There’s a sense of renewal within East Carolina’s baseball program. After falling short last season with a 33-26 (16-14 Conference USA) record and no post-season run, Billy Godwin was relieved of his managing duties after nine years at ECU.
Now, with former Pirate catcher Cliff Godwin at the helm, the team has a clean slate in every sense of the phrase.
Godwin made a bold statement about his expectations for the team when he announced that three players wouldn’t be available in the season-opening series against Virginia in Clark-LeClair Stadium. Bryce Harman, Jack Owens and Bailey Sugg were suspended for violation of team rules.
“We’re not going to sacrifice our culture here of what our standards are on and off the field for wins,” Godwin told reporters at Wednesday’s media day. “Hopefully it’s a learning experience for those guys.”
Harman, a sophomore first baseman, is one of the team’s five returning starters. His seven home runs led the team last year, so his absence will leave an offensive void against the second-ranked Cavaliers.
Sugg and Owens are both true freshmen and two of the team’s 12 newcomers. Sugg is a native of Greenville and a product of J.H. Rose. Owens is an infielder out of Lake Braddock (Burke, Va.).
By Godwin’s account, this incident isn’t the norm. The team has a small group of upperclassmen leaders in the likes of Hunter Allen and Reid Love, as well as plenty of underclassmen who have stepped into leadership roles of their own.
“We have great leadership in the locker room and guys get after it,” said Godwin. “The work ethic, the accountability and the discipline that is in that locker room is as good as any team I’ve ever been around. I’ve been very happy with that.”
Accountability isn’t the only cultural shift Godwin is encouraging. He recalls the atmosphere at Clark-LeClair during his time as a player from 1998-2001 and hopes to revitalize that. He says the first step was getting students more involved by relaxing the exit and reentry rules for fans and making some parking spaces available to students.
“This place was rocking when I played here with Harrington,” Godwin said. “We’ve got to get the support back from the community, get people fired up about ECU baseball and not get so caught up in the wins and losses, but the way our guys play the game.”
The players have bought into this movement. Sophomore infielder Charlie Yorgen is excited himself and notices support coming from his fellow students.
“I’m definitely excited to see how many people get out there,” said Yorgen. “I think there’s a lot more interest from people in Greenville and East Carolina fans around the country that this program is in a new direction…Personally, I’ve had a lot of people ask what the new program is like and what we’re going to be like. I’m excited that fellow students are asking those questions.”
Between this changing culture and the transition from C-USA to the American Athletic Conference, there’s a lot that’s different heading into this season. What remains constant is a lot of the goals the players and coaches have.
“This year, it’s a completely different culture for the better,” said Yorgen. “Everyone has a mission on this team and we all have the same goals as a team.”
Yorgen then pointed to a paper on the door behind him that listed all the goals. “We want to win 40 games. We want to host a regional. We want to host a super-regional and we want to go to Omaha.”