a number one or number two seed for the next couple of years, our name could be out there like Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State, or Wichita State,” Boone said.

For Boone, the credit for the success ultimately goes to the players on the field, but he says that the coaching staff has done an incredible job of taking ECU baseball to the cusp of the proverbial next level.

“The hardest thing for college kids to understand (is) that they each have a role to play and you need to play that role to be successful,” said Boone. “Coach (Keith) LeClair has taught them how to be that intricate little cog on the great wheel. He and Coach (Tommy) Eason and Coach McMullan have got these highly talented kids working as a team.

"They have been able to break it down and make them understand that they are a bigger thing than just themselves. It is a hard lesson for a youngster to learn and this staff has done that.”

Moreover, Boone believes there are some other key variables that have opened the door for the Pirate baseball program.

“I think the biggest step we’ve made hands down is getting into Conference USA, and that cannot be understated,” Boone said. “As good as the CAA was in baseball, it is a regional conference. Conference USA is national league. Now we are talking about playing teams day-in and day-out with name recognition.

"Playing Cincinnati, Houston, Tulane, and Louisville — that step helps us nationally. We can’t be known just as a great team in North Carolina or on the eastern seaboard. We were in a junior varsity league in the CAA, but now you cannot say that anymore as one of our conference teams is in the top-5 in preseason.

"And, if we can get that stadium built, it will be especially helpful for the program.”

Boone also pointed to the last season’s post-season successes as keys to unlocking the door to the next level.

“It was so important to get those Regionals here (in Kinston) because the big donors got to see ECU baseball,” he said. “When they saw us against Tennessee and got to see those kids and the fire those kids have, it clearly re-sparked the interest in baseball. Our best chance — as Walter Williams once said — our best chance to win a national championship here at ECU is in baseball.”

Boone admits that he came out of an era when the baseball players didn’t quite understand all the fuss about the Pirate football thing. The football team was getting all the press despite 2-9 records while the baseball team was a big-time winner. Frankly, the players just didn’t care much for that other sport, even if it did pay all the bills.

“It is unbelievable what wanting to see a winner does to people,” Boone said in reference to the enthusiasm that he ECU faithful has displayed for this baseball program. “We can beat any team in the country. We can play anyone and beat them two out of three. They can get through the region without a problem. Coach LeClair has built that kind of depth here. You have all-American players hoping that they can (come to ECU).

“The players deserve (the recognition) and the program deserves (the big money investment) — even if it is a non-revenue sport,” he said. “I understand, now, why football is king here, but this baseball program brings a lot of attention to this university as well.”

Though Boone says he probably couldn’t even make today’s roster, he is proud of the part he played in the history of ECU baseball.

“It gives you a lot of pride to be part of the tradition, and I take a lot of pride in having played baseball at ECU and in the school in general,” he said. “Being part of the ECU family is special.

"I personally think that this school is totally different from many schools. When I’m in California and I see a guy in an ECU sweatshirt, I know he is wearing it because he is a fan, not because Michael Jordan played there. It is a passion thing, like one big family. And when you run into a Pirate, you tend to go out of your way to talk to that person because you know how passionate that person is about ECU.”

Boone takes an especially keen interest in today’s team because his nephew Neal Sears is a pitcher for the Pirates.

“I’m tickled to death that Neal is involved in that and we can share that. I am very proud of him,” he said. “And all those people out there in the jungle and everyone that goes to the games and follows this team on the road… they all share in the success of this program.”

Yes, ECU baseball has come a long way since Boone’s days and is positioned to become one of the nation’s top programs. It’s been an exciting ride and, as Boone pointed out, “we’re just getting started here.”

One thing is for sure, Omaha looks a lot closer today then it ever did when Boone played.

Send an e-mail message to Ron Cherubini.

Click here to dig into Ron Cherubini's Bonesville archives.

02/23/2007 02:08:34 PM

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