Refuels Pirate Passion
Though it can be said for all East
Carolina baseball fans that the last three seasons have been something
very special, it has been particularly enjoyable for one former Pirate.
Daniel Boone, a tenacious right-hander in
the mid-1980s, has been pitching by proxy in the form of current hurler
Neal Sears, and the experience has not only stirred memories of his
playing days, but has also rekindled his love and connection to the East
Bloodlines tend to be a much tighter
tether in the South, and for Boone, when his nephew Neal decided to take
his abilities to East Carolina, there was a wash of pride and passion
that poured over the former Pirate pitcher.
Boone with family,
including nephew, Neal Sears (2nd from right)
“I love watching (Neal) play,” Boone said.
“Neal and I are as close as any uncle and nephew can be and when I watch
him pitch, I love it. I go (to Greenville) when he is pitching and I
always catch (the games) in our area here (around Raleigh). But
(watching), it can be painful, too. Not physically (painful), but
“When I see Neal struggle, it kills me
because I know, really know, what it is like to be out there
struggling. When you are a pitcher, it is a totally different game. If
an infielder makes an error, people don’t remember it. When you are on
the mound and not having a good game, people remember and it can be
When Boone watches, he feels the emotions
and sometimes, when a Pirate hurler is struggling, he feels his right
elbow act up a little.
That damn elbow.
As a sophomore at Fuquay-Varina High
School, Boone was a key cog in a three-pitcher rotation that carried
then-young head coach Milton Center’s Bengal Tigers to the state
championship. Though the club fell to Cherryville in two-straight games,
the pitcher/infielder Boone was named an all-state honorable mention.
Along with the success came some professional scouts.
Though Boone never thought that the pros
were an option in high school, the visits from the talent scouts did
serve to inspire the young standout.
“I received a lot of interest from pro
scouts and went to some camps and things like that,” Boone said. “That’s
when I started to feel like I had potential to go to college. I wanted
to go to school and was not interested in playing pro baseball out of
high school. I really wanted to go to school and it was really important
to my parents that I go to college. They were very blue collar and
(college) was very important to them.”
Boone, who always wanted to be an
engineer, dreamed of going to Clemson. And for the remainder of his prep
career, the Tigers recruited him.
“I was recruited to go to Clemson by coach
(Bill) Wilhelm, and he even came to a football game to talk to me, which
was great,” Boone said. “I admired how honest he was in recruiting me.
He personally called me and told me that his scholarships were full, but
would love to have me come down and walk onto the team. I really wanted
to go there because I admired their program so much, and I wanted to be
an engineer, but there was really no way I could go without money.”
So with Clemson out of the picture, Boone
pinned his hopes of an engineering degree and baseball on North Carolina
“After (Clemson fell through), I hoped
that State would be interested because of the engineering school, but
that didn’t work out,” Boone said. “East Carolina showed the most
interest in me and had offered me a scholarship, so I went there. And
from the get-go, I loved it.
“It was a big college… a Division I
college. Orientation was great and the campus had charm. It was like you
dream about… going off to college.”
The dream-like atmosphere quickly ended
for Boone in the form of then-head coach Hal Baird, whose blunt approach
served as a wakeup style welcome to big-time college baseball.
“Day one was intimidating for me,” Boone
said. “Everyone who goes (to ECU) was a superstar in high school. But in
college, it is a whole different ball game. You are just one of a bunch
of egos. That was the toughest adjustment. The thought that you might be
on the bench and not getting much playing time.”
And, it didn’t help Boone’s case that an
aching elbow had him pinning his collegiate hopes on landing a job on
third base despite being brought in by Baird to throw the baseball.
“Baird was a very… well… you were afraid
to talk to him,” Boone said. “He acknowledged the upperclassmen, but as
a freshman, you were a nobody unless you were a superstar.
"(Baird) was just not very approachable. I
respected him a lot. He played pro ball and was good friends with
(former Kansas City hall-of-famer) George Brett and everyone knew he was
a tremendous player when he was at ECU. But, he was the type of coach
that would stand behind second base with a clipboard writing down every
mistake every player made.
"You knew if you screwed up, he was going
to write it down. Everyone was afraid to mess up.”
All of one day into his first fall
practice, Boone broke his foot chasing down a foul ball on the
third-base line, sidelining him until October. He got little playing
time that season.
He moved to right field his sophomore
season, but saw a senior in the lineup ahead of him. Boone requested a
redshirt for the season, holding out hope that he would become an
everyday player in right field. But that would also never materialize.
“I was a great pitcher in high school and
Baird wanted me to come to ECU to pitch,” Boone said. “I didn’t want to
pitch because my arm would get so sore. But, I was really a better
pitcher than anything else.
