Pat Leyland Making His Own Mark On Baseball

Pat Leyland batting for the LumberKings. (Jarah Wright)

Pat Leyland batting for the LumberKings. (Jarah Wright)

When baseball fans hear the name Leyland, they automatically think of Jim Leyland, former manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Detroit Tigers. However, for Clinton Lumberkings fans, they imagine Pat Leyland, the 6’2″ player that holds things down at first base and for Pat, that’s the way he wants it.

Leyland grew up in the Pittsburgh area and started playing baseball when he was five years old. Growing up, he played travel ball and went to tournaments around the East Coast, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. He continued his path to professional baseball after being drafted in the eighth round of the 2010 MLB draft out of Bishop Canevin High School.

“That day felt so short but I was nervous. I kept trying to find ways to pass the time and to not think about it,” Leyland said. “I was with my mom and I was relieved. I was excited to get my start with the Detroit Tigers organization.”

Leyland was assigned to the GCL Tigers where he played in 41 games posting a .219 batting average with 12 RBIs. He spent 2011 with Connecticut before being promoted to Class-A West Michigan in 2012. He primarily spent most of his time behind the plate but injuries slowed his progress through the minors.

“I had my second shoulder surgery in 2012 that I worked hard to recover from but I never got back to where I was as a catcher after that,” Leyland said. “I transitioned to first base and started playing there more and more.”

He had a healthy 2013 split between Connecticut and High-A Lakeland before a freak injury sidelined his start to 2014 with West Michigan.

“I slipped on a patch of ice in my driveway and broke my right ankle,” Leyland said. “It was disappointing because I thought 2013 went well and I had worked had to get back in shape.”

Leyland made his first rehab start of the 2014 season in May with the Whitecaps. Over the course of 36 games with the club, he was batting .140 with 9 RBIs. At the end of the season, the Tigers released him. However, another club decided to give Leyland another chance.

“The Tigers released me in October. I was disappointed but I enjoyed my time in their organization. It was a great atmosphere and I had fun learning from them and growing as a player,” Leyland said. “The Mariners signed me in late November and I was thrilled to have another opportunity.”

Both watch a fly ball to center. (Jarah Wright)

Both watch a fly ball to center. (Jarah Wright)

That opportunity is one that Leyland has been taking advantage of posting solid numbers for the Clinton Lumberkings this season including a career high .285 batting average with 21 RBIs. He said he tries not to look too far ahead but to just produce as best he can for his team.

“I’m hoping to help my team win more games and just become a better player,” Leyland said. “I know I’m playing for a job and am fortunate to have been given a second chance. I’m thrilled for the opportunity and want to leave a good impression.”

Pat Leyland on defense at first base. (Jarah Wright)

Pat Leyland on defense at first base. (Jarah Wright)

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Tom Robson: The Comeback Kid

Day eleven. It’s a warm evening in Clinton, Iowa as the 6’4″ frame of Lansing Lugnuts pitcher Tom Robson approached the mound. It had been a long journey to return to the same team and the same state of mind from the previous season. But then again, no one thought he would make it this far in baseball.

Robson grew up around Vancouver, Canada and started playing baseball when he was five years old. In Canada there aren’t high school baseball teams to Robson played for different club teams growing up and eventually led to a unique opportunity.

“I was invited to represent my country and play for team Canada. I played for them from 2009 to 2011 and traveled all over the world playing with teammates like Justin Atkinson,” Robson said. “We played in Cuba, the US, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic. The summer after I stopped playing with them, they went to Australia. It’s a cool experience to be able to play the game you love and represent your country.”

During his time with Team Canada, Robson attracted the attention of professional scouts and was drafted out of high school in the fourth round of the 2011 draft. But not only that, he was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays, the team he grew up loving while being glued to the TV watching Roy Halladay pitch.

“I was at a friend’s house whenever I heard them say my name. It was awesome and something I’ll never forget. It was so cool to visit the Florida complex and Rogers Center and thinking that I’m closer to the dream.”

Robson pitched for the rookie Bluefield Blue Jays in 2012 and began 2013 with the Blue Jays before being promoted to the Class-A short season Vancouver Canadians. While with the Canadians, Robson posted a record of 3-0 with an ERA of 0.94. The team made it to playoffs and advanced to the championship game where things came full-circle for Robson.

“It was surreal because I was the starting pitcher in the championship game for a team I had grown up watching. I saw kids in the stands that could have been me years earlier,” Robson said. “It was a special moment for me.”

