PEELER: Old Roomies Part of Inaugural Baseball Class
BY TIM PEELER
RALEIGH, N.C. Every day for three weeks, Chris Cammack would get three phone calls during his third-period study hall at Fayetteville High School. One was from Wake Forest baseball coach Jack Stallings. One was from North Carolina baseball coach Walter Rabb. And one was from NC State baseball coach Sam Esposito.
All of them were recruiting the slugging shortstop to play for their schools.
One day, Cammack figured it was time to choose and put an end to all the recruiting calls. He was frankly tired of being called to the principal’s office every time the phone rang. So, during his morning shower, Cammack decided whoever called him first that day would be his college coach.
When the inevitable call came right after he sat down at his study-hall desk, Cammack said to himself: “Well, here goes the rest of my life.”
He picked up the phone, said hello and waited.
“Chris,” said the voice on the other end of the line, “this is Sam Esposito from NC State.”
And that’s how Cammack, a future ACC Player of the Year and one of only four players to ever earn first-team All-ACC four consecutive years, chose to play baseball for the Wolfpack.
His future teammate, roommate and best friend, pitcher Mike Caldwell, picked the Wolfpack simply because Esposito, trying to put together his first real recruiting class, was willing to take an undersized left-handed pitcher who had just completed three consecutive shutouts, including back-to-back no-hitters.
In the 42 years since, few people have had a greater impact on the success and history of NC State baseball than Cammack, Caldwell and Esposito, which is why they were the first three inductees into the NC State Baseball Hall of Fame. Today, weather permitting, the trio will be recognized prior to the Wolfpack’s noon game against Hofstra.
Back in the spring of 1967, Esposito was in his first season as the Wolfpack’s baseball coach. He needed a couple of cornerstones for his program, to go along with the players he already had on hand: Freddie and Francis Combs, Steve Martin, Darrell Moody and Alex Cheek.
Cammack and Caldwell (along with only one other scholarship player, Joe Frye) added key components to a team that Esposito called his “River Rats,” a hard-scrabble lot of North Carolina kids who proved to be as good as any team in the country that year.
The magical 1968 baseball season rivals anything else in Wolfpack athletics, including two men’s basketball national championships, individual national titles and multiple bowl victories. The Pack won the school’s first ACC baseball title on a one-hitter by Caldwell, advanced through the NCAA District III tournament with another gem by the freshman pitcher and finished third in the College World Series.
It remains the program’s only trip to the baseball championship in Omaha, Neb.
While Cammack and Caldwell did not enjoy the same team success the rest of their career, they became two of the ACC's best individual players. Cammack was a first-team selection all four years at NC State and was named the 1969 Player of the Year after hitting .429, with two homers, 16 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 26 games. Caldwell, who posted a 32-10 career record, was a first-team selection in 1970 and ’71 and was the 1971 ACC Player of the Year.
Cammack, who was drafted on four different occasions by major league teams, walked away from baseball after college. He didn’t like the money he was offered after he graduated from NC State with a degree in economics, and lit out for Charlotte to work for the Aetna Life and Casualty Insurance Co. He ran marathons, was a part of a 1974 national slow-pitch softball championship and learned to love golf.
He and a partner opened a successful insurance agency, with offices in Greensboro, Charlotte, Fayetteville and Raleigh. The pair recently sold the agency and the 60-year-old Cammack is retired.
“I had always planned to play pro ball,” Cammack said. “But I also promised my parents I would finish school. I was ready to sign after my senior year, but they gave me a low offer. I said No.’ Pride or something took over and I just walked away. But I never regretted it. I was very blessed with my business career.”
There’s no doubt in Caldwell’s mind that Cammack could have been an exceptional major league third baseman.
“For two years, I tried to talk the people in San Diego into bringing this kid out and letting him go through a couple of tryouts,” Caldwell said. “I saw the people who were playing and there's no doubt in my mind that Chris Cammack could have been a major league third baseman, no doubt in my mind at all.
“But I think Chris’ life has turned out rather well and he's doing very well with the life choices he has made.”
Caldwell, named one of the ACC’s 50 all-time greatest players in 2003, had an extremely successful professional baseball career. Drafted in the 12th round of the 1971 by the San Diego Padres, he made his major league debut later that summer, starting against the Atlanta Braves.
For 14 seasons, he was a reliable starter for the Padres, San Francisco Giants, the Cincinnati Reds and the Milwaukee Brewers. In 1978, he was 22-9 with a 2.36 ERA for the Brewers and finished second in the voting for the Cy Young Award. In 1982, he started three games against the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series and picked up two victories.
He retired after the 1984 season with a career record of 137-130. Since then, he has been a pitching coach for several organizations. Wednesday, he leaves for spring training with the San Francisco Giants and will serve as the pitching coach for the rookie-level Arizona Giants.
“When I got a chance to play pro ball, I started in the right place in the right time,” Caldwell said. “I threw strikes. I got the chance to go to San Diego, because they needed a couple of left-handed pitchers. I fit the bill. Next thing you know, I've played for 14 seasons and have been coaching for the last 26 years. It’s been an absolute dream come true.”
Cammack and Caldwell have remained close over the years. Wednesday, they met in Raleigh and drove to NC State’s game against Elon. Thursday, they played golf together. And Saturday (or maybe Sunday) they will delight in being recognized at Doak Field, which was just two years old when they first arrived at NC State and looks much different after its recent renovations.
Both players still love NC State so much so that both their sons played baseball for the Wolfpack. Todd Cammack played briefly in the 1990s, while Daniel Caldwell pitched for Elliott Avent’s 2002 team that advanced to the NCAA Super Regional against Miami.
“This is a tremendous honor to be picked for the NC State Hall of Fame,” Caldwell said. “I think it’s pretty ironic that two guys who roomed together as players ended up being inducted into the inaugural class.
“More importantly, I'm glad the program has decided to start this, not particularly for myself or for Chris, but because it will give the baseball program a lot of positive recognition. I want this program to become a national program again. One of the highlights of my career as baseball player was going to the 1968 World Series. I want other NC State players to have that same experience.”
You may contact Tim Peeler at email@example.com.