In a dreary blowout of the Giants by the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday, a game so bad it would test the faith of any fan, Jalal Leach watched each flawed movement attentively.
The West Sacramento resident pointed his radar gun at the mound on every pitch, scratching its speed into voluminous notes that are the essence of his trade as a scout for the New York Yankees.
At the same time, Leach kept an eye on his baseball disciples back in Sacramento. Leach runs the Baseball Mentoring Program in Natomas, a school training 75 to 100 ballplayers on any given week. Before the Giants were pummeled 12-2 by Arizona on Sunday, Leach watched some of his students hit in real time on his laptop.
“It’s like I have two full-time jobs,” said Leach, who will celebrate his 46th birthday next week. “I have a passion for the game.”
The beginning of spring training games on March 3 marked the beginning of a new season for Leach, who has been involved with baseball since he was 8. Men like Leach are the true believers who make baseball go. Each has a story, but it’s hard to imagine any loving the game more than Leach.
He played in the majors for the Giants in a brief spell in late 2001 after 10 years of knocking around the minor leagues and being released more times than most players would tolerate.
Leach was a sight to behold that day, old enough to be a veteran but packed into a borrowed locker like a kid – his name written in chalk to emphasize his tenuous position in the game then.
His was an inspirational story of a faith that endured through endless rides on rickety buses bound for baseball backwaters.
Just before his big moment in a Giants uniform, Leach moved to West Sacramento after his younger brother Jarman – a Sacramento police officer – sold him on the region.
He got his one major-league hit when then-Giants manager Dusty Baker inserted Leach into a game where the Giants were being blown out as they were Sunday. It was against the Houston Astros at then-Pacific Bell Park.
“It was off Octavio Dotel. I got my first hit and my first RBI on a single to right center.”
With that one big-league hit, Leach wanted more, though he knew his playing days were done. He wasn’t cut out for the private sector. He didn’t want to punch a time clock.
So he went to work for the Yankees – the team that originally had signed him. And he started his baseball school in Sacramento.
As a scout, Leach takes notes on opposing teams – notes to be used by Yankee coaches to study the tendencies of opponents. His notes are used by Yankees brass when assessing trades with opposing teams.
Leach was indoctrinated into baseball in the days when teams still selected players based on the judgment of scouts. Sabermetrics has changed the equation, placing much greater emphasis on numbers and new metrics.
When he first saw Miami Marlins shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, Leach loved his game but was struck by how defensive metrics employed by teams made Hechavarria out to be less than what he saw.
“I saw him make every play a shortstop should make,” Leach said. Sometimes what the stats say and what Leach’s eyes see are two different things.
The game isn’t easy. It keeps him away from home 20 nights a month during the season. He’ll take his kids with him while scouting the Giants, who he monitors along with the Twins and Reds.
Coaching players between the ages of 6 and 70 in Sacramento is an extension of that love for baseball.
When Sunday’s game ended, he packed up his gear and headed off to see a high school player throw a bullpen session.
An old teammate asked him to do it as a favor. It had been a long day, but Leach did it. When the game calls, he answers.
Call The Bee’s Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096.