The Greenville community and supporters of East Carolina University athletics went all out to make sure they would have a gem of a collegiate ballpark. In fact, no fewer than 150 individuals and organizations contributed at least $10,000 to make the project possible. Here’s a look at what they came up with.
Year Opened: 2005
Dimensions: 320L, 390C, 320R
Playing Surface: Grass
Phone: 252/328-4500 or 800/DIAL-ECU
Ticket Prices (2009): General Admission, $6
Conference: Conference USA
Parking: Free in various lots, except reserved areas next to ballpark
Address/Directions: Take US 64 from Raleigh heading east. Take US 264 in Zebulon and head east past Wilson and into Greenville. Take US 264 to Allen Road and turn right. Allen Road turns into Greenville Blvd. Take Greenville Blvd. to Charles Blvd. and take a left (ECU message board on corner). Take Charles Blvd. down hill one block and locate parking wherever open lots are available on either side of Charles (the ballpark is located on the right).
Author: Jim Robins
The result is a first-class facility, Lewis Field at Clark-LeClair Stadium. With a seating capacity of 3,000 in the truly grandstand, another 2,000 can be packed into the elevated berm “Jungle” located beyond the left-field fence. Good luck getting a good seat: season-ticket holders control most of the seats, and single-game ducats are limited to sections 201-202 and the Jungle. Home and away, the team has one of the toughest schedules in the nation.
Clark-LeClair was built at a cost of $11 million — all from private donations raised by the ECU Educational Foundation. The magnitude of the place is immediately apparent as you approach the main gate, and once inside no aspect of the facility disappoints.
The ballpark is named after homebuilder Bill Clark, who donated $1.5 million toward construction, and former Pirate head coach Keith LeClair who died July 17, 2006 after a five-year battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). As head coach from 1997 to 2002, LeClair was instrumental in promoting the new facility off the field and he initiated a seven-year string of NCAA tournament appearances that ended in 2006. Fittingly, the new ballpark was inaugurated March 4, 2005 with the opening game of the second annual Keith LeClair Classic where ECU defeated Michigan, 2-1.
The centerpiece of the new facility is the state-of-the-art press box that includes separate booths for two radio broadcasters, TV, writers, as well as stadium operations. A hospitality suite for fans and donors is known as the Pirate Club. Other amenities include the full array of indoor and outdoor batting cages, coaches’ offices and a spacious clubhouse. The reworked playing surface features Celebration Bermuda infield turf over a clay base with crushed brick warning track. New lighting certifies the field for the most-stringent of night game television standards.
The view of the game from every angle is excellent, although lighting at certain times of the day early in the year does raise some caveats. Our mid-winter visit came the opening weekend. Late-day bright sun down the left-field line presented challenges not only for spectators on the first-base side, but for the home team trying to signal the distant bullpen down the left-field line. Even players’ fielding was adversely affected. A superb, elevated terrace area allows fans to watch pitchers warm up while keeping track of the game; however, this set-up appears to isolate the home bullpen from the game action. This is a ballpark for the fans first, and they respond with enthusiasm.
It was no secret that part of the rationale for constructing a first-class ballpark at ECU was to help fulfill the Pirates’ goal of reaching the College World Series in Omaha. ECU claimed the NAIA national championship in 1961, and has achieved a winning record in 54 of its 56 seasons. Even without the new ballpark, ECU put in to host past regionals to be played at Fleming Stadium in Wilson and Grainger Stadium in Kinston knowing that considerable fan support would come from Greenville. In fact, the Pirates hosted a C-USA Tournament at Grainger Stadium in 2002.
Beyond much doubt East Carolina will be hosting a few NCAA regional tournaments at Clark-LeClair in the years to come.