Alex Cheek loves to talk baseball. It doesn’t take him long to start talking about all the miles he got out of his crooked arm in college or the time after his days playing for NC State when he helped an umpire escape angry fans after a game in the Shenandoah League.
This week, though, the former Wolfpack pitcher for the 1968 team, which made it to the College World Series, is focused on talking about NC State baseball and the connections he shares with the current roster.
Cheek’s team went 2-2 in the CWS in 1968 and lost to the University of Southern California, the eventual national champion, in the semifinals. This weekend he will make a return trip to Omaha, home to the CWS, for the first time in 45 years to cheer on the 2013 squad as it tries to win the school’s first national championship in baseball.
What’s it like being the only NC State pitcher who has wins in the College World Series [against Southern Illinois and Texas]? It means a lot. I had one in relief. It could have been anybody. …I’m looking forward to the coming games to where I won’t be able to say that anymore, to where I can just say I was the first guy to get a College World Series win.
What sticks out to you about that 1968 season and the trip to Omaha? The biggest thing was our camaraderie. We supported each other. We were close at the time and we are still close. The current team is very much the same way.
When did you know that the team had something special that season? During the season we were just playing every day. In Omaha, we were heading from the hotel to the game, and there was this big stadium full of people. And all of a sudden the bus was quiet and it was like, “What have we gotten into here?” But we just went out and played.
One of your teammates told me that the greatest thing he took away from that team was the relationships. How did you guys stay so close? We just always liked each other. I’m sure every one of us has done something for another one of us along the way. I think there’s just a tremendous amount of respect. I respect all these guys as gentlemen. Coach [Elliott] Avent is trying to instill that in the current team. And he’s been very good to us in keeping our name out there. I told one player early in the year, “I know you guys are tired of hearing about us.”
Which player on this team reminds you of the young Alex Cheek? Brad Stone. He’s a freshman. He’s about my size. He and I throw a lot alike. He spots the ball and moves the ball around. I’d like to say I’m like Carlos Rodon. But there’s nobody like Carlos. Carlos is to this team what [pitcher] Mike Caldwell was to our team.
What advice do you have for the guys as they start play in the CWS? My advice is to seize the moment and keep doing what they’re doing. Keep the fun in it.
How great is it to get there and be playing your rival in a game that means so much? I think it’s great for the state of North Carolina and great for the Atlantic Coast Conference. To put this on a national stage is great. And to know that the Tar Heels are over there saying, “Ah, we have to play these guys again?” We get another crack at them.
NC State will play its first game in the College World Series on Sunday at 3 p.m. against rival UNC. The game will be televised on ESPN2/ESPN3.