Insights and Observations
Read Henry Hinton's
feature story on veteran Hollywood actress and ECU alum
Beth Grant in
Friday, February 4, 2005
By Henry Hinton
Protégés carry LeClair's
lessons far and wide
|Replay the audio
archive of Thursday's Talk of The Town with Henry Hinton
and guest host Philip Horne:
Opening day of the 2005 baseball season is but a week
away and the much-anticipated christening of Clark-LeClair Stadium will
follow shortly thereafter.
Let the Keith LeClair accolades begin. But do not
mistake the brick and mortar of the Pirates' new baseball castle as the
biggest tribute to the ECU Hall of Famer and former head coach.
LeClair’s most profound gift to the community is the
indelible impact he had on those who crossed his path over the years and
their subsequent spreading of his good will and teachings.
While the first pitch is being thrown in Clark-LeClair
Stadium for the Pirates' March 4th home opener with Michigan, the LeClair
legacy will also be rippling through a number of other college baseball
programs around the country.
An unusually large number of former ECU players have
chosen college coaching as their career path. Not surprisingly, they
attribute their desire to coach and be a part of the college game to LeClair
and what they learned from the man they still call “Coach.”
Former Pirates Joe Hastings, Nick Schnabel, Cliff
Godwin, Erik Bakich, Bryant Ward and James Molinari are coaching today due
to the love and respect of the game they learned while at ECU.
Hastings is now an assistant at the University of
Virginia, the same stop James Molinari made last season before returning to
Greenville to start Hurricane Baseball, an AAU teaching program, with local
businessman George Johnson. Molinari had joined former Pirate assistant
Kevin McMullen, now a UVa assistant, in Charlottesville last year.
After a stint with the Montreal Expos farm system,
former Pirate second baseman Nick Schnabel returned to Greenville last
season as a graduate assistant for ECU coach Randy Mazey. Schnabel is now
coaching at Chiploa Junior College in Florida.
Both Erik Bakich and Cliff Godwin are now on the staff
at Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference.
Bryant Ward, who played third base for ECU as a
teammate of all of the above, is now on the coaching staff at Cal
State-Fullerton, one of the nation's top college baseball programs and the
reigning College World Series champion.
What do all of these former players have in common
other than the fact they wore the purple and gold during the same years?
They say it is the love of the game taught to them by a
special person who was not only a great coach but a great person.
"Coach LeClair has had a major influence in me wanting
to get into coaching,” said Hastings. “I feel that if I am able to have half
the impact on someone's life as he had on mine, then I will have been
successful as a coach."
When talking to LeClair’s former players the sentiment
is nearly always the same.
“Coach LeClair has been such a blessing on and off the
field for me,” says Schnabel. “I cherish the things I have learned from him
on the field, but more importantly off. Coach and his family have been a
blessing for me and I know many others.”
Not surprisingly, LeClair refuses to accept the credit
for the path his former players have chosen, saying that he was just
fortunate to have found a group of guys who loved the game and wanted to
extend their baseball experience through coaching.
When informed of comments his former players make about
him, LeClair brushes it off.
“That truly is an honor to hear but I think these guys
were more influenced by the way we ran our program and the team atmosphere
than what I said or did,” LeClair said in a recent email. “Plus, we had some
great assistants who worked their tails off for the players and provided
them with a tremendous working atmosphere.”
Molinari refutes that idea and says the credit for the
way his former players think today is clearly a result of what they learned
from their former coach. He feels the high number of former LeClair players
who are now coaching is no accident.
“What made me realize how special Coach LeClair truly
is actually happened after I was done playing for him,” says Molinari. “I've
played for and worked with a lot of different coaches in my life. Never has
anyone cared more for his players after they were done playing for him.
“Some coaches are in the business for the wrong
reasons, but Coach truly cares about his players. He proved that to me when
I could no longer give him anything on the field, and he still wanted to be
a positive influence on my life. That is why he is the only person I still
refer to simply as "Coach." He has taught me much more off the field than he
ever did on it. He is, and will continue to be my coach for life.”
Players from the LeClair era have great memories of
playing at ECU. Today when the guys reminisce, they seem to conjure up a
nugget of LeClair wisdom that has stuck with them. These are the things they
say that taught them how to be winners — and at the risk of sounding overly
dramatic — how to live their lives.
“I remember a game in ‘99 against Richmond,” Schnabel
recalls. “It was a Friday night at home during the Pigskin Pigout. The place
was packed. We got down 10-2 in the second inning and people started
leaving, but we kept fighting. A run here, a run there. Before we knew it,
we had won 13-11 or something like that. No one in Greenville thought we
could come back but 30 guys in our dugout did. And that attitude starts at
Hastings echoed some of the same feelings.
“Coach LeClair taught me the correct way to go about my
business and the correct way to live my life," Hastings said. "I owe
everything I was able to accomplish as a player to him. I also feel that the
success that ECU has had is due to the passion and love for ECU that he has.
He changed the way of thought surrounding ECU baseball and brought a winning
attitude to ECU."
LeClair will not be in the dugout or the third base
coaching box when the season opens one week from today. However, listening
to his former players speak, one gets the feeling LeClair’s influence will
still be a huge part of the program.
That influence will also be felt in places like
Charlottesville, Nashville, Fullerton, Florida, and points in between due to
his living legacy in the form of young men emulating their mentor, following
his footsteps into coaching and mentoring the next generation and
propagating the word about the LeClair approach to life and baseball.
"Coach LeClair is a once in a lifetime man,” says
Hastings. “East Carolina and the players that he has influenced should be
thankful and grateful for what he has done for the school and the
individuals he has had the opportunity to touch."
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02/23/2007 10:16:04 AM