ECU's Packard focused on getting better

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Bryant Packard had one of the best seasons in East Carolina University baseball history in 2018 and expectations for 2019 are even higher for the junior outfielder and Greenville native.

Packard, who was named to seven All-America teams and earned the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year last spring, has already been lauded as the AAC’s preseason player of the year and tabbed to three preseason All-America first teams. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound D.H. Conley High product, who was presented the Trot Nixon “Gamer” Award by Wilson Hot Stove League at its annual banquet Tuesday night, isn’t concerned with much more than what he needs to do each day.

“Yeah, we call it something called noise,” Packard said of his preseason acclaim. “It’s very encouraging, but at the same time, it doesn’t mean very much because you haven’t done anything. You’re only as good as what you do after greatness, so that’s something I keep in my mind. So, it’s good, it’s very cool but it doesn’t mean anything.”

Pirates head coach Cliff Godwin echoed Packard’s sentiments while praising his star’s dedication.

“The best thing about Bryant Packard is that he comes to practice every single day just trying to get better and if you were to walk on our field and watch us practice — it wouldn’t matter if we were doing base-running, defense — he’s going 100 percent all the time,” said Godwin. “I appreciate that being one of our best — one of the best players in the country — just to show up every day and try to get better. The kid’s dream is to play in the major leagues, so he’s just trying to get a little bit better every day.”

Packard may have to make that decision in June of whether to forego his senior season at ECU or go pro, depending on when he is expected to be taken in the MLB First-Year Player Draft. But that’s all well into a future that Packard says he doesn’t want to concern himself with now.

The Pirates finished third in the AAC standings but powered through the conference tournament, winning four out of their five games for the second American tournament title in four seasons under Godwin. Packard hit .406, the second-best batting average among NCAA Division I hitters and No. 6 in all three NCAA ranks. His 14 home runs and 50 RBIs ranked in the top 10 in the AAC and his 32-game hitting streak set a new ECU precedent.

The Pirates claimed a top regional seed for the sixth time in program history but couldn’t make it out of Clark-LeClair Stadium, losing two straight after an opening win.

Now it’s all about staying focused on the ultimate goal of a national championship without losing focus on the job at hand. 

“We’ve prepared exactly the same as we did last year,” Packard said. “We have great expectations, but we’ve got to be where our feet are, as Coach Godwin says. He says it a lot. We’ve got to stay in the present.

“Just doing the little things right every day. Being where your feet are and doing the right things every day like I said. It’s really easy to look ahead. ‘Oh, we want to go to Omaha.’ We want to do all these things but we’ve got to just take it day by day. That’s really what you’ve got to do — you’ve got to stay in the present.”

Godwin said that Packard is a leader in the sense of remaining grounded.

“Pack does a good job of it, but our team, we’ll see how good of a job they do of it,” the Pirates coach said. “We talk about it a lot and for the first two weeks that we’ve been back after Christmas, they’ve been really focused on what we have to accomplish each day. And we have to focus on getting 1 percent better every day and not worrying who we’re playing and not worrying about what the media says and not worrying about what your parents or what your friends say and just be the best version of ourselves, individually as a player and as a group. If we do that, then we’ll be fine.”