In The Jungle: ECU to host baseball super regional

The Clark-LeClair Stadium Jungle section for East Carolina baseball fans will be buzzing at an all-time high this weekend for the first-ever NCAA super regional games held on East Carolina University’s campus.

When the Pirates won the Greenville Regional championship Monday, after establishing a stadium record of 5,603 fans for their Saturday night game, it set up a super regional matchup against Texas in Greenville. Through social media and captured interactions with ECU and opposing players, the Pirates’ stadium atmosphere continues to rise in popularity and notoriety.

East Carolina baseball player Carter Cunningham celebrates with fans in The Jungle at Clark-LeClair Stadium.

East Carolina baseball player Carter Cunningham celebrates with fans in The Jungle at Clark-LeClair Stadium.

The only other time ECU served as a super regional host was in 2001, but the games against Tennessee were played in Kinston. Clark-LeClair Stadium opened in 2005, giving ECU an on-campus venue equipped for NCAA postseason play. Droves of team members and supporters have been yearning for decades for an on-campus super regional event.

“We are seeing that college baseball can be a really fun game,” said Jared Plummer, a 2004 ECU graduate in athletic training and creator of the @ECUJungle Twitter account that produces in-game videos and photos for a virtual snapshot into watching a game from The Jungle behind the outfield wall. “What we try to do out there is be like a game within the game. … We want to banter with the players and give every baseball player who steps onto the field an amazing experience that they will remember for the rest of their life.”

Texas and ECU have never played each other in baseball. The winner of their best-of-three series advances to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, which ECU is trying to make for the first time.

“(ECU) will host Texas next weekend in Greenville. The Jungle is (going) to be an absolute party,” national college baseball writer Kendall Rogers tweeted Monday after ECU beat Coastal Carolina to win its regional.

It was Coppin State during the regional that lost both of its games, but the Eagles might have most appreciated the unique stadium environment. The team’s official Twitter account retweeted a video of its outfielder, Wellington Balsley, interacting with fans in The Jungle parking lot area after his team was eliminated.

“Best atmosphere in college baseball and it’s not even close,” the tweet said. “Thank you to The Jungle for hosting!”

For Plummer, those enjoyable and memorable interactions with opposing outfielders make it worth what he described as “kind of a hobby” in March 2018 when he created the @ECUJungle account. He said it is now a full hobby that centers on a passion for increasing positive exposure about ECU.

Coach Cliff Godwin high-fives fans in The Jungle at Clark-LeClair Stadium.

Coach Cliff Godwin high-fives fans in The Jungle at Clark-LeClair Stadium.

“It is special when we have a great relationship with an outfielder from another team,” Plummer said. “Those are the moments and the positive things that we really like to promote through social media. All of this is really about pushing out ECU baseball content, period, and ECU Athletics and ECU to show off the great things that are happening. Many people cling to ECU baseball, and that is easy when you have a team that is pretty dang good, too.”

The Jungle main section is behind the left field wall, where fans of all ages sit in tailgate-style chairs or stand at the wall, many bolstering their cheers through purple-and-gold megaphones. During postseason play is when the entire area beyond left field, center field and right field is packed even more with screaming fans.

Last week’s regional tournament saw Chancellor Philip Rogers and his sons join ECU football, ECU basketball and other Pirate players and coaches in roaming The Jungle to support the baseball Pirates.

Current star football running back Keaton Mitchell drew plenty of likes and comments for his participation in megaphone chants and his growing passion for baseball. Men’s basketball coach Mike Schwartz, who was hired on March 16, is using this baseball postseason run to help familiarize himself with Pirate Nation.

“(At ECU Jungle), it’s ON today!” the former Tennessee assistant coach tweeted Monday. “ECU basketball is coming to the Jungle. Let’s go ECU Baseball!”

ECU baseball coach Cliff Godwin played for the Pirates from 1998-2001, under coach Keith LeClair, and has as much perspective as anyone, considering he was on the 2001 ECU team that played in Kinston instead of Greenville. This is the team’s third straight and fourth overall super regional appearance under Godwin’s leadership.

“How about those Pirates?” Godwin said to open his Greenville Regional championship news conference. “We are going to host a super regional on campus for the first time, so I’m pretty fired up. … We’ll have the home field advantage and I think it’s going to be pretty electric to have a super regional here at Clark-LeClair.”