For the fourth year in a row, the ECU Club Baseball Team will play for the chance to bring home a national title at the National Club Baseball Association World Series. There is one major difference this year, the Pirates enter the World Series as the top ranked program in the nation.
“We’ve been preparing all year for this, and I think every man is ready for it, and we’re ready to achieve our ultimate goal of winning this year,” said senior second baseman Miles Haymond.
While they have made the eight-team series the past three years, they have fallen short of the crown, losing in the championship game last year. So for players like Haymond, this is their last shot to get that ring.
“You know, we’ve been to that final game last year, and we were right there. But this year I think we’re a little more ready to take what’s ours,” said Haymond.
The ECU Club Baseball Team has become a juggernaut over the last several years. The Pirates won their first, and only, national championship in 2011. First year head coach Ben Fox, a 2012 graduate, played for the ECU club team in 2009 and started coaching as an assistant in 2010. He feels his team is part of the national picture for the long haul.
“We had just made our first regional when I had first started coaching,” Fox said. “We weren’t considered a perennial world series team, but now we have cemented ourselves as an every year world series baseball team, and we take a lot of pride in that.”
Graduate student Logan Sutton is playing in his final season for the purple and gold. He just missed out on playing for that national championship team in 2011.
“My first thought of it is I’m sure everyone’s first thought, you know: ‘It’s just club baseball.’ But as I got involved and started coming to practices and talking to everyone, it really hit home that it’s really competitive,” Sutton said.
“This group of guys could compete at any level… . One game, I’ll take us against anybody,” Fox said.
There are some similarities between NCAA athletics and club sports. The competition level is very high. Players can tryout (similar to walk-on) to make the team. Fox said during the past couple of years 70 to 100 players have tried out. This year, 30 players are on the roster along with four redshirts.
Those who make the team may play up to five years, but they have only six years to do so after graduating from high school. Unlike traditional Division 1 athletes, they can redshirt one year and then play on the field for the other five; traditional players can be on the field or court for only four years.
The club players are not on athletic scholarships and have to pay or raise $300 a semester to play.
“Which is why you never really have to question any of these guys’ effort because they know they’re paying to be out here, and that’s the best part about it. You know these guys want to be here, or they wouldn’t pay the money to be here,” Fox said.
Club baseball also gives athletes a chance to continue playing baseball beyond high school.
“I’ll be forever grateful for club baseball… . It’s been the best decision in my life because we’re still able to play competitive baseball,” said senior shortstop Walker Gaddis of Greenville.
Senior catcher Jake Merzigan had previously walked on the ECU baseball team. While he made the team, he was behind star catcher Travis Watkins on the depth chart. He played a little as the bullpen catcher but saw club baseball as a way to get the most out of his baseball career.
“I just saw a better opportunity playing club ball. You’re actually playing in the games rather than catching in the bullpen,” Merzigan said.
Earlier this month, Haymond and Gaddis received their diplomas from ECU and have accepted jobs that begin next month. So for them, these last few games will most likely be their last.
“It’s a tough realization, but if I have to go out one way, it would be on this team in that national championship game on June first,” Haymond said.
The ECU Club Baseball Team has its first game Friday, May 26, at 7 p.m. at the North Main Athletic Complex in Holly Springs, NC against Michigan State. Since they are the only North Carolina team in the NCBA Division 1 World Series, they are hoping to fill the stands with members of the Pirate Nation.
“I’ve been a Pirate my whole life and there’s nothing better to have ECU across our chests,” Gaddis said.
-by Rich Klindworth