“My freshman year, I didn’t play hardly at
all, then redshirted my sophomore year. I did not like not playing. I
could tell through the fall that I was not going to play and that I
would be a backup, and I didn’t want to do that.”
A change at the helm had occurred with
Baird resigning and assistant Gary Overton taking over.
“I came to the realization that if I
pitched, I would play,” Boone said. “So, during my fall meeting with
Coach Overton, he asked me if I wanted to pitch and I told him I didn’t
want to sit on the bench for my whole career. So, I pitched.”
Much like his sophomore season in high
school, Boone saw his best collegiate season that year. That season,
Boone posted a 5-1 record on the hill and, in large part, credits
Overton for that success.
“My first appearance was against North
Carolina State,” Boone said acknowledging the irony. “I didn’t make it
past the first inning.
" They had a couple of infield hits, then
I walked a guy, and then a base hit and I’m out of the game. It was my
first, and only, loss my sophomore year.
"I didn’t get shelled but I didn’t excel
either, but Coach Overton kept me in the rotation and had faith in me.”
Overton’s faith in his young pitcher
yielded a strong season from Boone. And that faith is something that has
endeared Overton to his former player.
“The thing I always admired about Coach
Overton is that he is a guy who absolutely loves baseball,” Boone said.
“He was a true student of the game and took a lot of pride in trying to
teach kids and players. He really cared about the kids and developing
them as a player. He was the one that gave me the opportunity to play
and that has always meant a lot to me.
“That man loves East Carolina and he loves
East Carolina baseball.”
The inspired sophomore came back to throw
a complete-game victory over Purdue and it validated his coach’s
decision to stick with him. Boone locked into the rotation as the fourth
starter, the off starter, and would come out of the bullpen now and
In retrospect, Boone sees his sophomore
year as one that showed his great potential and revealed his
His arm couldn’t stand up to the wear and
during the summer prior to his junior season; it went from bad to worse.
“Something just happened,” he recalled.
“It was never really the same again. I struggled all junior year and had
surgery. I pitched sparingly and it was a struggle ever time out.”
Hope returned for Boone in his senior
season. He earned the number two spot in the rotation, but required so
much rest between innings that his coach and teammates started calling
“If you asked Coach Overton, he would say
I was a bear on the mound who would do anything to win,” Boone said.
“But he would also say that I needed an ice truck to pitch again. He
still kids me about that today.”
Though the Pirates went to the Regionals
that season, Boone really regrets that he couldn’t have contributed more
in his postseason opportunities.
“I won some conference games that season,
even though my arm was shot toward the end of the season. I felt like I
contributed (to the Regionals), but I struggled as a starter. I would go
out there and get hit hard — even though I felt like I always did. I
just didn’t have it anymore… it was like someone just flipped a light
switch and I didn’t have it anymore. It was the toughest time of my
Today, times are not so tough on Boone. He
is back home now, back in Fuquay-Varina, working in Raleigh. He is
putting to good use his electrical engineering degree he earned at
UNC-Charlotte after he graduated from ECU. He accomplished his dream of
becoming an engineer.
Now, he uses those skills to make life a
little safer for all of us. His company specializes in safety
certifications for products. Personally, Boone has worked on certifying
the safety of electric signs and temporary power taps among other
“I went to Charlotte to follow my dream to
be an electrical engineer,” he said. “That was an experience going back
to college at 22 years old and starting over essentially. That was a
After school, with his degree in hand, he
returned home where he met and later married his wife, Ruth.
“I wanted to come back home — always did,”
Boone said. “I met Ruth right after I graduated from Charlotte and I
don’t know if I could have met anybody who I am as much alike. We are
very compatible. I couldn’t be happier.”
enjoying the snow with wife, Ruth.
Being home was huge for Boone, whose
family is very tight. So tight, that his sister – Neal Sears’ mother –
lives just five houses up the road. His nephew’s choice to pitch for the
Pirates has reconnected him to his alma mater and rekindled his love for
“(An athlete) always second guesses
things, but I loved ECU. I loved playing there, I loved the guys I
played with, and Coach Overton,” he said. “I still talk to my catcher,
Jim Riley, and I am close with Steve Sides (2nd base), who is
now Dr. Sides. And Chubbie, who is out in Oklahoma, and I are still
great friends. I don’t regret it one moment. When I found out Neal was
going to go to ECU and play for coach (Keith) LeClair, I was excited. It
has been great.”
now is a very active member in the Wake County Pirate Club and gets out
to as many games as possible. He is an avid golfer, sporting an
impressive four handicap, which helped him qualify for the North
Carolina Amateur. And he is back home, working in a job that he loves.
And when he watches his nephew fire a
pitch for today’s Pirates, he knows that his contributions to the
program were, indeed, valuable.
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