Book tells story of ECU’s LeClair

Published 11:12 am Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Staff Writer

Keith LeClair fans may want to be in Washington on Friday evening when author Bethany Bradsher signs copies of her book about the former East Carolina University baseball coach.
LeClair won’t be there. He died in July 2006, a victim of Lou Gehrig’s disease. The book tells his story.
After studying journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Bradsher, has spent nearly 20 years as a journalist, including covering the Carolina Panthers and various Olympic events. Bradsher said it wasn’t until she decided to write a book about LeClair that her brass as a writer was tested.
“Just from talking with so many people who knew Keith was very emotional,” Bradsher said. “I interviewed over 60 people who knew him so well. It was just a great experience talking with them and really getting to know Keith through them as they shared their memories of him.”
LeClair was one of the youngest head baseball coaches at the college level in the country. At age 25, he was named the head baseball coach for Western Carolina University, his alma mater. Shortly thereafter, at age 30, he was named head baseball coach at ECU.
Before all that, LeClair was a walk-on baseball player at WCU, becoming an All-Southern Conference selection in 1988. He played on four consecutive Southern Conference championship baseball teams, and he was ranked in the top 10 in six different WCU hitting categories.
After his collegiate career, LeClair signed with the Atlanta Braves. Later, after a spring-training stint with the San Francisco Giants in 1989, he was offered a student-assistant coaching position at WCU.
Bradsher said the title of the book, “Coaching Third: The Keith LeClair Story,” denotes how LeClair lived his life, with coaching coming third in is life — behind faith and family.
LeClair coached at ECU until his battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease forced him to retire in 2002. He became the second-winningest baseball coach in ECU history in just five seasons.
The new baseball stadium at ECU, Clark-LeClair Stadium, was built in honor of LeClair and Bill Clark, an ECU alumnus and key contributor.
After LeClair died, Bradsher contacted his widow, Lynn, about writing a book about him. At first, there were several writers who wanted to write about LeClair. Three years later, Bradsher noticed a book about LeClair had not come out yet, so she contacted LeClair’s widow again. LeClair’s widow gave Bradsher the green light to move forward with writing the book.
It took a year from the first interview Bradsher conducted to when the book was published.
“We weren’t able to put all the devotionals in the book,” Bradsher said. “As there were dozens of them, we were only able to put in 10. And that is something I really wanted to put in — all of them.
“And you really got to know Keith through those devotionals, from his hotheadedness in the games when getting ejected from games to his heartfelt times with his family.”
Bradsher wants to revise the book so it contains all the devotionals.
When LeClair was in his second year as WCU’s head coach, he was one out away from winning the college world championship, she noted.
“Just one out away and only 26 years of age. Can you imagine?” Bradsher said. “I was told by his wife when he and coach (Bill) Jarman were there they were jumping up and down on their beds like little kids because they were so excited. And then they had to compose themselves in a professional manner when they addressed the media.”
According to Bradsher, if a coach has one or two student-athletes go into the coaching field after graduation, then that’s considered quite an accomplishment. LeClair has had well over a dozen former student-athletes follow in his footsteps in the coaching realm.
“A few are coaching and assistant coaching on the college level,” she said. “And about half are coaching high-school baseball around the state.”
When Bradsher did a book-signing at Clark-LeClair Stadium earlier this year, two big, burly men went up to her, telling her they just wanted to give her hugs.
“These were two men that knew Keith and lived the game of baseball,” she said. “They knew him, and they loved him. For some people, it was hard. But they loved the book.”
Bradsher said ECU’s current head baseball coach, Billy Godwin, buys copies of “Coaching Third” for his players every year.
Bradsher will at I Can’t Believe It’s a Bookstore from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday night to autograph copies of the book. For more information, contact I Can’t Believe It’s a Bookstore at 252-946-0855.