May 21, 2022
Clark-LeClair Stadium (Capacity: 5,000)
East Carolina Pirates vs Houston Cougars
Final Score: 3-2 (10)
Greenville, a city of 90,000, is part of the Inner Banks in Eastern North Carolina. Located along the Tar River, this former tobacco hub is now anchored by health care and East Carolina University, a large public school of nearly 30,000 students. The first portion of my stadium doubleheader came in the early-season heat that arrived in the state as the temperature peaked at 93 degrees with a heat index of 101. With a 1 PM game time, in a seating section that lacked shade, it was a battle of attrition. Baseball is by far the most successful sport at ECU as they have won their conference 10 times and played in 32 NCAA Tournaments. Besides reaching the College World Series, the ultimate goal for a college baseball program is to host a Regional and they’ve done that each of the last three season (and are teetering on the verge of another this season). Incredibly however, the team has failed to make it to Omaha. At least they have a ballpark that is capable of hosting a Regional as that was their goal with the opening of Clark-LeClair Stadium in 2005.
Prestige Ranking: 3.5 out of 5
The center of Greenville (Uptown) has many places to eat and drink and while there is still an older feel to it, the area has come around, becoming modernized. Other than ECU sports, there really isn’t anything that would draw out-of-towners to Greenville. About a mile south of Uptown and the nearby Main Campus is the school’s athletic district. Not much exploring in this area is needed being in the College Hill residential neighborhood.
Location Ranking: 4 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
With the ballpark near the football stadium, there is a good amount of parking, though it is not clear as to where to go if you just drive in to a game without some research. Supposedly, the only non-pass lot is where the Belk Building is. Patrons then cross Charles Blvd (with police help) to reach the ballpark. With various areas in this section to park, it didn’t get full, but in case it does, I suppose you could leave your car at the expansive lot to the left of the arena and then take a lengthy, roundabout walk. As for getting to Greenville, it’s a little off the beaten path as it takes some time to reach from I-95 (and it is even more awkward and time consuming from Norfolk / VA Beach). However, four-lane highways do reach the area via US-64, US-264 or US-13. In town, finding Charles Blvd is easy.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 7 out of 8
The brick structure matches others nearby and there are subtle beige lines breaking up the brick. The most prominent feature is the large entrance gap in the middle. This is next to the ticket office within the tallest part of the brick design, which includes the stadium name and an analog clock at the top.
Exterior Ranking: 6.5 out of 10
Clark-LeClair Stadium has what feels like half a concourse and that section is behind the first base side. It’s mostly covered and portable fans were a nice touch to try and combat the heat. Brick beams support the concrete structure above. Walking back to the other side of home plate, it’s odd to have an incomplete concourse as this was simply a narrow walkway leading to the grassy area in the left field corner. There are no bathrooms either in this area as only one set was available for a ballpark of 5,000 (though there are Port-a-Pottys in the outfield). To reach the seating bowl, it is a decent hike up a long set of stairs.
Concourse Ranking: 2 out of 5
The primary concession stand is in the main area on the first base side and it includes the four classic stadium food groups (Burger, Hot Dog, Chicken, Pizza). The Tenders/Fries combo I had was a good portion to make a meal of. Beyond that, there’s not much more besides snacks. A beer cart sits next to the concession stand and there’s a decent variety between beer, seltzer and wine. Good to see nearby Tarboro Brewing Company represented and their offering was the Sexy Canoe (lager).
Food Ranking: 4.5 out of 8
Those stairs lead you to a wide middle walkway, which splits the seating up between a lower and upper section. Below, are 3-6 rows of seats that have nice perspective thanks to small foul territory and a ground-level wall that starts these seats about 8 feet off the ground. The purple chairs are remarkably wide. Behind home plate and the walkway are three more purple-chaired sections. These are the ideal spot thanks to their view and location under a purple/yellow overhang. Unfortunately, these are off limits to you and me as alumni, donors and season ticket holders own this area and tickets aren’t sold to the public. This is also where the press box and the Pirate Club is located and many come from the Club down to their seats as the game starts. I looked on jealously as I baked in the adjacent bleacher section. I would’ve looked very out of place (in my Buffalo Bills hat) trying to sneak a seat behind home plate with the alumni. It’s another hike up a lot of entry stairs to reach either of the bookended bleacher sections and it’s a negative blemish on the ballpark having these metal seats with backs. They are at least sloped well to provide a good field perspective. In the background, is the football stadium and the beautiful shade trees of The Jungle in the outfield. This popular area features a small slope, so that the many folks that watch here can set up their lawn chairs and enjoy a view of the game.
