Godwin’s connection to East Carolina’s past grows stronger

Published 2:40 pm Tuesday, February 24, 2015

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS DEEP TO LEFT: First-year East Carolina coach Cliff Godwin has deep ties to the program’s past.

DEEP TO LEFT: First-year East Carolina coach Cliff Godwin has deep ties to the program’s past.

GREENVILLE — First-year East Carolina baseball head coach Cliff Godwin jumped over the left field wall and into the arms of a fan following Sunday’s 9-2 win over St. John’s.

But it wasn’t just because the Pirates bested the Red Storm thanks to a fine offensive performance. Something far more important allowed the 37-year-old coach, who has undergone two Achilles surgeries, to make the jump.

“We had that tradition [back when I played],” said Godwin, a former ECU backstop from 1998-2001. “The left field megaphone guy has done a good job and he called me out there so I had to do it.”

Understanding the history of ECU’s baseball program is important when looking at why he had to do it. One must go through the archives and look at the former skipper, Keith LeClair, and the glory days of the Pirates.

LeClair, who was at the helm from 1998-2002 and compiled a 212-96-1 record, coached just five seasons, but took the Pirates to new heights, leading them to four-straight NCAA regional appearances. But it only took five seasons for his legacy to be paved.

However, when ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, forced him out of coaching in 2002 and later took his life on July 17, 2006, a piece of ECU baseball had disappeared.

In order to keep his legacy alive, the school erected Clark-LeClair stadium, which opened in 2005, just one year before his death. ECU also gave the Pirates their own tournament to host in 2003, the Keith LeClair Classic, which brings us back to Godwin and his jump.

In the 12th-annual classic, the Pirates bested St. John’s and UNC Greensboro on their way to claiming the tournament title, as well as giving Godwin his first two wins as the coach of his alma mater. Wearing the same No.23 jersey that LeClair donned during his coaching tenure, Godwin led his team to a peak of success that perhaps had more emotional implications than the record.

“Any time you win it feels good,” said Godwin. “But it’s extra special to get the first wins of the season in the Keith LeClair Classic.”

The No.23 jersey has been awarded annually to the player that “embodies the spirit and determination of Keith LeClair,” but for the first time it was given to a coach, and no one is more deserving of it than the player turned skipper who, as a catcher, was a key part of ECU’s greatest success on the diamond.

“I think about him every time I’ve worn the No.23,” said Godwin. “It’s extra special because this is actually where coach LeClair stood. I always think about coach between every inning when I run out there to third base.”

Now the honeymoon is over, Godwin’s greatest triumph in his young career is over as well, and the rebranding and rebuilding of a proud program is fully underway.

“It is an honor to be in a position to lead the East Carolina baseball program and serve my alma mater,” Godwin said. “I consider it a privilege to carry on Coach LeClair’s legacy and represent not only the guys I played with, but all former Pirates who have made this a special place.”