By Hal McCoy
Jose De Leon is one thankful pitcher that there was somebody outside his highly supportive immediate family who believed in him.
That person is former Southern University baseball coach Roger Cador.
“Man, I am what I am today, in part, because of him,” said De Leon on the eve of his second starting assignment for the Cincinnati Reds.
“He was the only Division I coach to offer me a scholarship,” he added. “I’ll be forever grateful for that. I spent, arguable, the best three years of my life at Southern. My life changed forever because of the opportunity he gave me.”
That opportunity turned into an opportunity for De Leon to start his first major league game in five years last week. And he made people wonder, “Where has this guy been?”, when he shut out the Pirates for six innings in a 5-2 win.
And he hasn’t forgotten his old coach.
“I talk to him often and he messages me after every start, every time he sees that I pitched, good or bad. He is always in contact. I have a lot of respect for that guy.
And DeLeon remembers his first ever appearance at Southern because it involved a big hit. . .on his posterior.
“It was the first inning of my first game and a guy hit a line drive right at him that hit me on the butt and I think I still have the bruise,” he said, “My first baseman came over and said, ‘You all right? Welcome to NCAA baseball.’”
When De Leon pitched last week, there was a special added treat for him. His mother, father and brother were in the Great American Ball Park stands. His parent hadn’t seen him pitch in a year and his brother, Juan, a CPA in Delaware, hadn’t seen him in two years.
As the scoreless innings mounted, De Leon acknowledged his family as he trudged to the dugout after each inning.
“I spotted them after the first inning,” he said. “Every opportunity, I looked up at them,” he said. “They were so nervous, like covering their mouths. They were extremely happy. My mom gets really, really nervous, so it was comforting to me to put on a good performance so she could go home happy. Tomorrow, she’s be the same way so I hope I can give her another good one.
Speaking of nerves and nervousness, was De Leon as cool, calm and controlled as he appeared? Will he be calmer after getting the first one out of the way?
“You know what? No. The best example of when Wade Miley pitched the other day,” said De Leon. “Nick Castellanos asked him if he was settled in. And he said, ‘I’m still a little nervous.’ That was in the second inning. Castellanos asked him, when did the jitters go away, fourth or fifth inning? And Miley said, “No, not until November.’
“So when you respect what you do and you have a lot of passion for what you do, you always get that nervousness and jitters to do things right. You’re never relaxed at all.”
So he’ll be nervous and jittery Sunday against the Diamondbacks, but nobody will notice.