By Arnie Leshin
Young Al” was celebrating 4th-ranked Vanderbilt University moving on to the College Baseball World Series, and in the stands at Hawkins Field in Nashville, “Big Al” was on his cellphone probably making a reservation for Omama, Neb.
Al Leiter, a southpaw who pitched 19 years in Major League Baseball and his wife Lori had proudly watched sophomore son Al, a right-hander, hurl seven innings on the way to the Commodores’ 4-1 win over 8th-ranked East Carolina to win the Super Regions they hosted, and after winning game one of the best-of-3, 2-0.
Leiter who upped his season record to 10-3, had made 94 pitches, striking out 10, walking 3 and giving up a solo “moon shot” home run in the fifth inning to Josh Moylan, when he was relieved after the seventh by sophomore righty Nick Maldonado. He gave up only three safeties and his earned run average is currently at .223.
No. 22, who played high school ball at Delbarton Prep in Summit, New Jersey, was chosen by the New York Yankees in the 20th round of the 2019 college draft after being named the High School Gatorade Player of the Year.
In his freshman campaign at Vandy that was cancelled when the coronavirus pandemic became an issue, he was 2-0 with 22 strikeouts that shortened season.
“I thought I pitched well,” he said, “except for that monmouth shot on an over- the-plate fastball, but we put together two runs each in the fifth and ninth and are going to the big show in Omaha.”
Meanwhile, his dad sported a powder blue shirt with a big V on it, and his mom wore a Vanderbilt baseball cap.
The Commodores, who also hosted the Region in Nashville and turned back Presbyterian once and 9th-ranked Georgia Tech twice to gain the Supers, became the first school to gain the 8-team field. They had won the NCAA championship in 2009 and 2014.
Jack’s uncle, Mark, who also pitched from the right side, went 11 years in the major leagues from 1990-1999, and in 2001. Brother Al hurled from 1987-2006, and grew up rooting in the Garden State for New York’s Mets and Yankees, and happily wound up pitching for both. There was also right-handed cousin, Mark, Jr., hurling in the majors from 2017-2019.
Said Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin. “Jack pitched a gem against a very good hitting team. He is mature, intentional and predictable, and his habits are on and off the field. He is a total team player and when he takes the mound he’s ready to deliver.”
Jack Thomas is, like his dad, a big guy at 6-foot-1, 205, and had been living with his family in Summit.
“Lori and I had a wonderful time here,” said Al Leiter afterwards, “and we will follow Jack and his team to the World Series.”
ADDED NOTES: In the other Super Regional games going on Saturday, it was North Carolina State at top-ranked Arkansas in Fayetteville, South Florida versus 2nd-ranked Texas in Austin, LSU at 3rd-ranked Tennessee in Knoxville, and 12th-ranked Mississippi at 5th-ranked Arizona in Tucson.
There’s also Virginia against Dallas Baptist in neutral Columbia, S.C., 10th-ranked Notre Dame at 7th-ranked Mississippi State in Starkville, and 9th-ranked Stanford facing No. 8 Texas Tech in Lubbock.