The Wolfpacker

September 2018

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Page 84 of 95

SEPTEMBER 2018 ■ 85 ■ PACK PAST finals and finals in Greensboro. That Esposito even made it to the game against the Bruins is a huge part of Wolfpack lore. The NC State baseball team was sched- uled to play a home game against High Point on the same Saturday of the semifinal game against the seven-time defending champion Bruins at the Greensboro Coliseum. Esposito told his wife to sit with the car running outside the main gate and be ready to leave on a moment's notice. Early in the game, Esposito ran out to argue with the home plate umpire over balls and strikes, eventually getting tossed from the game. He exited the stadium, still wearing his baseball uniform, and told Noreen to hit the gas. He made it to Greensboro in time for the tip-off against head coach John Wooden and his UCLA team. A Well-Earned Legacy Bryant, Biedenbach, Tarantini, Gross, Burleson, Monte Towe and dozens of other former players were there to pay their re- spects to Esposito's family, which includes his children Toni Hemp of Banner Elk and Sammy Esposito Jr., an assistant baseball coach at Wichita State, their spouses and their children. The stories that bounced off the walls of the most Wolfpack-oriented restaurant in Ra- leigh were both legion and legendary. Tarantini, a native of Argentina who coached the NC State men's soccer coach for 25 years, told how Esposito used to call him, half lovingly, "the athletic department's illegal alien" because of the thick accent Tar- antini never fully lost. Esposito also spent hours helping Tarantini study for the U.S. citizenship test, which he eventually passed. Guzzo remembers returning from a recruit- ing trip to Winston-Salem, where he met with a wrestler he liked a lot but was unsure of physically. He told Esposito about his doubts, because the wrestler had never won a state championship. "Is he better than the heavyweight you have now?" Esposito asked. "If he is, get your butt back in the car and sign him." That wrestler, Tab Thacker, won four ACC titles and an individual national champion- ship. Tanner, a former third baseman for the Wolfpack, eventually became Esposito's only assistant. When Tanner was first invited to one of the coaches' bull sessions, Esposito told him to "shut up and listen." Tanner did so. He not only got a master's degree at NC State, he also earned Valva- no's trust enough to be given responsibilities within the athletics department. When Esposito decided to retire follow- ing the 1987 season, he insisted that Val- vano, now his boss as the school's director of athletics, hire Tanner as his replacement instead of a big-name coach that was being considered. Valvano listened. After leaving coaching, Esposito became the first NCAA compliance director in Wolf- pack athletics history. He held the position for nearly eight years and continued to work in the compliance office after his official retire- ment in 1995, coming into the office at 4:30 a.m., doing some paperwork and a newspaper crossword puzzle and leaving by the time most other athletics personnel arrived by 8 a.m. Those were the memories that the re- maining characters of Sloan's original pack shared, from the days when the athletics de- partment was small and tight-knit. A Dual Life Esposito had lived a full baseball life by the time he got to NC State, spending nine years in the majors with his hometown White Sox and one year with the Kansas City Athletics. He rapped out a hit in his first major league at-bat, but averaged just .203 in his 560 career games, with 27 doubles, two triples and eight home runs. Esposito, playing behind baseball Hall of Famers Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio, was a member of the famous Go-Go White Sox that won the 1959 American League pennant. He spent time in the offseason working on college classes and re-enrolled full-time at Indiana after his baseball career ended to finish off his degree in physical educa- tion, with a minor in social studies. He also worked in the offseason as an assistant coach for Washington High School in East Chicago, Ind., for legendary coach John Baratto, helping the team do what legend- ary Wolfpack basketball coach Everett Case did four times: win an all-class Indiana state high school championship. That's where new Wolfpack basketball coach Norm Sloan met him in 1966. "I said a few things about looking to get a college baseball job down that way and if he ever heard of anything to let me know," Esposito said in a 2011 interview with Bruce Winkworth. "He was getting in the car to go to the airport, and I got in the car with Coach Baratto. We drove off and got about a block away when Norm came up behind us. "We pulled over, and Norm said, 'Sam, if I'm not mistaken, Vic Sorrell just retired [as baseball coach] at State. Would you be interested in that job? And you can be my assistant.'" Esposito almost didn't get either job. When athletics director Roy Clogston took the former player to meet Chancellor John Caldwell, Esposito refused to answer any- thing more than a yes-no question, something that puzzled and annoyed the glib Caldwell. Esposito coached several stars on the baseball diamond and basketball hardwood, including Tim Stoddard, one of two players ever to win an NCAA basketball title and World Series ring. PHOTO COURTESY NC STATE MEDIA RELATIONS

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