Stephen Notaro’s bio reads like a one-man casualty report. In roughly three years at Western Carolina, Notaro has suffered a broken finger, fractured wrist, broken shin and two fractured facial bones that forced him to miss more than half of the Catamounts’ baseball games prior to this season. Very little – if anything – has come easy for the catcher since he arrived in Cullowhee before the 2008 season. But he’s refused to quit the game he loves.
That dogged determination is the main reason WCU Coach Bobby Moranda chose Notaro as the first player to carry on the “Leggett Legacy” in honor of Jack Leggett, the former WCU coach now at Clemson. “(Notaro) has overcome adversity, and that’s one of the things we talked about with Jack Leggett’s No. 7 legacy,” Moranda said. “He’s a guy who turned adversity into greatness, into opportunity.”
This season marks Clemson’s first visit since WCU hung Leggett’s No. 7 jersey on the “Purple Monster” in left field. Rather than retiring the number, Moranda and his staff decided to pick one player each year to wear the number of the man who put WCU’s baseball program on the national map.
“I’m very honored by it. It’s the nicest thing to come my way,” said Leggett, who led the Catamounts to 10 SoCon titles (tournament and regular-season) and five NCAA Division I tournaments from 1983-91. “It’s very flattering that they would think enough to do that. I’m very excited that someone will be wearing the uniform. I know they’ve got a great representative in Stephen Notaro.”
Adversity seemed to be waiting for Notaro from the moment he arrived as a sophomore transfer from Pierce College in California. During a wind sprint to the fence and back in his first practice as a Catamount, he turned after touching the fence and ran into a teammate so hard that a joint exploded in his right pinky and caused him to miss more than half the season. Near the end of his next season, in which he led WCU with 13 home runs, he broke his right wrist when he tried to avoid a tag between first and second base and landed awkwardly. He broke his shin in his second game as a senior last year. And in the past off-season, a teammate accidentally smashed Notaro’s face with a bat while Notaro was reaching down in the batting cage to grab a bat. The string of painful injuries and missed time took a toll, but Notaro said he couldn’t give up the game.
Leggett was keynote speaker at this year’s “Celebration of Catamount Baseball” banquet held in conjunction with WCU’s 2011 season opening weekend. The former skipper’s No. 7 hangs alongside the lone retired number in WCU baseball history – the No. 23 worn by former player and coach, the late Keith LeClair ’89 – on the left-field fence of Childress Field at Hennon Stadium.
Reprinted in edited form with permission of the Asheville Citizen-Times.