About four years ago, I was talking with a major league scout — a cross checker for an American League East team, I believe — who asked who my favorite NC State player of all time was. He then started asking me about the best NC State players I’d seen at each position on the diamond. Our conversation was interrupted when other scouts arrived and changed the subject, but that conversation stuck with me and got me to thinking about which players I would choose for my own personal all-time NC State all-star team.
Not to boast, but no one is more qualified to choose such a team. I started working NC State baseball games in 1981 and have worked and/or covered Wolfpack baseball pretty much continuously ever since, serving as radio broadcaster, reporter, public address announcer, official scorer, and baseball SID. While I don’t consider myself an historian, NC State baseball was my primary occupation for about three decades, and I still follow the program closely. I feel quite safe in saying that I’ve seen more Wolfpack baseball games — somewhere just south of 2,000 and counting — than anyone alive, and I dare say I know more NC State baseball history than anyone, alive or dead. I know where the bodies are buried.
Four years after my conversation with that AL cross checker, I sat down at the computer and began to put this thing together, figuring that if nothing else it would be a pleasant way to pass some time during a long, boring offseason. It was hard work at times, but it also was a blast. For about six weeks, it was all I did. By summer’s end, to give myself some perspective and to let my thoughts percolate on low heat for a bit, I had to force myself away from it for a few months before returning to it in November. The time away helped. Once I got back to it the remaining entries came together quickly.
A huge thanks to Cavan Fosnes for allowing me to plunder and pillage the records in the NC State Athletics Communications office, which gave me some substance, numbers and verifiable detail to fill in the gaps that exist in my memory. In particular, going through the old box scores and scorebooks helped me determine who played which positions, especially in the outfield. I’m doing left, center and right fields as separate positions, and some of those distinctions had grown a little fuzzy over the years.
My choices here are based on both objective analysis and subjective opinion. I tried to be completely objective at all times, but I had to break a few ties and personal opinion came into play a time or two. I had no axes to grind with any individual player or players. I rooted hard for every guy who ever wore that uniform. Still do. I have my favorites but I also have well-informed reasons why they’re my favorites. I saw all of them play. Most of them, I saw every game of their college career. You can disagree with my choices and you won’t necessarily be wrong, but please understand that I’ve taken painstaking care to make sure I considered everyone who is worthy. With that said, it’s certainly possible that someone fell through the cracks. If I left off a deserving name, it was wholly inadvertent.
Some choices were easy, others quite difficult. I used a few loosely applied criteria to sort out some of the tougher calls, but there were no hard rules or tiebreakers. I didn’t rule out anyone who played just one year at NC State, a group that includes such standouts as Greg Briley, Tony Ellison, Jamie Wolkosky, Mark Wells and Adam Everett. Longevity and peak performance were the two factors I most frequently had to weigh against one another. Each case was different, and some of these choices were subjective. It’s my blog, after all.
All-America and All-ACC honors definitely played a role, but they were not be-all, end-all either. I reserved the right to use those honors as I saw fit. If a player was All-ACC twice, for instance, that didn’t necessarily break a tie with another player who was All-ACC just once, or even never. Ditto for making an All-America team. Two of NC State’s greatest players, Brian Bark and Jake Weber, never made All-America, not once between them, which says more about the people naming All-America teams than it does about Bark or Weber. I took extra care to remember the seven NC State players who were chosen to the ACC’s 50th Anniversary Team. Six of them were eligible for this team, including Bark and Weber.
This All-NC State team includes players who played between the years 1981 and 2016. There’s no question that Mike Caldwell, Chris Cammack and Steve Martin from the 1968 College World Series team would be included on just about any list of the greatest NC State baseball players. I fully acknowledge that, but other than a few games I attended when I was in high school, I never saw them play. This is about players who were active while I was working the games. Current players were not eligible. Those stories are still being written. Players who began their college career prior to 1981 but finished in 1981 or later were eligible. I saw them for at least one year, and what I know of their pre-1981 exploits were considered and grandfathered in. This affected only a few players from the 1981 and ’82 teams.
Some surprises popped up the deeper I delved into this. Some players had far better careers than I remembered, while others weren’t really as good. Some I remembered as being good but I was surprised at just how great they were. I was surprised at how little depth there was at some positions, such as the two outfield corners. Stunned, in fact, but part of that had to do with coaches moving players around and not settling them into one position. Because of that, several players qualified at utility-DH, more than I’d expected or intended, while left and right field were left a little thin. On the other hand, I was equally taken aback at how deep several other positions were, such as catcher and second base. NC State has had some great catchers and second basemen, and because of that, some players who were more than good enough to make this team at another position wound up in the honorable mention list. So it goes.
First up will be catcher. Stay tuned.