With the East Carolina University baseball team set to field opening day on Feb. 17, the Pirates’ 2023 preseason media day has come and gone and the preseason is upon us.
The event lasted an hour and a half, featuring interviews from both the coaching staff and experienced players from the program. Different points of emphasis were addressed during the media day activities, such as pitching rotations, offensive game planning, retooling, position battles, recruiting, technology updates and the injury and aftermath to freshman Parker Byrd’s injury and recovery.
Head Coach Cliff Godwin kicked off the event with a press conference that lasted over 20 minutes. In his opening address, Godwin said that it seems like ECU baseball has more and more attention placed on them every year. That culminates in the No. 11 ranking given to the Pirates by D1Baseball in their preseason power rankings.
“Well I woke up this morning and I went, well I don’t think there’s a publication that’s ranked us top ten.” Coach Godwin said. “I don’t buy into that stuff.”
He continued to reminisce on last year’s group and said that early season struggles were due to behind the scenes drama that was unknown to the public. Coach Godwin spoke on a multitude of topics, including how his coaching staff stepped up in his absence when he went out with knee surgery, preseason updates, players to look out for and his experience when he found out the news of Byrd’s injury.
Coach Godwin spoke about how he was with a recruit but had to step away after receiving three consecutive phone calls about Byrd’s accident. Byrd was airlifted to Greenville’s hospital and when the helicopter landed, Coach Godwin said he was waiting outside the hospital. Since then, Byrd’s story has been a beacon for the Pirates to rally around.
“Seeing Parker Byrd come to the facility with a smile on his face and him being at practice when he can, if that doesn’t put things into perspective, I don’t know if you have a pulse,” Coach Godwin said. “He makes me better, he makes our team better. Obviously it was a very tragic moment. But of all the people it could ever happen to, he’s taken it in the most positive way. He’s not just affecting our team, he’s affecting people all around the country in a positive way.”
After Coach Godwin spoke, Pitching Coach Austin Knight came to the microphone to speak about the pitching rotation. The biggest update that was given was not about the players themselves, but their technology. ECU has adopted the electronic watch system for calling pitches on the mound that was popularized by Vanderbilt University last season.
Coach Knight also discussed little ways to improve his team’s pitching, and said you have to find what fits within your program. The mentality is sink or swim for Coach Knight.
“You’re trying to learn new ideas, learn something new, that may only affect one pitcher on your staff,” Coach Knight said. “Player or coach, it doesn’t really matter. This game is just like anything in life. You’re always learning something or you’re just getting stagnant.”
Associate Head Coach and Recruiting Coordinator Jeff Palumbo was next to speak. Coach Palumbo discussed recruiting when the team used Name, Image, Likeness and how ECU is a program that will not bend to conformity in its recruitment to be the highest bidder.
Along with recruiting, Coach Palumbo was asked about his decision to stay at ECU despite having offers to coach elsewhere in a head coach role. The ninth year staff member got sentimental during the discussion, saying that there were layers to the decision, but number one it was the place.
“Really when it comes down to it, we’re extremely happy with what we’re doing here,” Coach Palumbo said. “We have not necessarily achieved the goals that we want to achieve here. That’s a piece of it. We’ve been very close to getting to Omaha and winning a national championship, and firmly believe we can accomplish those goals.”
Finally, the players were brought out to speak. Leading them off, fifth year senior pitcher Carter Spivey came out to discuss the decision to return to ECU among other options and refining his craft as a pitcher. Next, senior pitcher Garrett Saylor talked about his relationship with Spivey, the bullpen’s depth and adding a new pitch to his toolbox of pitches.
After the senior pitchers spoke, junior infielder Alec Makarewicz talked about his hitting. Last season, Makarewicz was a switch hitter, but this season he is looking to focus his hitting left handedly.
Outfielder Jacob Jenkins-Cowart talked about his role. This season, Jenkins-Cowart is expected to move from first base to center field where, according to Coach Godwin, he is able to play more shallowly due to his long strides allowing him to drop deep at a moment’s notice. He was also the only player who was asked about the way the previous season ended, as he was one of the more vocal and emotional players from last year’s team.
“We were that close,” Jenkins-Cowart said. “It hurt a lot last year. There were a lot of crucial plays that could have gone either way. It’s really now that we know we’re that caliber of team and know we can do this, it’s just about beating that door down.”
Senior outfielder Lane Hoover brought the energy of the room back up, light heartedly joking about how often he bunts. Slashing and bunting has become a big part of Hoover’s game. He said that he works on it every single day to let the guys behind him work.
Lastly, junior first baseman Josh Moylan rounded off the conversation with a dialogue on taking this season easy and remembering to have fun.
“That’s the biggest thing for me, it’s a game I’ve always loved to play and still love to play.” Moylan said. “Just being able to go out and have fun is the biggest thing.”
The Pirates will get their first opportunity to have that fun come Feb. 17 at 4 p.m. when the team will face George Washington University at Clark-LeClair Stadium in Greenville, North Carolina, for opening day.
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