* Tim Leiper grew up in Whittier, Calif. yet he’s worn CANADA across his chest more than most coaches. Leiper, who managed the triple-A Ottawa Lynx in 2002 and again in 2003, waved home the winning run as Canada edged Team USA 2-1 in the 2011 Pan-Am Games gold medal game in Mexico.
By Alexis Brudnicki
MESA, Ariz. – The Toronto Blue Jays gave Tim Leiper his first shot at the big leagues.
A 12-year minor-league veteran who spent time playing in the Detroit Tigers, New York Mets, Kansas City Royals and the Pittsburgh Pirates organizations. Leiper got into coaching quickly after his playing career ended he managed in the Montreal Expos, Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles and Pirates systems for 11 seasons.
After a year with the Blue Jays in the minors, Toronto promoted him to the staff as the team’s big-league first base coach this year.
“It was great,” Leiper said. “I loved every minute of it. Obviously you want to make the post-season and all that stuff but we improved a lot on the year before and overall it was a good year. Moving forward it was nice that we got some young guys up to go along with guys we already have and it just seems like the culture there is good.”
When he first got the call about the job opening in the majors, Leiper couldn’t have been happier.
“I was excited about it,” the 48-year-old said. “It was nice for me to come in and work in the minor leagues for a year and get an idea of the organization and get a feel for all the people; especially a lot of the young guys coming up.
“[The Blue Jays] giving me a chance to come out here [to Arizona] and work in the Fall League last year was also really big because I got to be around a lot of our guys … Everything about it was good.”
Back for a brief stint in the prospect-laden fall circuit, Leiper’s role for his week with the Mesa Solar Sox was pretty clearly defined.
“Honestly just really to check on Dalton [Pompey] and see that he was doing the things that we worked on in September and that we wanted to follow up on and make sure he was continuing to do the work,” Leiper said. “He was and he is.
“Then also to get a chance to see other guys because you look at the team last year and a lot of these guys contributed for us in the big leagues this year. There’s a good chance that some of these guys will be there next year. It’s always good to be around them and get to know them.”
Spending time working with a young Canadian player is nothing new to Leiper, whose coaching resume largely consists of his time and efforts with Baseball Canada’s senior team over the last decade, including many moments he continues to cherish.
“It was a great feeling,” the California native said of wearing the Team Canada jersey. “It was cool to watch these players who represent their country.
“To be a baseball player coming from Canada is really, really difficult. You have to really love the game because you don’t have the seasons; you’re not playing year-round, so you have to have a lot of commitment to the game. Then you have to really go out there and go above and beyond the other guys, just because you don’t get the games the other guys get in the US.
“So playing with them and being around those types of guys playing for their country and being the underdog everywhere we go, we play like that. To me that’s what makes us really successful.”
Leiper will have to forego his next potential spot as a national team coach when the squad plays in next year’s Pan American Games on home soil because of his obligations to the Blue Jays. Incredibly appreciate of his position in Toronto and enjoying every moment, his time with Team Canada has been a very different experience.
“Tournament baseball is great because every day is like a playoff game,” Leiper said. “Every game really matters, every pitch matters, you’re short on your pitching and short on your roster so you can’t give away games, you can’t give away innings, pitching-wise you can’t get blown out because you have to stand in there. You can’t run short because as you get later on in the tournament and your pitching is thin, you need everybody to pick each other up.
“It’s the playoff atmosphere of every game and knowing every game is important. Sometimes there are a not a million people in the seats but the intensity is as strong there as it is for any game I’ve ever played in.
“That really has helped me prepare for what I’m doing now because I felt like I’ve played in a million playoff or World Series games in a really short span. You realize the importance of little things and making sure you play fundamentally sound baseball because if you don’t, you ruin your whole off-season of the tournament by not playing good baseball. You play good baseball and good things happen.
“They have for us winning two bronze medals in World Cups and winning the gold medal in the Pan Am games, we’ve done all the little things well.”
Though Leiper won’t be a part of the collective ‘we’ at the next Team Canada event, his next goal is to get back to an atmosphere similar in the majors with the Blue Jays.
“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t keep moving forward,” he said.