First year in the books for Belmont's LeBlanc
|Belmont baseball coach Matt LeBlanc wrapped up his first season as varsity manager with a 9-8 record overall. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)|
June 20, 2011BELMONT – Matt LeBlanc wandered into the dugout following his team's loss to Hopkinton in the playoffs earlier this month. With his team huddling up in right field, the Belmont skipper delayed his final postgame speech of the year as long as he possibly could.
"I was absolutely dreading that speech," said LeBlanc. "I'm an emotional guy. My dad coached baseball for over 30 years and was never afraid to show emotion so I've been the same way. I just grew up knowing no other way than to be honest. When I went to give that speech, I couldn't get any words out. I'll miss those seniors terribly."
After completing his first season as the varsity coach in Belmont, LeBlanc knows his team played better than many expected. But LeBlanc wasn't the least bit surprised with his troops, as he taught and coached many of the Raiders in middle school and again on the JV team before his call-up to the varsity job.
"A lot of people didn't give us much credit," he explained. "Being a guy that went up the system with these kids, I knew what they had for potential. Knowing that, I knew we could sneak up on some teams and we did. We might not have had as much talent as a team like Somersworth, but we had a lot of heart and you can't measure that."
LeBlanc's first varsity team had an impressive group of seven seniors, meaning future Belmont squads have a lot to live up to.
"It's gonna be hard for these other groups to measure up with how great this first year was," said LeBlanc. "The team as a whole really came together. We had a lot of stuff outside of baseball that really helped this group gel. In French class, two of the guys had to make a music video for a French love song. The whole team got involved and you can imagine how that thing turned out. But just to see them together, they'd all do everything together. Guys who wouldn't normally hang out all did stuff together and they did a good job allowing themselves to not form clicks."
After coaching the JV team last year, LeBlanc found out varsity coach Brett Sottak was ready to move on, clearing the way for the Belmont Middle School math and social studies teacher to take the reigns.
"Brett told me he was done and kind of filled me in that they were talking about me possibly taking over," LeBlanc explained. "That was kind of the plan all along. He was getting to the end and when he did, he wanted me to take over."
Joining LeBlanc was right-hand man Jim Fortin as the team's assistant coach. Born and raised in Belmont, Fortin was with LeBlanc for six of the last eight years between the various levels of coaching.
"He's certainly someone the kids really respect," said LeBlanc of Fortin. "Jimmy and I, it's really a partnership. One of the things we really wanted to do was keep the program positive. It was easy with this group, they were a positive group in general. The bottom line is we're playing a game, a game that I love. It doesn't last forever, and I think these seniors are walking away knowing they gave it their all."
While the foundations were there when LeBlanc saw this crop of seniors as sixth grade students, he does recall one particular player who ended up looking much different from his middle school days.
"Bobby Cozzens walks into the first day of sixth grade with a mohawk and I thought, 'Oh boy, he's gonna be a tough kid," LeBlanc said with a laugh. "But he comes from such a nice family that as soon as you got to know him, you found out what a nice kid he was. He's an accomplished artist, got a ton of scholarship money to go to art school. Those are the stories that really make everything about coaching and teaching worthwhile."
With summer ahead, LeBlanc will get to spend some much needed time with his wife and two kids. While his daughter is now four years old, his newborn son is just 12 weeks.
"About as old as the season," he points out.