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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, January 25, 2006

By Bethany Bradsher

Diamond Bucs gearing up for potent schedule


They play a game that inspired the moniker “the boys of summer,” but college baseball players often practice in climates better suited to a Winter Olympics pursuit, especially in the preseason.

With these mild January temperatures, though, the Diamond Bucs and their new coach have been given a break. They hope it’s a good sign as they set their sights on the warmth of Omaha in June.

“Fortunately, the weather’s baseball weather,” said Billy Godwin, who succeeded Randy Mazey as East Carolina's head coach in October. “That’s been a blessing. Just last week, we were able to get in five very quality days in the first week of practice.”

With eight seniors and 15 letterwinners returning, the Pirates are taking their first steps toward improving their 35-26 record and extending their streak to eight consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. The emphasis during the offseason was on boosting conditioning and sharpening fundamentals, Godwin said, and he is already seeing the fruits of that regimen on the practice field.

“The offseason was really where we were able to lay the groundwork,” Godwin said. “We have seen guys get a lot better from were they were in team practice (in the fall) to now. We really feel like the guys have come back in great shape.”

The season opener against Maryland is just over two weeks away on Feb. 10, but at this point Godwin and his staff are going through the paces of daily plans and trying not to look too hard at the schedule. There’s a handful of clichés — building a foundation, it’s not a sprint but a marathon — that are tired but all too true for a team looking down a four-month road.

And that journey won’t allow much time for coasting. The baseball Pirates are certainly the only ECU team whose schedule includes two of the past three NCAA champions (Cal State-Fullerton and Rice) and a Conference USA lineup that features some of the perennial powers in the sport.

It will be their first full season at Clark-LeClair Stadium, the venue that has been comfortably broken in but still has a touch of that new-car smell. And the Pirates will have ample opportunity to test the advantage of their home field — their first 15 games and two-thirds of all of their contests will be played in Clark-LeClair.

The opening of the baseball season will be heralded this weekend at the annual “Meet the Pirates” luncheon, which sold out all 390 tickets five days before the event. The lunch, which will feature an autograph session with players and coaches, is always popular but didn’t sell out last year, said Robin Taylor of the ECU sports marketing department.

I know that Pitt County follows its college baseball team with exceptional fervor, but Saturday’s sold-out event led me to conduct an informal poll of the Pirates’ first five opponents to learn whether the enthusiasm surrounding the ECU dugouts is unusual.

Sports information employees at the first three schools I contacted — Maryland, College of Charleston and Duke — said that no events would be held to usher in the baseball season. In a reversal of the Pirates’ fortunes, the Maryland Terrapins have to play their first 10 games on the road, said a Maryland media relations representative, and a schedule like that dampens the excitement of a preseason fan event.

Penn State’s baseball booster club, the Dugout Club, is organizing a luncheon, and UNC-Wilmington has the most headline punch with its fourth annual Spring Training Baseball Banquet on Friday night. The speaker will be Grady Little, the former Red Sox manager who was recently named the skipper of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In recent years, the UNCW banquet has brought in two World Series champion managers — Jack McKeon from the 2003 Florida Marlins and Terry Francona from the 2004 Red Sox. Friday’s dinner isn’t sold out yet, said Tom Riordan at UNCW, but the seats are filling fast even though the ticket price — $50 — makes ECU’s $7 lunch look like a steal.

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02/23/2007 01:12:44 AM

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