Charles Leblanc: when the improbable becomes reality (chronicle by Marc Griffin)

Friday, August 19, 2022. 07:15

When a person from our region reaches the top of their game, we have something to be proud of. The story of Charles Leblanc has been the talk of the town over the past two weeks, but have you stopped for a moment to realize how close his chances of reaching major league baseball were to zero? And yet, Charles has so far maintained a .333 batting average in 15 games with the Marlins in addition to an impressive .829 power and presence average. (baseball average at .710).

In the United States, there are approximately 16 million baseball players with just under 500,000 making it through to a high school baseball program. Of that number, a mere 9% will end up in a college program and of that 9%, only 2% will go to NCAA Division 1. So getting drafted by a Major League Baseball team is already a feat in and of itself. Add to that that nearly 30% of Major League Baseball players come from countries other than the United States, that doesn't leave much room for those who, at the age of 12, dream of playing in the MLB.

Back to Charles. A guy from Laval from whom his father passed on his love for this sport. This is the key element here. Love his sport. You can be great at a sport, have fun playing it, but to get through the jungle like Charles did, you have to be passionate about it.

Drafted by the Brewers in the 33rd round in 2013 from his Georges-Vanier high school, in addition to having played with the Canadian junior team, the Leblanc clan wisely decided that it was better for Charles to develop in the university ranks this which he did brilliantly by being drafted in 2016 by the Texas Rangers in the 4th round from the University of Pittsburgh. The course is already full and impressive, but what awaits Charles is the harsh reality of professional baseball.

From an NCAA Division 1 program to professional baseball in the low A, the player sometimes feels like he's not going in the right direction. The facilities aren't quite as impressive and the number of coaches is dwindling all the while 'hooking' you onto the pitch and showing that you deserve your place, match after match. It has become a job! A starvation salary with endless bus trips, while maintaining a high level of play, I tell you, it's not always rosy. Pizzas, you eat tons of them!

From 2016 to 2018, Charles goes from weak A to A and then to strong A. Over 263 games, 1083 at bats to finally reach the AA level. Once at this level, all hopes are allowed. Charles adapts very well and at 23, he feels that the dream is within his reach. Like everyone else, the pandemic is affecting Charles as the 2020 season is cancelled. To stand out, you have to do things differently, and Charles brings in renowned batting instructor Doug Latta. Charles never stops training, even in the cage that Papa Paul had built at the Laval residence. Charles begins the 2021 season at the AAA level in the Rangers organization, one step away from major league baseball. Despite a slump at the end of the season, his .455 power average speaks volumes about his potential.

During the winter, Major League Baseball holds its Professional Player Draft, which allows players who have spent more than three years with the same organization to be drafted by another team. A draft that prevents teams from keeping a good player eternally in the minor ranks.

Obviously, the Marlins saw something that the Rangers weren't able to see. There's always a disappointing side to changing organizations, especially the one you wore your first professional uniform with. However, you have to see the other side of the coin, that a team gives you the chance to pursue the realization of your dream. A few new sessions with Doug Latta to prepare Charles well with his new team. Great opportunity for him to make a good impression from the start. Something he did masterfully.

The rest is pure happiness. On July 30, 2022, Charles Leblanc hits his first hit in major league baseball and to add to this already remarkable story, on July 31 Charles hits his first home run in major league baseball.

When you're young, you want to do AA. Then, the regional team and if you are very good, you end up with the Quebec team. Then come the Midget AAA, the ABC, the Canadian junior team and the national team. These are all great steps. The important thing for each player is to reach the limit of his own abilities. And those who manage to get drafted will go through another and another and another until they wait for Major League Baseball. Very few have done it and especially for guys from back home, very few position players have done it.

Now, Charles Leblanc is experiencing his finest moments, but also his greatest challenges. True that after two weeks Charles got his first paycheck and he made more money in two weeks than all of his professional years combined. However, the job now is to stay with the Marlins. You're going to tell me that with his average of .333, he shouldn't worry and you're probably right. But, despite his exceptional performance, a few regulars returned from the injured list and resumed their positions. Charles' playing time has therefore decreased. More difficult to keep your rhythm when you play less often. Opposing teams have also studied Charles' momentum and style and will throw less inviting shots at him while abusing a possible flaw in his momentum.

Nothing is therefore certain for the Laval resident, but what an incredible journey so far. Just like that of Abraham Toro. Toro's story proves how the real challenge is to stay in major league baseball and adapt game after game to play against the best in the world.

All we can do is to continue to encourage Charles and Abraham in their journey so that they, in turn, can motivate other young people to pursue their dreams. But as Charles' journey demonstrates very well, you can't slow down the pace, or think that once at the top, it's going to be easier. It's quite the opposite, you have to be creative and find other ways to improve. As Derek Jeter said so well: there may be players who have more talent than you, but there is no excuse that you are not the hardest worker.

Charles and the Marlins will be in Los Angeles against the Dodgers beginning Friday night.