Debo leading the Pack
The hits are easy to count, it’s the miles that escape Tony Debo.
With one son playing college baseball for UNC-Pembroke and another for N.C. State, the road trips from this spring tend to blur together.
The seven-plus hour car ride to Kentucky for the Wolfpack’s opener in the NCAA tournament on Friday is another trip for the busy baseball family from Durham.
Debo, who was a fixture in the Triangle sports media for nearly two decades, and his wife, Lisa, will enjoy this trek to Lexington, Ky. They’ve had to split up most of the travel this season, getting to about 75 games.
Last week, they went to Mount Olive together to watch their oldest son, Nick, a senior first baseman for UNCP, in the Division II NCAA regionals.
This week, they’re off to see their youngest son, Brad, a freshman catcher and designated hitter for N.C. State, in the regional round of the Division I NCAA tournament.
“It has been a lot of fun,” said Debo, 57, a popular sports anchor for WTVD for 19 years. “A lot of miles but a lot of fun.”
The Debo brothers have both enjoyed outstanding seasons. Nick hit .372 for the Braves with 11 home runs and 47 RBIs in 56 games. He was named to the Division II academic All-American team on Thursday.
Brad leads the Wolfpack in batting average (.342) and has driven in 41 runs in 52 games with 17 doubles. He earned all-freshman honors in his first season in the ACC.
“We’ve been blessed to have these two and what they’ve accomplished,” Tony Debo said. “And when I say that, I don’t think anyone would argue.”
That is more than a proud father, who taught his sons how to hit in the backyard, talking. In December 1991, Debo was the lone survivor of a late-night helicopter crash in a field near Garner.
Debo, Bart Smith, Rick Sherill and Jim Lane, the pilot, were flying back to Durham from a high school football playoff game in Wilmington when the rotor seized and the engine failed.
Smith, Sherill and Lane died in the crash. Debo, who was thrown from the helicopter on impact, survived.
“I fell from 12,000 feet and lived,” Debo said.
With that kind of second chance at life, Debo has always tried to make the most of it. He’d often run from the studio after the 6 p.m. news wrapped up to the north Durham Little League field to throw batting practice.
He was always involved with his sons’ teams. He set up a mound in the backyard of their house in Durham. An accomplished tennis player, Debo taught his sons how to hit using tennis balls. He’d pitch to them and have them hit the balls into woods behind the house.
The smaller tennis ball would only help when the boys transitioned to a baseball, Debo figured. The boys also had to learn early to pick up the spin of the ball.
There were other added benefits.
“The thing about a tennis ball is you have to square it up on the barrel to truly make it go,” Nick said.
When Debo’s contract with WTVD ended in 2007, he had a choice to make. He could have tried to continue his broadcasting career in another market. Instead, Debo decided to devote his time to his sons and their baseball development.
“I miss TV,” Debo said. “I do, there are times when I miss it, but my kids are more important. I couldn’t pass up that window to spend that time with them. It has worked out.”
It could have hardly worked out better this season for the Debo brothers. UNCP won 41 games and Nick, who is 6-2 and 210 pounds, can play either first base or the outfield. He hopes to get drafted later this month and begin a pro career.
Brad has played an integral in the Wolfpack’s success this season. He has had 21 multihit games, including a pair of 3-for-5 efforts in ACC wins over Pittsburgh (May 13) and Clemson (May 19). His home run over Florida State on April 8 turned out to be the difference in an important, series-clinching win for the Wolfpack.
The standout seasons have only fueled their good-natured sibling rivalry.
“Oh, I’m the better hitter,” Brad said.
To which, Nick retorts: “I mean, I’ve got the numbers.”
Brad was actually fairly content just to get a spot in college baseball this season. He was a late addition to the Wolfpack roster last summer. A Louisville Slugger high school All-American at Orange, he had originally committed to play for South Carolina.
He was also high on the radar for the major league draft. He consulted with CAA Sports before the draft last June and decided he would prefer to go to college, where he would have to stay for three years under NCAA rules, but could have been persuaded by the right signing bonus.
Despite being ranked as a top 125 prospect by Baseball America, Brad went undrafted, which seemed to surprise even South Carolina.
“I guess the easiest way to say it is they never thought he was going to come to college,” Tony Debo said. “They didn’t have a roster spot for him.”
N.C. State made a late offer, and Brad Debo wound up staying close to him.
“It worked out better in the long run,” Brad said. “I love it over here.”
And, in the end, it saved a few miles for his parents, too.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
N.C. State vs. Indiana
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Cliff Hagan Stadium, Lexington, Ky.