Lost among all the touching moments during the Phillies’ weekend salutes at Citizens Bank Park to a trio of their recently deceased Wall of Famers was one special meeting between a father and son who share the same first name.
Mark Leiter Jr., who grew up in Toms River, N.J., watched his father pitch for the Phillies at Veterans Stadium, and the two attended quite a few of the team’s alumni weekends together over the years. The father spent 11 years in the majors with eight teams, including the 1997 and 1998 seasons with the Phillies.
Had the opportunity to stand out on the field with a ton of great people today honoring Phillies alumni during alumni weekend. This was special for my dad and I. We had talked about this since before I was drafted. I had attended a few alumni games with him as his guest. He told me "Hey one day we will be out there on opposite baselines." One day was today. I am very grateful to have had that dream come true.
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They were not great years for the team or Mark Leiter — he led the majors in losses his first year with the Phillies and blown saves the second year — but you have to be a special talent just to spend 11 years in the big leagues, and the father rightfully cherished his time playing the game at the highest level.
“I grew up going to the Vet with him and I had gone to a pretty good amount of those alumni weekends,” the younger Leiter said after Sunday’s game. “Up until I got drafted, I was coming every year. There was maybe one I didn’t go to.”
This year’s alumni weekend will go down as the one that the father and son never forget. Before Sunday’s game against the New York Mets, the Phillies announced all the alumni in attendance and had them line up along the third-base line with the exception of the players and coaches from the 1993 National League championship team. That year’s alums all wore No. 10 Darren Daulton jerseys as a tribute to the catcher and lined up around home plate. Then the current players were called out of the dugout and asked to line up along the first-base line.
“My dad had told me that one day he was going to be on one line and I’d be on the other, so to have that happen was really, really cool,” the 26-year-old Leiter said. “It was special to be here for it. That was one of my personal goals this season. I wanted to make sure I was here for that. It was something we had talked about for a long time and I had been going up and down from the big-league club this season and I didn’t want to miss it.”
The son cemented his spot along the first-base line Sunday with what he had done in his two previous outings. Asked to give the Phillies some long relief, Leiter went way beyond the call of duty, delivering a combined 9 1/3 innings during which he allowed just one run on six hits and struck out an astounding 16 batters. He did not walk a single batter.
“I think I’ve just been locating the ball better and just executing better,” he said. “The game plan has been the same, and I think my stuff has been pretty much the same. I’m just not overthrowing and I’m trusting that everything will come together. I think some of that comes with experience and some of that comes with getting comfortable in your role and just trying to ride it as long as you can. You try to repeat what you’ve been doing without getting too high or too low.”
Leiter earned more than a spot along the first-base line for alumni weekend with his dominance in long relief. He also secured a chance to pitch out of the starting rotation again Tuesday night against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. This will be his fourth start of the season, and you could argue that he should have already received more. He went 1-1 with a 3.31 ERA in his three previous starts and struck out 16 in 16 1/3 innings.
At the moment, the Phillies’ starting rotation consists of Aaron Nola and a bunch of guys trying to prove they belong. Of the seven guys who have made starts in the majors and minors for the Phillies this season, Leiter has performed the best. But even though he is the son of a former major-leaguer, Leiter is also a late-round draft pick. The Phillies took him in the 22nd round in 2013 after his senior season at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, a school in Newark that had not produced a big-leaguer before him. The higher-round picks almost always get more chances to prove themselves, and Leiter knows that.
“I’ll never lose that later-round, small-school, senior-sign mindset,” he said. “It’s something I’ve been kind of going through my whole career, and I’m just going to keep fighting and going at it the best I can. I’ve heard from a young age that it’s one thing to get to the big leagues and another to make it a career.”
Advice he no doubt received from the father he got to put his arm around Sunday during the Phillies’ alumni weekend.