When Curtis Leskanic was four years old, his mother would tie his
ankles together. "So I couldn't leave the yard," he says. When he
was eight, Curtis would take his older brother Larry's toys--when
Larry was elsewhere--and dismantle them. When he was 13, Curtis
would fill a paper bag with dog poop, place it on a neighbor's
porch, set it aflame, ring the doorbell and run. "I was always
the funny guy," says Leskanic, the Brewers' 32-year-old closer.
"Nice, but a little trouble."
He speaks in the past tense, as if the naughty boy is all grown
up. Uh-huh. To enter the Milwaukee bullpen is to be subjected to
a wacky world of fire and Scooby Doo trivia and sing-alongs and
motorcycle helmets and anatomy-related insults. This is
Leskanic's domain. His kingdom. "He's a weird dude," says pitcher
Jamey Wright. "You have to see some of the stuff to believe it."
A couple of years back, while he and Leskanic were teammates with
the Rockies, Wright arrived early at Coors Field for a Sunday
game. When he walked into the training room, there was Leskanic,
sprinting on a treadmill, dressed only in socks, underpants and a
Steelers helmet. "That," says Wright, "was one of the funniest
things I've ever seen."
Almost as funny as the time, in 1998, when the Rockies held a day
to celebrate the Broncos' first Super Bowl win. As football
players crowded the Rockies' clubhouse, swapping autographs and
handshakes, Leskanic sat quietly in protest, Steelers helmet atop
head. "Why would I cheer the Broncos?" he asks, half serious.
"I'm a Pittsburgh guy."
Leskanic, primarily a setup man with the Rockies from 1993 to
'99, was shipped to the Brewers for pitcher Mike Myers. Upon
joining Milwaukee, he decided a fresh start was in order. He gave
up uniform number 16 (worn in honor of boyhood hero Dwight
Gooden) and asked for number 99. He was denied--because it
belonged to the bat boys. "Embarrassing," he says, smiling. "I
must be pretty bad." He now wears 00.
With the trade of Bob Wickman last summer, Leskanic became the
full-time closer and quite simply dominated. From July 30 on, he
converted 11 of 12 save opportunities, using a mid-90s fastball
and a crisp slider that was especially effective against
righthanded batters (who hit .187 against him).
Teammates credit Leskanic's freak-boy alter ego as a key to his
immunity to pressure. Leskanic held hitters to a .115 average
with runners in scoring position, ranking second among National
League relievers last year. "He steps onto the field, and he's a
totally different guy," says teammate Ray King, a lefthanded
reliever. "No more jokes. No gags. Just a serious pitcher with
Leskanic considers himself to be the world's happiest, most
fortunate person. He spent a rough-and-tumble childhood in the
projects of Munhall, Pa. (a small town 15 minutes east of
Pittsburgh). His mother, Mary, was a cook at Falces Restaurant.
His father, Larry, worked for a metal buffing company. There were
never any thoughts of a major league baseball career. "I 100
percent appreciate wearing this uniform, because I knew from a
young age that I'd work in the steel mills," Leskanic says.
The one thing Leskanic had going for him was athleticism. He was
an undersized middle linebacker (he now stands 6'0" and weighs
186 pounds) and a heat-throwing pitcher for Steel Valley High.
During his junior year, college recruiters began showing up.
Leskanic spent three seasons at LSU before he was drafted by
Cleveland in 1989. Even last year, the best of his eight major
league seasons, Leskanic received little notice. That changed in
January, when, as part of the Brewers' winter goodwill tour, he
visited Clinton Middle School in Rock County, Wis. After speaking
to students, Leskanic signed autographs. On the back of
10-year-old Brett Larson's T-shirt, he scribbled his name and
wrote KICK ME! (two words that, as a lark, have accompanied
Leskanic autographs on clothing for years).
