Observations and Punditry
March 5, 2005
By Woody Peele
CLS a fitting testament to
rise of program
the first pitches were thrown out at East Carolina’s new Clark-LeClair
Stadium Friday morning, every fan was on his feet and the emotion was at a
Not only was it the first game in the new
baseball stadium, it was a time to recognize former baseball coach Keith
LeClair, sidelined by Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS).
Randy Mazey, who now guides the Diamond Bucs,
said, “It was very emotional for a lot of people.”
Throwing out the first pitches of the day were
LeClair’s young children, daughter Audrey and son J.T.
LeClair, in a motorized wheel chair, was just
behind home plate with wife Lynn, accepting “Pirate gold” roses and a plaque
commemorating the occasion.
He and his family — comfortable in the field’s
new press box — later watched the Pirates gain a 2-1 victory over Michigan
in the first game of the three-day Keith LeClair Classic.
For myself, I felt like I had died and gone to
heaven. In more than 40 years of covering and watching the Pirates on the
baseball field, I had suffered through icy days when the games went on and
on and one, and through hot days when there was no breeze to give us relief
in the old press box.
So it was a great pleasure to walk into the
new press box, find a comfortable chair and watch the game, not worrying
about the chill outside. (Sorry, fans!)
While the dream of a new stadium didn’t start
with LeClair, it was his vision that finally got it going, leading to
Friday’s opening. He had to feel a great high in experiencing its fruition.
Joining the former coach in the stadium name
is the Bill Clark family, which was a major financial contributor to the
project. The Clark family has been involved with ECU baseball in many ways,
including son Heath Clark, a former player for the program (1991-94).
Of course, there are many others who
contributed to the fulfillment of this dream, both with their backing and
their work on the field.
When I first saw a model of the proposed
stadium, I’ll admit that I wasn’t very impressed. But as I watched the
construction move along, it began to be more impressive every time I passed.
Over the years, I’ve visited a number of
collegiate stadiums, but none of them impress me like this one. That
includes those just up the road in Raleigh and Chapel Hill.
Without a doubt, it is the finest college
baseball facility in North Carolina, and probably in several adjoining
There are a number of professional fields in the state, too, but few of them
will stand up against Clark-LeClair.
Mazey, who picked up the reins when LeClair
was forced to step down, called it the “culmination of a lot of dreams.”
“There’s not a person here today who hasn’t
had a hand in this, building the atmosphere and my hat’s off to them.” Mazey
said. “It gives you a special feeling.
“I really believe this is the next step in East Carolina baseball and I’m as
excited as I can be.”
Mazey also noted that the new stadium will be
a great help in recruiting. He called last fall’s recruiting class the best
yet, and the stadium had to be a factor in that.
George Whitfield, who served under LeClair as
an assistant coach, summed it up as “awesome.” He related that former Major
League manager Clyde King visited the field on Thursday and said, “There’s
nothing like it in North Carolina.”
Amen to that.
Former coach Gary Overton, who served before
LeClair, and whose connections with the Pirates go back to his own
collegiate days, said he was excited for all ECU fans, past, present and
“What it means to this program is what we’ve
all wanted to see for many years,” Overton said. “It’s a fabulous structure
and it’s named after two great men. It means a lot for ECU and the entire
There is still some work to be done before the
structure is totally completed. The areas under the stadium are not fully
ready, but that will come in the weeks ahead.
A dedication ceremony is planned for April 8
when Southern Miss comes to town.
There’s one thing that I would like to see at
the new stadium — some honors for the coaches who have brought the Pirates
to this level.
I think individual plaques should be installed
on the walls near the main gates, commemorating those gentlemen. They could
have a bas-relief of their heads, their tenures, record, conference titles
and NCAA competition.
In case you don’t know them, here’s a brief
look at Mazey's predecessors:
Jim Mallory (1954-62, 73),
161-60, NAIA National Championship (ECU’s only national team title in
Earl Smith (1963-72),
185-103, four Southern Conference titles, four NCAA appearances.
George Williams (1974-76),
56-32, one Southern Conference title, one NCAA appearance.
Monte Little (1977-79),
82-49, one Southern Conference title (ECU’s only year in the league
before going independent), one NCAA appearance.
Hal Baird (1980-84),
145-66-1, one ECAC title, three NCAA appearances.
Gary Overton (1985-97),
427-237-1, one ECAC title, 2 CAA titles, five NCAA appearances.
Keith LeClair (1998-2002),
212-93-1, 2 CAA titles, one C-USA title, four NCAA appearances.
While the stadium honors
LeClair, the others deserve a niche for their many contributions.
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