A Truly Unique Experience
by Dan Eberhard

East Carolina baseball's regular season is filled with rivalry games, record setting performances and plenty of tailgating in the jungle, but nothing beats the atmosphere of the postseason.

Pirate fans making the trip down to Hattiesburg next week for the Conference USA Tournament will be in for a treat.  I was fortunate enough to be behind the microphone for the ECU baseball team during the 2002 and 2003 conference tournaments and it was an experience I will never forget. 

Ten teams and their rabid fans will make their presence felt throughout the week.  In 2003 every team involved stayed in the same high-rise hotel in downtown New Orleans.  Like an episode of Survivor, we'd come back to the hotel after each game.  One team would return to their rooms while the other packed their bags and headed to the airport. 

As the tournament field is cut down you notice the few remaining teams have developed a mutual respect for one another.  Small talk outside the park and in the hotel lobby amongst players from different teams is the norm.  But when it's time to play ball, it's back to business as usual.

You can tell who the baseball schools are based on their fans.  I've said it once and I'll say it again, East Carolina sets the standard in the conference.  However at the league tournament, the team that is favored to win usually has the cockiest crowd traveling with them.  The stands are packed more and more each day and the intensity grows with the tournament.

On the media end of things, it's a chance to re-visit the voices from the other schools.  In 2003 the radio networks for opposing teams were set up beside each other during the games.  It was not only a contest of who had the better team on the field but who had the stronger pipes and called the best game in the press box. 

The NCAA Tournament brings everything the conference tournament has multiplied by 10.  When you show up for a regional, you feel like you're somewhere special.  There's no comparison between the atmosphere of the regular season and the NCAA Tournament.  Fans who've attended regionals know that the crowd hinges on every single pitch.  It's a true round robin event between the best of the best and anybody can beat anybody.

With a few more wins the 2005 ECU squad will have overcome every injury known to man and will likely make it to the postseason for a record seventh consecutive year.  Regardless of what happens, it will be rewarding time for the coaches and players and a memorable experience for everyone involved.

Dan Eberhard