A couple of days later Brett's mother, Lisa, wrote angry letters
to the Brewers and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, complaining
that as a result of Leskanic's gag, classmates had begun kicking
Leskanic apologized, sent Brett a new shirt and vowed never to
write KICK ME! again. With baseball (see: Sheffield, Gary) in
dire need of clown princes and the world always looking for
kicks, we can only hope time will change his mind.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID DUROCHIK/MLB PHOTOS With his uniform number a clue to his personality, Leskanic has been crazy good (12 saves in 13 chances last year) and often just plain crazy.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER JENKINS
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Brewers
"The rotation is their biggest concern. Jeff D'Amico is their
No. 1, and location is important for him because his stuff isn't
overpowering. Jimmy Haynes is a dotcom pitcher: On the computer
you see this beautiful thing--6'4", great body, live arm--but
he's got no fortitude. Ben Sheets, 22 and with no time in the
majors, is on the fast track. They have no choice. He's
polished, he throws hard, and I like his curveball. They're
going to have to rush righthander Nick Neugebauer, 20, up from
Triple A. He's got a 95- to 97-mph fastball and a plus
curveball....I don't like Ron Belliard as a leadoff hitter. He's
not patient at the plate, and he's not going to run. Mark
Loretta is hurt, but he's an ideal number 2 guy--a contact
hitter who uses all parts of the diamond and doesn't strike out
a lot....I love the middle of their lineup. Jeffrey Hammonds's
biggest question is whether he can stay healthy. Richie Sexson
is good, but he has some holes--he likes to extend his hands, so
pitch him inside. When Geoff Jenkins is coming to the plate,
don't go to the bathroom; he can change the game with one
swing....Defensively they'll struggle. Jenkins and Jeromy
Burnitz are mediocre outfielders. Loretta would be better at
second, but Belliard can't be anywhere else....The bullpen is
strong. Curtis Leskanic is a competitor; he throws in the
mid-90s with a plus slider and a good curveball that he should
use more often. Ray King can throw an unhittable breaking ball
and a fastball in the mid-90s, and he never gives up."
projected roster with 2000 statistics
2000 record: 73-89 (third in NL Central)
Manager: Davey Lopes (second season with Milwaukee)
BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
3B Tony Fernandez* S-R 193 .327 11 74 2
SS Mark Loretta R 227 .281 7 40 0
LF Geoff Jenkins L-R 56 .303 34 94 11
1B Richie Sexson R 69 .272 30 91 2
RF Jeromy Burnitz L-R 94 .232 31 98 6
CF Jeffrey Hammonds R 113 .335 20 106 14
2B Ron Belliard R 217 .263 8 54 7
C Henry Blanco R 282 .236 7 31 0
IF Tyler Houston L-R 256 .250 18 43 2
IF Jose Hernandez R 276 .244 11 59 3
IF Luis Lopez S-R 335 .264 6 27 1
C Raul Casanova S-R 341 .247 6 36 1
OF Devon White S-R 354 .266 4 13 3
STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA
RH Jeff D'Amico 28 12 7 7.1 1.16 2.66
RH Jamey Wright 145 7 9 6.6 1.49 4.10
RH Jimmy Haynes 140 12 13 6.0 1.65 5.33
RH Paul Rigdon 221 5 5 5.4 1.42 5.15
RH Ben Sheets (R) 68 5 3 5.5 1.11 1.88
BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA
RH Curtis Leskanic 76 9 3 12 1.41 2.56
LH Ray King 203 3 2 0 0.98 1.26
RH David Weathers 216 3 5 1 1.38 3.07
RH Juan Acevedo 231 3 7 0 1.31 3.81
LH Valerio de los Santos 284 2 3 0 1.43 5.13
RH Will Cunnane 289 1 1 0 1.46 4.23
LH Horacio Estrada (R) 357 3 0 0 2.05 6.29
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 156)
*Japanese Pacific League stats
Combined AL and NL stats
Double A stats
"I love the middle of the lineup.... Jenkins can change the game
with one swing."