Interior Ranking: 8.5 out of 14
The right-field video board is a good one as the size allows for easy readability. Video would’ve been great, if they actually used it to show replays, which I never saw. During play, the set-up is well done with a lineup card, batter stats and a digitized line score at the bottom. They also have a team logo and school wordmark at the top of the display.
Scoreboard Ranking: 3 out of 4
Prominently featured on two huge panels on the walls that enclose the central stairs is the theme of ECU baseball. On one side, you have perennial success with numbers dictating championships, tournament appearances and player honors. However, that larger font for “1” and their 1961 National Championship is quite misleading (it came at the NAIA level). On the other side is a quote by Keith LeClair. The beloved former manager led the Pirates before passing away from ALS in 2006. In this general vicinity of the main entrance, you’ll see other detailed plaques honoring supporters and donors of the school and team. Player banners hang from the concourse showing alumni in their MLB uniforms. Inside the stadium, there is character thanks to a smattering of team color, but there are no pennants or achievements by year (and there is space for it).
Displays Ranking: 3.5 out of 6
Parking is free and tickets are $10, which is a fair charge and about the same as the ACC programs in the Triangle. Concessions here at Clark-LeClair Stadium are also reasonable with a Hot Dog costing $3, cheeseburger: $5 and $3 for a water. Beer was $7 – $9.
Cost Ranking: 8 out of 8
East Carolina is known as having atmosphere and attendance that is near the top of college baseball. I’ll agree with one, but not the other. Start with fan support as the team typically ranks between #15 – #30 in the country for paid attendance. That’s great and all, but the true view inside the park does not reflect that. This game on Senior Day featured a mostly empty grandstand. I don’t think there were even 1,000 in the main seating area, despite the very deceptive announced number of 3,029. I get that it was a hot day, so looking at the night games earlier in the series (Friday and Thursday), attendance wasn’t much better. Sure, the Pirates likely have the best fan support in the American Athletic Conference and of course the place sells out for the Regionals, but don’t go putting it in the country’s Top 10 or on the same playing field as SEC school support.
Fan Support Ranking: 5.5 out of 8
Now where the narrative changes is out in The Jungle. The hill features nearly a continuous row around the outfield wall of fans watching, along with a handful that stood against the wall. On this day, it was probably about 500 fans who were in the area and that is typical for most games. The dozen or two that are hanging over the outfield make the atmosphere one of the best in College Baseball. They lead plenty of cheers and chants like “One Up…One Down” or a yell of “Purple” followed by the grandstand yelling “Gold”. More famously, this is the location of the LeClair Leap, where Pirate players will jump up to say hello after a victory. A visiting player or two has even been known to do it in the Regionals and the relationship with the opposing left fielder is an interesting one. There is constant chatter between the two, some of it heckling and some of it just good-natured chatter, like what I saw with the Houston outfielder on this day. It’s a fun place to watch the game from. As for the crowd closer to the infield, they were quiet at times, but certainly showed interest in the game and provided decent noise and cheers when warranted. If only the stadium was more than 30% full, it would’ve really boosted the atmosphere.
Atmosphere Ranking: 10.5 out of 14
The inclusion of Clark-LeClair Stadium on my official List of stadiums to visit is a controversial one (well, for me only). Requirements for inclusion on The List is for a seated capacity of at least 3,500. ECU lists an official ballpark capacity of 5,000, however their website details that there are 3,000 permanent seats and 2,000 people can watch from the grass beyond the elevated area beyond the outfield. So, I took it off The List. Then I got to the ballpark and quickly saw that there is no way that 2,000 people could fit out there between that 10 feet of the hill and outfield wall. Plus, that bowl looks to hold more than 3,000, especially comparing it to 4,500-seat Plainsman Park at Auburn that I visited. Following so far? In the end, I decided to include it as my guess of true seated capacity is in the 3,500 – 4,000 range……East Carolina has the most NCAA Tournament appearances without ever making it to the College World Series……Each season, the ballpark hosts the Keith LeClair Classic, a four-team tournament in honor of the revered LeClair…..Don’t miss The Safety Dance in the middle of the 5th inning.
The resiliency of this Pirates team is incredible as they came back again, this time down 2-0, to win their 14th straight game. Jacob Jenkins-Cowart’s RBI double in the 8th tied the game up and then in the 10th inning, Lane Hoover scored from second after an infield single. It was a thrilling finish in a slow game that took 3:49 and featured 13 pitchers.