Time to say goodbye

Published 9:18 pm Thursday, May 12, 2011

East Carolina center fielder Trent Whitehead robs an opposing batter of a home run during a Pirates game last season in front of fans seated in the Jungle. Whitehead, a Washington native, is one of seven ECU seniors who will be honored before the Pirates play Delaware State Saturday. (Photo Courtesy of ECU)

GREENVILLE — This year East Carolina features seven seniors that gave Pirates’ fans numerous reasons to smile over the last four seasons. On Saturday, those fans will get a chance to return the favor with a big ovation when ECU honors seniors Mike Anderson, Austin Homan, Seth Maness, Brad Mincey, Seth Simmons, Trent Whitehead and Zach Woods at the school’s Senior Day ceremony before the Pirates take on Delaware State at 3 p.m. in their final home series of the year.

This year’s senior class is loaded with talent as it includes last season’s Conference USA Pitcher of the Year in Maness, ECU’s all-time saves leader in Seth Simmons, back-to-back Keith LeClair jersey recipient Homan and four-year starter at center field and ECU’s single-season hit king in Whitehead. How’s that for a recruiting class.

East Carolina coach Billy Godwin said that group has special meaning to him.

“This is really the first true senior class that I have brought in as a head coach,” said Godwin, who was an assistant coach for ECU before being named head coach in October 2005.

“I recruited Kyle Roller and some of the other guys but I was more of an assistant. This class has a personal meaning to me in the fact that they have been such great men and each one has been a key contributor in their own way. It’s a special group to me.”

It’s a special group to Whithead as well. The former Washington High School star has spent the last four seasons with them and has formed a family-like bond with the six other seniors.

“It’s a great group of guys and all of them have had great careers,” Whitehead said. “It’s going to be tough down the road. I have gotten used to being around these guys everyday and it’s going to be something different to not see them everyday. They have made the last four years for me very fun and have given me memories that will stick with me the rest of my life.”

Whitehead said he hasn’t put too much thought into this weekend’s Senior Day ceremony, but acknowledged that it might take a while for the fact that he is about to play his final home series to sink in.

“I’m not really going to think about it, I’m just going to enjoy the time that I have left with these guys,” Whitehead said.

Another thing Whitehead is enjoying right now is the way he has been swinging the bat. In the early portion of the year the lefty-swinging Whitehead was struggling at the plate, but now the four-year starter has regained his form and confidence and is third on the team in hitting with a .307 average.

“I was going through a tough time and I sat down with (assistant) coach (Nick) Schnabel and he told me it was all about confidence and I agreed with him,” Whitehead said. “He just told me to relax and go out there and have fun. He said that this game is hard enough as it is, you’re going to have good times and bad times but he said that whatever happens just forget about it and move on. And I really took that the way he told me and ran with it. Things have turned around and I’m seeing the ball great right now.”

Whitehead, a tremendous competitor, admitted he might have been a little too hard on himself during the slump.

“That’s one of my biggest things, I always expect more out of myself,” Whitehead said. “When things are going well I expect more, and while you know you’re going to fail, I don’t expect myself to fail. I was pretty hard on myself.”

Players will do anything to get themselves out of a slump and Whitehead is no different. The Pirates center fielder who wear’s No. 1 even switched his batting song from Nellie’s “I am No. 1” to Akon’s “I’m so paid,” the same song he used in 2009 when he hit a school record 105 in 2009.

“That song has done me pretty well,” Whitehead joked.

Aside from the change in tunes, Whitehead said he felt having a good series against Houston helped recapture that 2009 form.

“I didn’t have a good round of BP (batting practice) before the game that I hit two home runs in but Coach Schnabel was just like ‘Oh well, don’t worry about it. Just go out there and play, don’t worry about results,’” Whitehead said. “And I just went out and had a good game and it kind of took off from there; I got my confidence back.”

Whithead enters this weekend’s series having recently passed Chad Tracy for sixth on the school’s all-time hit list with 268 base hits. Whitehead is steadily climbing up the charts and has Harrison Eldridge (284) and Ryan Wood (285), who rank fifth and fourth respectively, on his radar.

As far as that flashy leather, that’s never disappeared as the center fielder’s range and willingness to go all-out for balls has gotten him more Jungle love over the year’s then Morris Day and the Time.

When asked about Whitehead’s defensive abilities Godwin said, “He’s superb. He’s probably the best center fielder I’ve ever coached.”

After the three game series against Delaware State, the Pirates will play their last scheduled home game of the season against Old Dominion on Tuesday at 6 p.m.