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College Sports in the Carolinas

View from the East
Friday, May 7, 2004

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Smith threads run deep in Harrington saga


I told Earl Smith that the East Carolina baseball media guide stated that Harrington Field was dedicated on May 9, 1971.

Smith, former baseball and basketball coach at ECU, thought for a moment and said, “We were playing on that field before then.”

ECU played at Guy Smith Stadium, off of Memorial, before moving to the site where an $8 million facility is scheduled to rise on campus in the coming months. In fact, Guy Smith Stadium was home to the Pirates when they won the NAIA title in 1961.

“I think we played at Guy Smith Stadium for just one year,” said Smith, who took over the baseball reins from Jim Mallory in 1963.

According to Coach Smith’s memory, the first game at the current site off of Charles Blvd. was played in 1964, by chance, against N.C. State. The game was supposed to be played at Guy Smith Stadium but rain had left that field unsuitable.

Although there were still some finishing touches remaining at the new field on campus, State coach Vic Sorrell agreed that they could play there because wet conditions had not affected that surface as severely.

So they played — and ECU won, 5-4, thanks to Pirate hustle and a Wolfpack mistake.

“Chuck Conners laid down a bunt and they threw it past the first baseman,” Smith said. “The right fielder should have gone to get the ball but he didn’t and Chuck Conners went all the way around the bases.”

Smith, who threw out the first pitch in the Louisville series two weeks ago, said the late Mallory actually laid out the field incorrectly.

“The first base line should run East and West because of the sun,” he said. “Home plate should actually be in the right field corner.”

Shade from the pines that have grown up beyond the outfield have helped solve problems with the sun. Smith was glad final plans for the new stadium won’t have home plate in left field, which would have also resulted in removal of the pine trees and, of course, The Jungle.

“If they did that the only person in the field who wouldn’t have the sun in his eyes would be the catcher,” Smith said. “I don’t know who came up with that idea.”

Smith nurtured the field at the site where the Pirates have apparently been playing baseball for over 40 years. Pirate Club director Dennis Young, an ECU student in the mid-1960s and Bill Cain, former ECU AD, confirmed Smith’s contention that the Pirates were playing at the site of Harrington Field before 1971.

“I sewed the grass myself,” Smith said. “I used my own hose to water it and cut it with my own mower.”

Smith said he sometimes pulled his car up to the field and used his headlights to see as he watered the outfield. The hose ran all the way to the football field, the closest water.

One morning on his way to get some breakfast in the predawn hours, Smith said he saw two trucks pulled up behind the stadium. He turned in and found out that the drivers were delivering brick that was to be used in the stadium. Smith learned later that ECU benefactor Reynolds May had gotten a golfing friend of his who owned a brick company in Sanford to donate some of his inventory.

Smith showed the men where to unload the brick and said they left to go get more.

May also convinced Milton Harrington, who Smith said played at Duke, to make a sizeable contribution to the baseball stadium. Not all of the money May raised for the baseball stadium was spent on the designated project.

“The field was supposed to have a roof and concrete stands,” Smith said.

But Smith said former ECU president Leo Jenkins allotted the money for the roof to the swimming program and former athletics director Clarence Stasavich had bleachers brought in from the old football field.

Decades later — after about a thousand games at the site that Smith used to groom — the concrete stands and a roof appear to finally be in the plans, according to the architect’s renderings.

“Now they’re going to finish what they were supposed to finish years ago,” Smith said.

Football came first in the athletics pecking order as defined by Jenkins and Stasavich. They knew that Smith could be successful without great resources.

“We know Earl will win whether we give him anything or not,” an East Carolina administrator once explained when asked about increasing resources for baseball.

Smith recruited tirelessly with just two scholarships.

“One reason I quit in 1972 was that they increased the budget for football and basketball and never gave me anything,” Smith said. “The school still has two rakes that belonged to me that I used on that field.”

Baseball success was principally responsible for the stature Smith enjoys at ECU, but it wasn't his only sport. He had a 69-49 record in five seasons as men’s basketball coach. He guided the Pirates to a 16-9 record in 1945-46 and took over the hoops program again for four seasons beginning in 1959-60.

Smith never had a losing season in basketball and only one in baseball from 1963 to 1972.
His baseball record at ECU was 185-103-2. He spent years as a major league scout after coaching.

A three-sport athlete at East Carolina in his playing days, Smith was enshrined in the ECU hall of fame in 1977 and remains a Pirate treasure.

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02/23/2007 12:45:38 AM

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