Most of you
may not know that I played a couple years of baseball as well as
football at East Carolina, and I played for Coach LeClair in his first
season as head coach in 1998. Although we never saw eye to eye on
my playing time, I still respected him as a coach and as a man.
He deeply cared about his players and we all appreciated that about
him. He came in 1998 and told everybody on the team from day one
that we would go to the College World Series. “Maybe not this
year, but we would get there” that's what he said. We had just
come off a sub-500 season in 1997 and we all looked at him like he was
crazy. There are over 300 division I baseball schools in the
country and only 8 make the trip to Omaha for the College World Series.
That statement would be like coach Holtz telling the Football team that
he would take them to a BCS Bowl right after coming off of a two win
season. In order to even make it to the postseason in baseball
without winning your conference tournament you have to win at least 40
games (we only played a 56 game season). Well in 1998 we didn't
win 40 games we only won 30, but we finished with a winning record and
every year after that he won at least 46 games. In those next four
years ECU made the postseason each year and in 2001 they came one game
from going to the College World Series.
I was a part time player for Coach LeClair and in order for him to get
the program to its highest potential he needed full time players.
He tried his best to make it work for me, by spending extra hours with
me in the batting cage and trying his best to work around my football
schedule. In the end, I couldn’t hold off the amazing ability of
John Williamson. John was a highly recruited switch hitting
outfielder from Wilmington New Hanover.
About 5 games into the season John took over my spot in the outfield
and went on to have one of the best seasons a freshman has had in the
schools history. He set the school record for home runs and RBI’s
by a freshman. I didn’t like it at the time, but it’s hard to
argue with a coach that decided to play a full time kid who ended up
being a freshman All-American. Throughout that season, Coach
never allowed me to mope, he would talk to me continuously and I played
in nearly every game even if it was just to run bases. That is
the kind of guy he was, straight forward, caring and fair.
He was a man of integrity and of Great Spirit. He gave each of
his graduating seniors a Purple Bible at the end of the year with a
personal note in it and the players name inscribed on the
outside. I only played for him one year as a junior, but he still
took the time to send me a Bible in the mail. I went to visit him
a few times throughout his battle with ALS and although I wanted to go
more often. It was tough to see a man of such strength and
courage withering away. When you were in his presence over those
last few years he never allowed you to feel sorry for him, he would
often talk to me about the football team and deflect the conversation
from himself back on to me and my life.
He will be greatly missed by me and the entire Pirate Family a man like
Keith LeClair only comes around once in a lifetime. The Pirates
were lucky he decided to make us a part of his life’s journey.