01/17/05 — Much love and respect for Whitfield at clinic

View Archive

Much love and respect for Whitfield at clinic

By Neil Fuller
Published in Sports on January 17, 2005 1:56 PM

Old friends and the next generation of local baseball stars -- both were on full display Saturday during the star-studded 33rd Annual George Whitfield Baseball Clinic at Goldsboro High School.

And, as always, there was a lot of love and loyalty for Whitfield.

"The George Whitfields of the world are a dying breed," Arizona Diamondbacks scouting supervisor Howard McCullough said. "You're not going to see too many more people come along like him. George is a man that has committed his life to mostly prep baseball, and you don't see that much.

"The people that are here to speak and teach at this clinic aren't here because they like baseball. They're here because they like George."

The clinic, which has called Goldsboro High home for the past 15 years, capped a busy week for Whitfield.

The former Cougars coach and athletics director, along with a pair of business partners, has just finalized a deal to purchase the Eastern Carolina Athletic Park -- which is slated to be renamed the George Whitfield Sports Complex.

In addition, Whitfield helped ensure that proceeds from a concert featuring former Platters frontman Milton Bullock -- the cornerstone of Friday night's opening ceremonies -- went to aid tsunami victims in Southeast Asia.

True to his humble nature, Whitfield deflected questions about his charitable work. He'd rather cast the spotlight on the numerous coaches, scouts and others that show up when asked.

"I think a lot of all these guys that are here," Whitfield said. "You know, I've coached quite a few of them. The fact that they're all here means so much to me."

According to Atlanta Braves scout Bobby Myrick, it's just Whitfield being himself. It's also what keeps him coming back to the clinic.

"Coach Whitfield has done a tremendous job with this (clinic) over the years, and I come because of him," Myrick said. "It's a matter of respect. He's a legend around here. I respect and like him very much. When he calls me, I come.

"I enjoy it, too."

Of course, the opportunity to mold future players can be hard to resist for the attending college coaches. That common theme also transcends into a love of the game.

A love these coaches share with Whitfield.

"George has dedicated himself to the game of baseball -- that's something that is undeniable," Virginia Commonwealth coach Paul Keys said. "He, like us, is dedicated to the people that have a future in baseball. Obviously, you want to be around people like that. George has a lot of contacts and is very true to those people.

"We're all trying to promote the game and want to see the kids doing the right thing. We want to help them use the game to grow as men."

Coaches from schools such as LSU, Wake Forest, East Carolina, Campbell, Coastal Carolina, UNC-Wilmington, N.C. State, The Citadel and Methodist College were all on hand for this year's clinic.

Major-league teams represented included the Braves, Diamondbacks, Milwaukee Brewers, Cleveland Indians and Colorado Rockies.

"We're not here to scout young players so much as we're here to teach," McCullough said. "Today, I spoke on conditioning and those kinds of things. It's not a recruiting or scouting kind of thing. It's a chance to get together with a bunch of people you haven't seen in a while, talk a little baseball and get geared up for the upcoming season."

Myrick echoed those sentiments.

"This is a good thing. ... I wish there were even more kids here," said Myrick, who worked with the San Francisco Giants organization until late December of last year. "The youth in this country are our future. I believe George feels that same way, as do most of the coaches here. We're all accomplishing something here today."

With the instructors retaining such positive feelings about the clinic, it's understandable that the annual event has become not only a local tradition each January, but one of the most-respected events of its kind in the nation.

Whitfield wants to continue on with the clinic despite his numerous -- and growing amount -- of other obligations. In fact, the clinic itself is the one thing aside from his colleagues that Whitfield delighted in opening up about on this day, a day where the warm feelings for him were impossible to miss.

"I enjoy coming back here, and I still enjoy this area," said Whitfield, who has been enshrined in several halls of fame for his work as both a coach and athletics director. "I enjoy the good food and the fellowship. It's just been a lot of fun."

And that may be the greatest reward for such civic duty.