Commentary: Leggett, Tigers Will Witness Special Moment


by - Correspondent -
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The games we play, or in some cases cover, have an important place in our daily lives.

For the major college coach, the games - and everything that happens before and after them - are his livelihood. For someone in my position it's the calling of, writing about or analyzing that brings home the paycheck.

It is how we make a living. When you have a wife and children, making a living is not only encouraged, it's necessary. No doubt, the games have an importance.

Yet every once in a while we must be reminded to take a step back. No matter how much we get caught up in the moment, no matter how many times the star second baseman strikes out, no matter how often the backup defensive end whips the starting left tackle, at its core it really is just a game.

There are more important things in life than the hanging curve ball, or the missed free throw.

This coming Tuesday night, we get one of those reminders.

Jack Leggett and his Clemson baseball team will travel to Cullowhee, N.C. Tuesday for an evening affair with Western Carolina. Much will be written and said about the Tigers' need to avenge a surprise loss to the Catamounts, and given the goals set by Leggett and the team a victory would indeed be important.

But only in perspective.

Because before the first pitch is thrown, many will say the game doesn't matter. Most in the park will be teary-eyed. Some will be crying uncontrollably.

All over Keith LeClair.

LeClair, the former Catamount player and coach and former head man at East Carolina, is having his jersey retired prior to Tuesday's game. Already in the WCU Hall of Fame, LeClair will be the first such player to be honored by the school with a retired number.

That Jack Leggett can be in attendance makes it a special night. LeClair played for Leggett at Western Carolina years ago. So, too, did current Catamount head coach Todd Raleigh.

It will be a special homecoming. Especially if LeClair can be there.

LeClair, widely considered a rising star in the coaching profession (career record of 448-231-3), had his career cut short when he was diagnosed in 2002 with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. More commonly known as Lou Gehrig disease, ALS weakens and attacks the body's muscles.

Ultimately, the body ceases working one part at a time - falling victim to paralysis - even to the point of rendering the victim unable to speak. It is unusual for those who suffer from ALS to live beyond five years.

The mind, however, remains unaffected by the disease.

LeClair today is as mentally sharp as ever, even though his body leaves him incapacitated. He communicates through a special computer, which allows him to focus on a letter or word with his eyes and then have it transferred to the screen.

And while his time is limited, LeClair has at least lived long enough to be shown how much love people feel for him. The jersey retirement ceremony Tuesday will be the latest such event honoring LeClair.

Recently, the upgraded facility at East Carolina was adorned with his name.

Whether or not LeClair is well enough to be brought to Cullowhee on Tuesday remains to be seen. Even if he can't attend, he will be well represented. LeClair's parents and children are scheduled to be in attendance. More than 50 of his former players and teammates have committed.

And of course Leggett will be there. Fate would have it no other way.

So, for just a little while before Tuesday's first pitch, we will get a much-needed dose of reality. For a few moments, all the seemingly life-changing moments will be trivialized.

For a few moments, baseball will be - more than ever before - just a game.

And just in case:

If you're listening to the pregame show Tuesday night on the radio, and there is an awkward silence; perhaps a longer than usual commercial break. Don't worry.

Cynical media types can get teary-eyed, too.

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