I have been a huge fan of Southlake Carroll right-handed pitcher Ben Leeper since I first saw him at the age of 14. I had gotten wind of the smallish red-headed RHP by word of mouth from some of the Southlake faithful. When I wandered over to Carroll High School to see him for the first time, it didn’t take long for me to verify his prowess. This 5’10” righty was electric. The ball exploded out of his hand, and it was obvious that I should have purchased sight unseen. Over the next few years of coaching against Ben and watching him develop, I got to see a special competitive spirit. A poise seldom seen from a freshman that throws 40 varsity innings. His demeanor and composure rivaled that of a senior. His humility and sense of team first compare to Jeter.
I knew that he possessed all the tools to succeed on the next level, in which he had plans to do so. Ben was committed to the Stanford University at the start of his junior year. Unfortunately, things took an unexpected turn on May 16th of 2014.
Friday nights in May spell great high school baseball matchups, and of course, Ben was ready to embark on a pitcher’s duel with San Angelo Central’s Davis Martin (Texas Tech commit) on the campus of Concordia University. While I wasn’t able to make it to the game, I was updated on the battle through a friend in attendance — the stands were a buzz of excitement to watch these two right handers get after it. After an hour and a half of competitive ball, the excitement turned to pain and heartbreak. I received a horrifying text that I’ll never forget, “Leeper hurt, collapsed on the mound.”
When I received a description of what had transpired, I knew, UCL. Those three dreaded letters stole the show that day from what was otherwise a hard fought 3-2 win for the Dragons. I had a lump in my throat and pit in my stomach, but that lasted no longer than five minutes. Not due to callousness or cold heartedness, but because it didn’t take long to conclude that this young man had the courage, work ethic, and character to overcome any obstacle in his path.
Flash forward 10 months later to a wet, dreary March day at the indoor training facility at Southlake Carroll High School. The 50 yards of indoor turf was overshadowed by the signs covering the walls related to Carroll’s Football mastery. Hard work, commitment, and champion were the words found on all four walls. The irony hits me as I talked with this young man about his journey over the last 12 months. You may or may not know this, but Leeper took another punch to the gut seven months after his devastating elbow injury. One week before he was to sign his National Letter of Intent with the Stanford Cardinal, he received a call from Coach Marquess that he hadn’t been accepted with his 3.7 GPA and 27 on the ACT. The type of academic performance that most young men would kill for somehow wasn’t good enough. While Ben had taken not one, but two major blows, I wondered to myself, “How does an 17-year old kid battle through this much adversity to start his senior year of high school?”
Hard work, commitment, and champion are the words describing how it’s done.
“How I got here is unfortunate.” Leeper told me as he recalled his May 2014 UCL injury. “In the fifth inning, my forearm tightened up. In the sixth, I had two outs and threw a first pitch curve ball. My next pitch was a fast ball and I felt a pop. I toed the rubber, kind of in shock, and 20 seconds later the pain hit. My mind was scrambling. ‘I’m going to lose my senior year. What about Stanford? My professional opportunities are gone.’ When I got the news from Coach Marquess, I was devastated again. I was in shock and disbelief. How did this happen?”
Fortunately, the competitive spirit had already taken over — he embarked on a grueling rehab regimen shortly after surgery. It’s a mental grind of two and one-half hour sessions, three days per week. He maintained a champion’s mentality with the goal of getting back on the field for his senior year.
While there might be some worry with the entire recovery process, Ben’s pitching coach Larry Hardy didn’t concern himself with Ben’s ability to get back to 100 percent.
“With his work ethic, the physical part will be easy.” Hardy, a former big league pitcher with the Padres and Astros, said. “The mental and emotional strain will be the toughest part. His physical gifts are special, but his ‘coachability’ is off the charts. The first thing I look for is a pitcher’s aptitude. Can they apply what is being taught? Ben’s retention is outstanding. He doesn’t want to be comfortable and mediocre; he wants to get uncomfortable so he can become great. The question is, ‘Do you have the emotional and mental stability to handle it?’ I think this young man does.”
A champion does not allow adversity to define him. A champion absorbs disappointment, accepts challenges and redefines his existence with a new set of goals, objectives, and accomplishments. And that’s what Ben is, a champion.
Leeper’s journey continues through his last semester of high school. His goal is to be able to take the mound for the Dragons on senior night. That May 1st Friday evening will be his last district game as a Carroll Dragon. It’s been a brilliant 4 year Varsity career that hopefully can yield some additional playoff outings deeper into May.
This fall, Ben will make Stillwater, OK his new home. Because of the commitment to hard work and excellence, he’ll get a chance to pitch for Oklahoma State. It’s a golden opportunity to play for head coach Josh Holiday, assistant coach Marty Lees, and one of the best pitching coaches in Division 1 baseball, Rob Walton. And you can bet; it’s just another situation that Ben will take advantage of. That’s what champions do.