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Read Henry Hinton's feature story on veteran Hollywood actress and ECU alum Beth Grant in Bonesville Magazine.

Henry's Highlights
Friday, February 4, 2005

By Henry Hinton

Protégés carry LeClair's lessons far and wide

Sensational Stereos

©2005 Bonesville.net

Replay the audio archive of Thursday's Talk of The Town with Henry Hinton and guest host Philip Horne: Select clip

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 the top.”

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

 

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