Landon Leach: My life as it led to the draft and this World Cup

Toronto Mets grad Landon Leach (Pickering, Ont.) was the top Canadian selected in the MLB draft in June. Photo Credit: WBSC/Christian J. Stewart

Toronto Mets grad Landon Leach (Pickering, Ont.) was the top Canadian selected in the MLB draft in June. Photo Credit: WBSC/Christian J. Stewart

By Landon Leach

Here I am.

At the end of the world championships, playing right at home in Thunder Bay, with my friends and teammates on the Canadian Junior National Team, and my time as a junior player about to come to an end.

This last trip means everything to me, especially with this group of guys. We’ve been together for quite a while now, and I’ve seriously made friendships for life with the rest of the guys on this team. They’re my family now. I’m never going to forget them, the fun we’ve had, the games we’ve played here, and it just feels so great to be Canadian right now, honestly.

The World Cup got started with the opening ceremonies at Port Arthur Stadium, and that was fun. We were playing right afterward and there was a big crowd there, and obviously everyone was cheering for us because we’re the home team.

Our start to the tournament wasn’t quite as fun. After we lost in extras to Chinese Taipei on that opening night, I got the ball for our team against Korea, the top team in our pool. I was ready, but it didn’t exactly go as planned. Those guys are a whole lot different than anybody I’ve ever faced, with the style of hitting they use and the pitches they were looking for. I didn’t pitch to my potential, but I know the next time I’m going to come back and do a lot better.

There were definitely some moments where I had a good time out there, with the crowd behind us cheering and everyone there supporting us. It’s just such a great feeling, pitching in front of more fans than we’ve ever had at our games. All we want to do is give them something to cheer about.

Going down 0-2 in the tournament put us in a tough spot, and meant that we had to win every single game in the first round to move on. I got anxious there a few times, like with Italy leading our third game all the way to the ninth inning, but like Greg Hamilton, our manager, always says, we’re a resilient team. We always come back strong, and that’s what we’ve been doing.

Three wins in a row put us in the super round, and right where we belong, and wins against Japan and Cuba have us competing for bronze today. There’s really no feeling like wearing Canada across your chest and competing for your country. It’s hard to describe, but it’s an unbelievable experience. And it all starts with Greg, who has been the best leader we could ask for to guide us.

Opening the super round with a loss to USA definitely wasn’t what we wanted to do, but our team has been in every game and we know we could do more going forward. It’s been really hard for me when I have to sit on the bench and watch the games, because I have a pitch count and I need so many days’ rest, and I understand that, but sometimes I wish I could just go out there and do my job and help the team get the win.

But our team has been doing a great job. The guys out of the bullpen have been great so far and I have tons of confidence in them. But of course I wish I had the ball in my hand to do the job. I can’t wait to come out of that bullpen against Japan and do absolutely everything I can for this squad and for this medal.

I’m really glad the Twins let me come here, and I couldn’t be more grateful for it. But this is the team, this Canadian Junior National Team, that helped me get to play with them. I’ve had two years with Team Canada, and it gave me the exposure and experience I needed to lead me to the draft. And before this World Cup, the draft was one of the best experiences I ever had.

***

Leading up to the start of the draft, it was a day like any other day.

I went to school, and then I actually had a dentist appointment after school. The only difference was that I went back home and called my agent, Mark Pieper. We’d had a few conversations leading up to the draft, and I knew there were a few teams that were really interested in me, and most of them were thinking the third round, because that’s where I was projected to go.

I wasn’t really thinking anything might happen the first day, with just the first and second rounds going on. I was excited about the third round though. Just getting drafted in general, knowing that it was going to happen to me, was truly an honour. There are so many great players who get drafted each year, and having that experience was going to be amazing. I knew it would be unbelievable.

I turned on the draft just before it started and watched maybe the first 10 picks before I had to stop and do my homework. Each pick was taking an eternity to be announced, and I still had to go to school the next day, so I figured I could watch more when I was done. But when I came downstairs to do that, my mom actually told me I should go to bed because I needed to get up early.

I usually have a late-night snack before I go to bed, so I started eating and getting ready to shut it down for the day. My mom was in the kitchen and my dad was already in bed, and maybe 10 minutes before I was about to go to bed, I got a call from Mark with the Twins offer, asking me if we were going to do this deal.

