Two-time Troy Guidotti Hustle Award recipient Jason Leblebijian is back on the Hilltop as both an undergraduate student and volunteer assistant for the baseball team. With him comes many life experiences he gained through playing seven years of professional ball.
The 28-year-old has a passion for the game, thanks to his father signing him up for Little League at age nine. He had never played before.
“I think I was like a skateboarder kid growing up,” Leblebijian said. “I liked [baseball] and I was just pretty good at it from the get-go. I wouldn’t say I understood the game at all. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school where I started realizing that I was pretty good and that I enjoyed [playing].”
Leblebijian wanted to pursue baseball in college and beyond. He was part of head coach Elvis Dominguez’s first recruiting class at Bradley, along with current Yankees player Mike Tauchman, in 2010.
“[Leblebijian] was just a grinder and really made himself into a great player and played at the highest level,” Dominguez said. “He just knows how to go about doing his business and I think our guys have gotten so much better by just having him around.”
The Guidotti Hustle Award is voted on by fellow players. Leblebijian won it back-to-back seasons – 2011 and 2012 – before being drafted in the 25th round by the Toronto Blue Jays following his junior year.
The award is special to Leblebijian.
“I think that’s the highest honor a teammate can say of you,” Leblebijian said. “You’re just a guy that everyone knows worked hard and didn’t cut corners.”
He played across all of the parent club’s affiliates, eventually reaching the Triple-A level with the Buffalo Bisons and split his final two seasons between upstate New York and teams in Australia. He played over 54 games at every infield position.
Leblebijian hopes to bring the value of putting in the time and understanding certain situations of the game and improving the infield positioning. He will help with reading swings based on who’s pitching, what particular pitch is being thrown and where the runners are.
“You go through experiences [in the minors] and you start to understand the game from a different aspect because you’re on your own,” Leblebijian said. “You have five months in the offseason in a cage, by yourself, and you start thinking of the game differently. You just don’t have a coach telling you to do anymore.”
“There’s no special substance or ingredient that pro guys all the sudden know. It’s just more experience,” Leblebijian said. “That’s what it’s all about at the next level, not necessarily being the flashiest guy or the guy with the biggest range in regards to your speed but can you be in the right spot for everything.”
Leblebijian said he wanted to pursue a career in coaching following his playing career. To do so, he needed a bachelor’s degree. For that, he took the volunteer position for the 2019-20 academic year and is enrolled in communication-based courses to finish the degree he dropped following junior year. However, he said he cannot wait to be done with academia.
He wants to win and said the goal of winning gets lost in the minors. Those leagues are focused on individual improvement.
“In college you have to play every game like it’s a big league playoff game. You don’t have luxury of worrying about your next contract, just playing,” Leblebijian said. “I really made my decision going into college ball based off having culture, being with guys for multiple years instead of just a couple of months, running your own program and, most importantly, the winning aspect being a priority.”
Leblebijian believes he has been afforded the opportunity to exercise more skill and teach players more than others in his position. Dominguez, a former infielder himself, has allowed him the freedom to take control of infielders and assist with hitting.
“I think most of it is just the history me and Coach D have. With [associate head coach/hitting coach Kyle] Trewyn, I’m learning from him more than anyone,” Leblebijian said. “It’s easy for me in my career to worry about myself, but as a hitting coach, like a future role I might have, you’ve got to learn how to work with 18 different guys in a course of a couple hours.”
Multiple Bradley players hope to play professionally and Leblebijian plans to teach them the surefire grind. Senior third baseman Brendan Dougherty being one of them saying that the addition has been exceptional.
“The perspective he brings to the game from the professional level gives us great balance  and has been great for the culture of the team as a whole,” Dougherty said. “He has been working with the infielders and as a third baseman, I couldn’t ask for a better coach. Personally, he has contributed to my career by helping me remember that being in this brotherhood is a blessing.”
Leblebijian’s career took him from Vancouver to Lansing to Dunedin to Manchester and down under to Australia. Because of the constant movement, he was unable to grow relationships with both players and coaches.
“You could build a good relationship with the hitting coach and go somewhere else and then all the sudden it’s a totally different philosophy,” Leblebijian said. “After my  season in Double-A I came home and said [to my wife] ‘alright we are done living the, like, minor league life’ so we got a really nice apartment downtown … it wasn’t like a one-bedroom mattress on the ground any more, so it was good.”
Leblebijian might just be back on the Hilltop this year as he finishes his degree in May, but has already made a noticeable difference in the development of players and is ready to win in the Valley. He’s had a fulfilling and well-traveled career and will keep doing so on the field in the classroom.