Baseball A Way Of Life For Leggett

8:41 AM, Feb 22, 2008   |    comments
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CLEMSON -- Being the son of a coach at the University of Vermont came with perks. The Leggetts lived across the street from the school’s athletic facilities, and dad had the keys. Virtual reality for an 11-year-old in South Burlington, Vt., meant daily pickup games, regardless of the season or the weather. “Teams were picked before we’d get off the bus from school,” said Jack Leggett. “We played every day.” It’s always been about the games for Leggett, though not necessarily baseball. Football and basketball were more important at times, and under different circumstances Leggett might be coaching football instead of preparing for his 15th season as Clemson University baseball coach. But as a youngster, playing and competing were the objectives, whether it was swimming or a foot race. And with two brothers, he never lacked for playmates -- or opponents. “Everything was two-on-one,” though at times it required imagination and creativity, Leggett said. A fallow patch of grass along the Maine coast became Fenway Park during summer visits to their grandparents’ home. They fashioned a game of Wiffle ball, naming their three teams for creatures of the sea, playing until dusk and keeping a detailed log of their statistics. Leggett was in the third grade when they moved from Michigan to Vermont, and he remembers wanting badly to play Little League “with those nice uniforms.” By his own description he was “an aggressive little catcher,” and he remembers trips to the A&W Root Beer stand after games at Kiwanis Park. Leggett played baseball every summer until he was nearly 30, but as a kid there were tackle football games in the front yard or on the field across the street, and his dad had the driveway paved for basketball games that ran way past nightfall. For a while, he thought basketball might be his sport. Leggett attended a camp at the U.S. Military Academy when Bob Knight was the coach, and as a high school senior he led Vermont in scoring, but football seemed to have the tightest grip. “I loved the contact,” he said. A tailback, defensive back and kicker, he played on two Vermont state champions at South Burlington High. The baseball team also won a pair of state titles with Jack at shortstop. He was captain of all three teams. “I wanted to go to college and play three sports,” he said. “But I just couldn’t fit it in.” Instead, he attended the University of Maine, because Vermont had dropped its baseball program, and played baseball and football. In baseball, he was a two-time all-conference second baseman, and in football he was a three-time, all-conference cornerback. In 1975, he set a school record that still stands -- a 52-yard field goal. The next summer, after playing in the College World Series, Jack was urged to attend a tryout in Montreal for the Expos. “I just knew I could play,” he said. “I quickly learned professional baseball was a business.” Leggett said he was dismissed out of hand. “It crushed me,” he said. “All the way home, I fought back tears. “I decided that if that’s the way it was, I’d coach.” Yet even then his future wasn’t cast in stone. An injury his freshman year had left him with a season of eligibility remaining in football, so Leggett returned to Maine in the fall of 1976 and played for first-year coach Jack Bicknell, who later was at Boston College when Doug Flutie threw the “hail Mary” touchdown pass against Miami. “He told me he thought I could kick in the NFL,” Leggett said. That intrigued him, but there were a couple of things he’d promised himself after graduation. Leggett bought a Harley-Davidson from a friend then he and three buddies rode to Colorado to ski. “I loved it so much out there, I decided I wanted to go to graduate school at the University of Colorado and coach football.” Leggett received an audience with Colorado head coach Bill Mallory and inquired about a graduate assistantship. Mallory didn’t have any openings, so Leggett returned to South Burlington and began prepare to audition for NFL kicking jobs. A few weeks later, an assistant athletic director at the University of Vermont tracked Leggett down and asked him to coach the club baseball team with the promise that they would consider returning to varsity status. The job paid $600. “I always thought of myself as a football coach back then,” but at age 23 he became a baseball coach. He played baseball for several summers with the semi-pro Burlington Expos but gave it up in 1983 when he became head coach at Western Carolina University. “It was the perfect opportunity for me to get my feet wet,” he said. “The other thing was a dream. Maybe it would work, maybe it wouldn’t. “But I knew I wanted to coach.” Ed McGranahan The Greenville News

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