On game day, Jennifer Leeper sets up shop in the same spot. The mother of the wiry left-handed ace for the top-ranked community college baseball team in the country sits at the base of the press box at Nick Cecchetti Field, the home of the Delta College Mustangs. Here, with her cellphone, a blanket and a program, she has an eagle-eye view of the plate, through the backstop, and just beyond to the pitcher’s mound.
It’s her place of joy and anxiety.
Cameron Avila-Leeper, who pitched for Grant High School, befuddles opponents with what his mom calls a “wicked curve” and an effective fastball. She feels every pitch: In the zone, outside of it, high or inside. Like a voodoo doll receiving endless pins to the gut, she agonizes through all of it.
“My heart jumps at every pitch, every play,” Leeper said Friday afternoon. “You just want the best for your son. It’s hard being a pitcher’s mom.”
Avila-Leeper doesn’t sense his mom’s angst. He’s in his own world on the mound, he says. “I’m totally zoned in.”
At 6 feet and 155 pounds, Avila-Leeper isn’t towering, but he has performed big. His 14-1 record and 120 strikeouts lead the state. Though Avila-Leeper wasn’t at his best Friday – the Mustangs lost 8-2 – Delta (39-5) won the Super Regional tournament to advance to this weekend’s California Community College State Championships in Fresno starting Saturday.
When Avila-Leeper starts Game 1 against Orange Coast College, Mom will be there, along with other family members and friends, likely behind the plate, amid a sea of scouts who will raise their radar guns every time Avila-Leeper winds up.
“One game here,” Jennifer Leeper said, “a Giants scout wanted my spot. I wasn’t going to move. I’m superstitious. Need my spot. So he said, ‘OK, then, we’ll sit leg-to-leg.’”
The amateur draft is June 8-10, and it’s anyone’s guess where Avila-Leeper will be selected. He’s heard from the sixth to the 10th round. Baseball executives hope Avila-Leeper will grow and fill out, adding velocity to his 89-mph fastball.
“It’s been a great year so far,” Avila-Leeper said. “I wanted to learn more about this game, get better, improve my draft stock. I think I have.”
Avila-Leeper was excited about signing with the Minnesota Twins after they drafted him in the 29th round following an All-Metro senior season at Grant. Mom didn’t share his enthusiasm; she wanted him to become more domesticated and independent.
“I was uneasy about the draft,” said Leeper, who works for the Natomas School District in the food services department. “I told Cameron, ‘Look, you’ve never washed a dish. You need to learn to cook. You have no clue.’”
He’s since learned, and he texts his mom photos of his culinary surprises. It could be an image of a steak, or chicken, asking for advice on seasoning.
“I’m not too bad at it,” Avila-Leeper said. “I needed to grow up, be on my own, mature. Mom was right.”
Avila-Leeper’s dad, David Avila, who drives a bus for Sacramento Regional Transit, added: “He’s a mama’s boy. Now he’s his own man. Neat to see.”
Avila-Leeper said getting away from home can help anyone still trying to find himself. That view is shared by Grant vice principal Kim Davie. She took seven Grant seniors to a recent Delta game on the picturesque campus, then showed them the baseball facility with a turf field. Her son, Jelani Davie, plays for Delta and is one of Avila-Leeper’s roommates.
“You have to get kids on a college campus, and it doesn’t matter what size the school is or where it is,” Kim Davie said. “It’s important for kids to see what’s out there and to go for it. That’s what my son has done, what Cameron has done.”