It begins with an adventurous, energetic 5-year-old boy hitting Wiffle Balls with a toy bat in the backyard. He laughs, giggles and is filled with joy every time he connects.
Soon that happy toddler became a Little League All Star, then a four-year starter in high school— he was always the star, always the starter, always the best—but that all changed on a sunny Tuesday afternoon in the summer of 2014 on a baseball field at Fullerton College. For the first time in his life Bryan Leef wasn’t picked first. He wasn’t picked last — he wasn’t chosen at all. He didn’t make the team. Suddenly the joy was gone.
“When I found out I didn’t make the team, I just didn’t want to play anymore,” said Leef.
The six-foot-two teen with a baseball prowess that most thought would lead him to the major leagues had lost his love for the game. “Once I was cut from Fullerton I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t see a future in baseball.” So, he walked away.
For two years he would think about the game, but he had doubts. Could he hit the curve? Was he good enough? Had he peaked? Was it over?
The Yorba Linda native with the crooked smile and mischievous grin wanted another chance. He wanted to prove “that” coach wrong. He got stronger. He started hitting again —soon the joy returned.
He enrolled at Santa Ana College, a baseball powerhouse whose coach had just retired.
By chance, one day Leef encountered Tom Nilles the man who had cut him from Fullerton’s team, at his younger brother’s high school All-Star game. Nilles had been the former Associate Head Coach at Fullerton College.
“After a long conversation Nilles told me that he was now the Head Coach at SAC, so he asked me to try out for the team,” Leef said.
He made the team and found a home with the Dons. His love for the game and confidence was back.
“After tryouts, Coach Nilles congratulated me on making the team, and I was so happy,” said Leef. “I proved that I could play at the college level.”
Today, the 21-year-old has established himself as one of the top hitters in California.
In his first year at SAC Leef batted .309, had 51 hits and won the Orange Empire Conference All-Player Award — an honor given to a player selected by all the coaches in the conference that they deem the best of the best — Leef said he had never felt so humbled.
“Winning that award was a big honor because the coaches in the conference could have chosen anyone, but they chose me,” Leef said.
Bryan says he is grateful that he made the decision to continue baseball, and he thanks everyone who has helped him along his journey. He no longer doubts his abilities, focusing on his future instead.
“I want to make it to the draft and play at the professional level. If it means having to play another year in college so be it. I just want to work my way to the top and become what I’ve always wanted to be — a Major League Baseball player.”