Former foe Lebel a welcome addition to Silver Knights
NASHUA – Nashua Silver Knights manager B.J. Neverett remembers the glare from Jake Lebel a couple of years ago.
The Knights were at the banbox Leary Field in Portsmouth, locked in Futures League mortal combat in the best-of three semifinals with their then in-state rivals, the Seacoast Mavericks. Leary, a field with dimensions so small not even Portsmouth High School will play there, provided a home run waiting to happen every time the big 6-5, 268-pound Lebel stepped to the plate.
Ball one. Ball two. Ball three. Ball four. Or, just the umpire would motion down to first base.
“He had a sprained ankle,” Silver Knights manager B.J. Neverett said. “He couldn’t run. He was trying to play through it, doing a Kirk Gibson. Only problem was, we kept walking him. And every time we’d walk him, he’d stare me down while I was in the dugout. A couple of times, I thought he was going to come over.
But cooler heads prevailed. So when Neverett contacted Lebel, a South Berwick, Me.native, a couple of weeks ago about playing for the Knights, he asked him if he was still mad. “You called me up,” Lebel said. “How can I be made at you?”
And now they’re on the same side.
“That was an interesting summer playing against the Silver Knights,” Lebel said with a chuckle.. “I wasn’t there biggest fan, they weren’t my biggest fan.
“The first game we played here, I hit a double down the line to win it. I remember reading in the paper B.J.some things, they ended up walking me intentionally. But I’ve got to respect it. We didn’t end up winning that series. And now I’m here.”
Where he’s fit in perfectly.
“I think he’s enjoying it here,” Neverett said. “It’s a lot different experience than he’s had at Seacoast. He’s given good leadership on the bench, he’s a fun guy to be around.”
“Completely different,” Lebel said. “Coming from Leary Field, my Dad played there in Babe Ruth when he was growing up. Completely different, go from there, where not many fans go to here where you have this beautiful stadium. It’s completely different. It’s been fun so far.”
Lebel hit .272 with three homers and 20 RBIs this past spring at the New York Institute of Technolog (NYIT) in Old Westbury, N.Y. (just east of New York City). After hitting at Leary, any college facility with normal dimensions has to be an adjustment, let alone Holman Stadium.
“To go back to school is completely different,” Lebel said. “My field at school isn’t that big, so to go from a field that’s 290 down the line where you can just flick a ball out. …. I struggled more at Leary at the beginning because you’d try to hit a home run.
“I’d struggle within myself and had to just keep my same swing.If I stay within myself I can hit a ball pretty much out of anywhere except here to dead center, it’s a shot. If I stay within myself, I’ll be fine.”
“He’s an RBI machine,” Neverett said. “In his first 10 games, he had 11 RBIs. We have guys who have played in 20 games and have five. He’s an RBI machine. It’s hard taking him out of the lineup, I’ll tell you that. Pretty hard. Honestly if those games had been played at (Leary), he’d have seven home runs. … When the ball is hit and the outfielders don’t even look to the ball, just run to the fence, you know it’s been hit.”
Lebel has always been the big guy at whatever level he’s played at, youth baseball, Marshwood (Me.) High School. “I was just blessed with the size and ability to hit the ball,” he said.
Lebel chose to go to NYIT where he could have stayed fairly local to play for regional Division III power Southern Maine.
“I chose (NYIT) basically for the competition,” Lebel said. “Ed Flaherty (USM) contacted me. A couple of other Division III schools around here. But (NYIT) plays a Division I schedule. Last year we played Northeastern, Georgetown, Villanova, some big name schools in the Big East, like St. John’s.
“We’re a smaller Division I program, we didn’t have as much depth as those schools, obviously, and we had trouble winning games. But it’s a great experience. And this league, too, playing against some of these guys.”
Indeed, Lebel says the Futures League has helped his college career.
“I really struggled my freshman year at school,” he said. “I went in, played every day because we didn’t have a first baseman. I wasn’t used to that. We played 23 games at most in high school and then going there it was 40 games, I wasn’t used to that, the wear on the body.
“But coming up here was huge for me. I was playing with older guys, I learned a lot, and learned a lot about myself.”
He’s studying business, and just a 40 minute train ride from the big city, “businesses are everywhere.” So he is in the right place. “That was also a big factor in me choosing. I wanted to study business and being down in New York City, you couldn’t pass it up.”
Just like Neverett couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sign Lebel when he was at Holman in late May for the FCBL tryout. Seacoast was disbanded, Lebel was looking for a summer home, and Neverett told him to keep his phone handy. No walks this time.
“I know it was really hard for him to take any at-bats in those games,” Neverett said. “But we had to do what we had to do.”
Neverett knew the power, but now he knows the player.
“He’s a great kid,” he said. “It’s been fun to get to know him. He’s smart, smart on the baseball field, too. He’s a good thinker.”
And he thinks the hatchett is buried.
“When I came here, (Neverett) called me into his office, and said, ‘You still mad at me?’ No, no, it was in the moment.”
And Lebel is hoping to have a lot of moments this summer when he can make the Silver Knights opponents mad at him instead.