Recent MLB draft stirs memories of MCC great, Ken Lelek
Itâ€™s been 35 years since Ken Lelek first heard his name called in the Major League Baseball draft, but last monthâ€™s annual free agent selection bridged a more than three-decade gap to the Monroe Community College hall-of-famer.
When the Oakland Athletics picked Chris Bostick in the 44th round of the 2011 draft, it was the first time a graduate of Aquinas Institute was chosen since the Montreal Expos plucked Lelek in the second round of the 1975 January draft.
â€œI got letters from teams interested in having me try out,â€ Lelek recalled. I know Montreal sent one, and I think Cincinnati. There was a kid named Kevin Newby. Montreal took us up to Jarry Park. I remember going up there with a scout and having us work with the team.â€
The Expos offered a $500 bonus and monthly stipend, but Lelek decided to stay at MCC.
â€œThey would have put me on their rookie league team in Alberta, Canada,â€ Lelek recalled. â€œI wasnâ€™t ready. I was just out of high school. I wanted to play professional baseball, but I wanted an education.â€
The 6â€™2? right-hander, who grew up near St. Stanislaus church on Rochesterâ€™s northeast side, tossed 44 innings in seven appearances for Dave Chamberlainâ€™s 1975 Tribunes posting five wins without a loss and adding a save. Lelek led the Tribs to the Region 3 baseball championship hurling a complete game striking out six, walking three and allowing an unearned run as Monroe routed Broome Tech 9-1.
â€œHe was really mixing up his pitches ,â€ Coach Chamberlain said after that triumph 36 years ago. â€œHeâ€™d throw some fastballs, some curves and then heâ€™d throw knucklers up there. It was probably the finest ball heâ€™s pitched in his life.â€
He earned a shot at redemption in the MLB draft when the Pittsburgh Pirates tabbed Lelek in the third round the following January.
â€œI wanted to stay at MCC,â€ Lelek explained. â€œIt was a nationally recognized program, and we had a great team.â€
Lelek made good on his decision anchoring a Monroe staff that won its first of seven Northeast District Junior College championships. He became the first hurler in MCC history to toss a pitch in the World Series. He struck out 12 batters in that game but took the loss as MCC fell to eventual champion Arizona Community College.
â€œWe kicked the ball around behind him that day,â€ Chamberlain recounted. â€œIt didnâ€™t help his cause, but you never saw Ken Lelek change his approach. He had a great career at MCC.â€
Over his two seasons with the Tribs, Lelek went 10-2 with an ERA of 1.57.
Major League clubs did not shy away from him. The Chicago Cubs chose Lelek in the fourth round of the June 1976 draft.
â€œMy dad always said if youâ€™re good enough to play, theyâ€™re going to find you,â€ Lelek said.Â â€œI wanted to get my degree.â€
He chose to accept a scholarship to attend Bowling Green University thus spurning three Major League clubs in two years.
â€œThe Cubs offered me decent money, but I wanted them to match what Bowling Green was giving me in scholarship.â€
Lelekâ€™s selection capped a seven-year span that saw 12 Tribunes earn 14 draft picks. Peter Castle led off for Monroe when the Pirates chose the right-hander in the sixth round of the June 1970 draft. Two years later, the reigning World Series champion Bucs took Al Dreschler in the seventh round. Charles Steffen heard his name called twice the following year â€” first in January by the Bucos and then in June by the New York Mets.Â The denizens of Three Rivers also took Bill Muoio in the 11th round of the January selection.
The Tribs made a splash in the 1974 when four MCC diamond men were taken. The Pittsburgh nine chose John Pilato (4th round), Robert Harold (5th), James Del Re (6th) and Randy Law (10th) in the January draft.
In 1976, the Cincinnati Reds chose Tom Dimino (17th), and the Cleveland Indians took James Johnson (11th).
In all, the Tribs have earned 29 draft selections in the programâ€™s 47-year history. This number does not include players like Greg Keagle and Cory Brownsten who went on to four-year schools before being drafted.
Keagle finished his college career at Florida International before the San Diego Padres made him a sixth-round pick.Â The native of Corning, New York made 23 starts and 46 appearances over three seasons for the Detroit Tigers.
The Atlanta Braves took Cory Brownsten in the 15th round of the 2010 draft. As a rookie, he hit .287 with two home runs and 14 RBI in 34 Gulf Coast League games and earned a late season call-up playing one game with the Danville Braves of the Appalachian League. He went 3-4 with a team-high five RBI to close out the camapign. Currently, Brownsten plays with the Rome Braves in the Class A South Atlantic League.
Further, a number of Tribs like Dave Brust and Patrick Urckfitz have signed free agent contracts with Major League teams.
Urckfitz signed with the Houston Astros in 2008 less than two months after leading the Black and Gold to a third place finish in the 2008 JUCO World Series.Â The left-hander from Penfield, New York pitches for theÂ Corpus Christi Hooks â€“ the Astrosâ€™ Double-A affiliate in the Texas League.
Brust signed with the Atlanta Braves in 1989 and played three years in the organization including two for the Durham Bulls under the direction of head coach Grady Little. He earned a third-team All-American nomination in 1987 leading MCC at the plate hitting .423 with 11 home runs and 49 RBIs. The Cardinal Mooney high school graduate went on to Ball State University where he was a two-time team captain and MVP.Â Brust is in his fourth season at the helm of the Webster Yankees in the New York Collegiate Baseball League.Â A change in the NYCBLâ€™s by-laws allowed Brust and Webster to sign Bostick for the summer season.
â€œHe raises the bar for everybody,â€ said Brust about the AQ grad. â€œItâ€™s obvious he is talented, but he brings a level of confidence especially on the defensive side. He gives us a lot of versatility. His ability to make plays has already bailed us out a couple of times.â€
Bostick will have to choose between professional baseball or classes and diamond work at St. Johnâ€™s University.
â€œItâ€™s a tossup,â€ Bostick said when asked if he will sign with the Aâ€™s or take advantage of a college scholarship. â€œI havenâ€™t even started negotiating.â€
â€œThere have been a lot of great players out of Aquinas,â€ Bostick noted. â€œTo be the one picked means a lot.â€
Bostickâ€™s high school coach, Mark Magliocco â€“ also an AQ and MCC alum, has no doubt his former player will succeed.
â€œFrom day one I have been telling people this kid is unbelievable,â€ said the 11th-year coach of the Liâ€™l Irish.Â â€œHe played every position in the field as a freshman. He is so fluid in his movements.â€
Like his predecessor 35 years ago, Bostick is in the enviable position of choice.
â€œI wish Chris all the best,â€ Lelek added.
Lelek is the only Tribune who can boast being selected by three different big league clubs.Â In the end, he never pitched an inning of professional baseball.Â He tore the medial collateral ligament in his pitching elbow during his first semester at Bowling Green. While 21st century players need at least twelve months to recover from such a procedure, Lelek returned to pitch three months after surgery. He was pain free but lost his velocity.
â€œI donâ€™t have any regrets,â€ Lelek said when asked about his opportunity lost. â€œIf I was to change anything, I would have redshirted my senior season to allow my elbow to heal.â€