The Canadians won their third championship with a 5-0 win over the Boise Hawks. With another successful season under his belt, Robson looked ahead to 2014. However, things didn’t quite go according to plan. He pitched in eight games for the Class-A Lansing Lugnuts before being shut down with elbow discomfort. Upon closer review, an MRI revealed that Robson had torn his UCL which lead to Tommy John surgery.

“I was so frustrated at the situation. Coming into 2014, I was in really good shape and was so ready to get to work,” Robson said. “It was hard on me mentally. It’s tough not being able to play and watching your teammates grow and develop. I think in the end though that it has made me a better pitcher.”

After extensive rehab, Robson rejoined the baseball scene pitching in two games with Bluefield and two games with Vancounver before rejoining Lansing. He has made four appearances with the team and is working towards posting the same numbers he did before Tommy John.

“I think I’m a better pitcher than I was at the beginning of last year and I want to finish strong this season. I want to pitch as much as I can and hopefully get a championship with Lansing,” Robson said. “No one thought I would make it this far in my baseball career and I want to prove I belong here. The dream is the majors and I think if you want to make it, you just need to work hard, stay focused, and do your best so that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Baseball And Blogging: Behind The Scenes With Matt Paré

Baseball players travel thousands of miles over the course of a season. It can be reporting to spring training, arriving in their new hometowns for the season, or logging countless hours on long bus rides to play in cities all over the country. So how do they fill this time? Each player spends that time differently from watching movies to cards to music. For Augusta Greenjackets catcher Matt Paré, blogging has been his outlet.

“It’s something to do during the season,” Paré said. “Not a lot of guys have their own ways of filling all that time on the bus.”

Paré got the idea for starting his blog from a pair of good friends.

“One of my buddies that I went to Boston College with had a blog and I love reading his. I was inspired to start one because of him,” Paré said. “Also, a really good friend of mine is Steve Buckley of The Boston Herald. I stayed at his place a lot in the off-season after meeting him through his charity game in New England. College baseball players and celebrities come play in it to raise money for charity. We always joked around that I was a homeless minor leaguer because I was couch surfing which is how my blog got its name.”

Paré has had a lot of unique experiences in baseball to draw from. He grew up in Maine and started playing baseball when he was five years old but thought about giving up relatively early in his baseball career.

“I didn’t really like baseball that much when I was younger. When I was 10, I almost quit and I wasn’t very good either. When I was nine, I didn’t swing the bat all season,” Paré said. “I decided to stick with it and progressively got better but I wasn’t a very good player until about high school.”

Paré also played American Legion ball in Maine and was introduced to professional baseball as part of a host family.

“We hosted players for the SeaDogs which is the Double-A affiliate for the Red Sox. I grew up watching them and interacting with them but when I was 17, my junior year of high school, they needed a bullpen catcher and asked me and I said yes,” Paré said. “It helped me to be in the clubhouse seeing what’s going on before I ever even signed a contract. I didn’t get paid or I would have lost my amateur rights but I got paid in experience and it was an experience that’s still valuable.”

During that season, Paré knew he wanted to continue his baseball career and moved to Florida for his senior year of high school.

“I transferred down there to keep playing year-round. I lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Florida and grew up a lot that year. My mom is a flight attendant so she would visit me every two weeks to check on me.”

He garnered attention while in Florida which led to the Houston Astros drafting Paré in the 26th round of the 2009 draft. However, he chose to go to college instead.

“I decided Christmas of my junior year that I would play at Boston College. I was going there because it had everything that I wanted out of school,” Paré said. “I loved Boston College. I could see myself there and thought I wasn’t ready for pro baseball. That was my decision and I’m happy I made it.”

He majored in human development and said his major helps him as a baseball player as well.

“I loved taking what I learned in my courses and apply it to the field. It’s also how I interacted with my teammates. Human development was in the education school and is focused on understanding different people’s perspectives and how to interact with people,” Paré said. “It was just information that was so valuable to my development and made me a much better catcher and player.”

And more prepared for potentially being drafted for the second time.

“I was in San Francisco with my mom and friends. I wasn’t trying to be about the draft,” Paré said. “I had a backup plan. I was accepted into Boston University’s Masters Program for Sports Psychology and I was either going to find another way to play or go to school.”

Paré was signed by the San Francisco Giants as a free agent and has spent the last three seasons working his way up through the minors and for him, it’s a fun ride.

“There is always something to learn from and each experience, good or bad, teaches us something. I’m just excited to keep learning and hopefully continue my career in baseball.”

For more information on Matt Paré and his blog, head over to http://www.homelessminorleaguer.com.