It was literally 30 seconds before the second round was starting, and the Twins had the first pick. It all happened really fast, and I had to make a quick decision. I needed to answer Mark right away and I knew what I wanted to do, because it was too good to pass up. Of course, I said yes.

Part of me didn’t believe what was happening. I knew there was a possibility, because teams were interested, but they didn’t know what kind of money they had or what I would take, because I didn’t give out a hard number before the draft. There was a certain point where I would fulfill my commitment to Texas instead of playing pro ball, but I really wanted to play and I wanted to start my career right away. But we wanted to see where the value landed. So we weren’t really expecting it, but we were hopeful.

My dad wasn’t quite fully asleep when Mark called, but my mom had to run up the stairs to get him so that we could all watch the Twins announce their second-round pick together. Hearing my name, 37th overall, it was an honest shock.

I didn’t expect to go that high, and there hadn’t been much interest from the Twins that I had heard about. They weren’t one of the teams on my radar before the draft. I was really surprised they picked me, even though Walt Burrows had started covering Canada for them, but I was also really glad it was them, because of him. And when they called, offering me a place in the second round, $1.4 million, and a chance to be a part of their organization, I couldn’t say no.

Walt was the first scout who had ever shown any interest in me. When I first met him, he was working for MLB’s scouting bureau, running the camps across Canada. It was my 16U year and I had just started to pitch after spending all my time catching, convinced by my coaches Hyung Cho and John Marriotti to try out the mound, and it wasn’t long after that Walt invited me to a showcase. He was the only scout who talked to me at that first one.

So when Walt called me 10 minutes after the Twins picked me, it was a real emotional call for both of us. I’m not sure I was processing any of the information coming in at the time, but I couldn’t have been happier to talk to him and he seemed the same. It had been a good ride, and it was about to keep going.

The draft hadn’t even really entered my mind until this spring. There were some people telling me I was going to get drafted, and I never, ever thought it would be this high, but it wasn’t until spring that my draft stock rose and I started to make my way onto the scouts’ radar. It was also the first time that I really started to feel like I was fitting in, that I could compete with the other guys I played with for Team Canada, and that I belonged with some of the competition we were facing.

My first spring trip this year wasn’t so great. I didn’t really pitch to my potential after putting in so much work over the winter and trying to step up my game so that this year could be the biggest year for me yet. But on my second trip with the junior team, I was hitting 96 on the radar guns, and we had a game against the Blue Jays that was big for me. I came back from an iffy second inning against them and dominated, and really showing my composure on the mound, and I think coming back from a struggling inning helped my stock go up.

From there, everything happened really fast. My life changed in a matter of a few months, and it’s been hard to process it all.

About a week-and-a-half after the draft and all of the craziness that went along with it, the Twins brought me to Minnesota to sign my contract and show me around a little bit. Both of my parents came with me, and we got there on a Thursday night. It was my first time there, and I really loved Target Field. It’s a nice park, and the outside looks great with all the stone, and the clubhouse and training facilities and everything were amazing. It’s a cool atmosphere, being outside. I could easily picture myself coming out onto that mound, and I hope it happens one day soon.

My parents were pretty speechless at everything. We all were. They were really excited for me, and they love seeing their only son happy, so it was great to be able to have that experience with them, as a family.

The next day in Minnesota was a huge medical day for me. I had to go through all their medical tests and a bunch of stuff, and I finally signed my contract that night at Target Field, after getting all the clearance they needed. It was a little bit just like you think signing papers would be, but it was exciting at the same time. I was a little nervous, but mostly excited. It took me a little bit to sign my name at the bottom, and there were a lot of papers to sign, but it was awesome and I’m happy I was able to have the opportunity to do that.

And they made me a millionaire. I know I have to mention it because everyone talks about it, but my life isn’t going to change because of that. I’m still going to be the same person and I don’t even know what I want to do with it. Right now, I don’t have any plans for it, I’m just going to put it away.

***

It’s been an amazing summer, and I’m so grateful for my first experience of pro ball with the Twins and I’ll be excited to go back and play with them again, but for now, it’s all about Team C. This is my team, now and forever, and I just want to go to war with these guys and put a stamp on the end of my junior career.

We’re ready.