It’s no secret that Monday night was nothing short of magical for the ECU baseball team, all of the loyal Pirate fans and the great baseball town of Greenville, NC. Most of the articles that I read this week described the unrivaled character that our team showed while coming back to win over an outstanding South Carolina baseball team. They have a first class coach in Tanner and some of the best young talent that I have seen this season. While all the focus this week has been on our performance on the field, I had a pretty special off the field moment with our Diamond Bucs.
After ten innings worth of high fives with all the Pirate fans surrounding our seats, we took it to the tailgate to have a celebratory cold beer and talk about what we just witnessed. As we sipped and smiled, I couldn’t help but think how great of an experience this was for my 12-year-old brother.
Editor’s Note: The 12-year-old brother was not drinking beer.
In the last two years, my brother has stopped playing baseball and lost the love for the game. He and I have had many talks about how playing baseball is more about team accomplishments and camaraderie than it is personal success. During Saturday’s games, Jacob (my brother) was lucky enough to grab a foul ball, but this was not just any ball, this was an official NCAA Regional stamped gem.
As I stood at my tailgate spot enjoying what might be the best Corona I’ve ever had, I felt a tug on my sleeve. Standing below me was my little brother and I began grinning ear-to-ear. Jacob was holding his white gem in his hand and he asked, “You think I could get Kyle Roller to sign this?” After my last big pull from the now empty bottle of Corona, I said “Ain’t no question.”
He grabbed a pen and we took off to stand with the all the families waiting so proudly for their sons to come out of the locker room. Players started to come out one by one led by Seth Maness. Shy and nervous, I had to shove Jacob right next to the great pitcher and heard in an almost whisper “Mr. Maness, can I have your autograph?”
Seth gladly signed it and Jacob’s eyes looked up at me like it was Christmas morning. Kevin Brandt came out with ice wrapped on his shoulder and didn’t hesitate in giving the kid his signature as well. Devin Harris, Trent Whitehead, and Brandon Henderson followed giving the young Pirate fan an autograph and little rub on his bleach blond hair. He came running over to me holding the signed ball high above his head as to prove his accomplishment to me.
We walked off with him talking a mile a minute about how he got the autographs, and that’s when it happened. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Kyle Roller walk out to big hugs from his friends and family. I said, “Jacob, there’s one more signature to get big guy.” He questions who and I point over to big 19, the player Jacob had spent all weekend pulling for.
With his jaw on the ground, Jacob stood in shock looking at the size of the great ballplayer standing in front of him. I lifted his lips off of the cement and said, “Now is your chance, but don’t interrupt his family celebration.” He tip-toed over and waited anxiously yet patiently for his turn. Kyle leaned over to grab the ball and signed it for the star-struck kid. I walked over to shake Kyle’s hand and overheard some words he said to Jacob after signing his ball.
In an exhausted voice, Kyle told this to my brother: “When you never give up, anything is possible, kid”. I gave him the classic “clap-hug’ and thanked him for his efforts on the field not only in this series but all season long.
While Kyle Roller and the Pirates have done amazing things this year on the field, it shocks me that our guys are even more influential off the field. Jacob is packed up and ready for Super Regional in Chapel Hill but much more importantly, is that he said he’s ready to be a part of a baseball team again! The spirit of Keith LeClair is still very alive in Greenville!!