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Friday, February 15, 2019

Jalal Leach: A Giant Testament to Perseverance

When baseball players sign their first professional contract they have stars in their eyes and no doubts in their mind as they are certain they will play in the major leagues. Unfortunately, the majority of these young men see their careers end short of their goal. However, a small number make it, which is a monumental accomplishment regardless if they go on to set records or have a total of one big league hit like former outfielder Jalal Leach.

Leach, a left-handed thrower and hitter, began his career by being taken in the seventh round of the 1990 draft by the New York Yankees. Future franchise stalwarts like Andy Pettitte, Shane Spencer and Jorge Posada were all also drafted that year by the team, but they all went after Leach, who was highly regarded out of Pepperdine University.

He progressed through the system, posting solid numbers wherever he played. He did a lot of things well. A typical season was 1993 in Double-A, where he hit .282 with 14 home runs, 79 RBIs and 15 stolen bases. Unfortunately for him the New York outfield was stacked with the likes of Bernie Williams and Paul O’Neill, making him more of a luxury than a necessity.

For whatever reason the Yankees never gave Leach a chance at the major league level and he was scooped up in the minor league draft by the Montreal Expos following the 1995 season. He continued his solid play for them, but bounced around to the Seattle Mariners and multiple stints with the Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants.

In a testament to his determination, Leach finished a typically productive year in 2001 at Triple-A for the Giants, hitting .285 with 16 home runs and 70 RBIs in 130 games when he finally received the ultimate reward in his 12th professional season. The Giants brought him up in the midst of Barry Bonds’ historic chase that ultimately reached a record 73 home runs. The September call up played sparingly, but finally got his first taste of the majors. He flied out to right in his very first at bat, against Curt Schilling, and went on to have a total of 12 plate appearances the rest of the way where he chalked up an RBI single and two walks.

Leach never played in the majors again but played through the 2004 season in the high minors, independent ball and the Mexican League. In 15 minor league seasons he posted excellent numbers—a .287 batting average with 132 home runs, 741 RBIs, 185 stolen bases and 1,517 hits. He has gone on to continue working in the game, running his own baseball school and currently working for the Miami Marlins. Keep reading as he reflects on his successful career that continues to this day.

Jalal Leach Interview

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: Reggie Jackson.

Can you describe your draft experience with the New York Yankees in 1990- How did you find out you had been selected?: Back then the draft was done via the phone.

Given your success in the minor leagues, how frustrated did you feel about not getting Major League opportunities?: It was a part of the job. There were plenty of guys like me in the boat.

What do you remember about your one Major League hit (an RBI single off Octavio Dotel and the Houston Astros)?: I figured Dotel was going to throw many plenty of fastballs because I wasn’t getting frequent playing time.

In your opinion, who was the most talented player you ever played with or against? What made them stand out so much?: Barry Bonds. He was the smartest player I played with.

What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?: I guess you could say getting called to the big leagues, but I really enjoyed the entire time.

Your major league experience came in the midst of the Barry Bonds 73 home run season; what was it like making the jump and going immediately into that circus?: To my recollection it really wasn’t that bad because we were still in contention.

What was your experience like playing professional ball in Mexico?: It’s baseball, but down in Mexico they were known for throwing breaking balls.

Who was the best manager/coach you ever had, and why?: My impactful coaches were Bob Selna, Little League coach; Paul Ferrbouf, high school basketball coach; Andy Lopez, college baseball coach; Dusty Baker, manager with the Giants. All these men were influential in molding me as a person as well as a player.

What are you up to since retiring as a player?: Owned a baseball school in Sacramento for 16 years ( and I’m now the Pacific Rim Coordinator for Miami Marlins.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

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