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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

John Leister Interview, Part 3, Proved Himself

Brockton Rox coach Ed Nottle, in blue, talks with players in 2011. Nottle served as manager in the Red Sox system for six seasons, from 1985-1990. In each, one of his players was John Leister. (G21D Photo)
This is Part 3 of the John Leister Interview
Part 1: Most Influential | Part 2: Out Pitch | Part 3: Proved Himself | Part 4: Greatest Day | Part 5: That Mentality


John Leister thought his manager was coming over to yell at him for being out in the bullpen.

Instead, the visit from manager Ed Nottle was to relay a much different message to the Pawtucket starter during that May game in 1987, Leister recalled recently.

"He goes, 'I need you to pack your crap up," Nottle told Leister, Leister recalled recently.

"I just got off the phone with the club," Nottle continued, after Leister asked for a clarification, "you're going up tomorrow morning."

Leister asked if somehow Nottle was joking.

"He goes, nope, congratulations," Leister recalled, "he gave me a hug, shook my hand and walked back to the dugout."

Two nights later, Leister was on the mound at Fenway Park for his major league debut.

The man who delivered that message, Nottle, was also one of them men Leister credits with helping him make the majors in the first place, having faith in Leister's abilities and helping him display them on the field.
Beehive Field in New Britain, Conn. in 2008. John Leister played at Beehive in 1985 with the New Britain Red Sox. (G21D Photo)
Leister has spent much of the past two decades at Alma College in Michigan, coaching baseball and football and, more recently, serving as athletic director.

Leister arrived at Alma after a baseball career that spanned seven seasons, two of them with time in the majors. He also arrived there after a start in football, going to Michigan State on scholarship to play quarterback and almost becoming a Pittsburgh Steeler, getting cut as training camp closed.

Leister first met Nottle as Leister moved up to AA New Britain for the first time in 1985. It was Leister's second year in professional baseball. He'd just learned his curve ball the year before at single-A Winter Haven.

Nottle was in his first year in the Red Sox organization, serving as manager at New Britain. He ultimately managed six seasons, the first at New Britain and the final five at AAA Pawtucket. On his teams in each of those six seasons was Leister.

They were seasons where Leister recalled first proving himself to Nottle, then Nottle helping Leister get out of slumps, and work to get up tot he majors, and then back to the majors.

The relationship between the two, though, didn't start off well.

Ed Nottle at Wahconah Park in Pittsfield, Mass., in 2011. John Leister played at Wahconah in 1985 as a member of the visiting New Britain Red Sox. Nottle managed the team. (G21D Photo)
Starting the 1985 season, Leister recalled working in relief, and not getting regular work at that. At one point, he recalled sitting 15 days without getting used.

It got to the point where Leister went into Nottle's office, asking to either be sent down so he could get innings, or be traded. "This is boring," Leister recalled telling Nottle. "I'm not learning nothing, I'm not doing anything, I'm not helping anybody, I'm not helping myself."

Leister recalled getting a "who the hell are you?" response.

Soon after, another pitcher got called up and Leister had his opening.

"Nashua, NH, Ed walked in and flipped me a baseball in the hotel and said 'put up or shut up, you're starting tomorrow.' And I was like 'OK, I'll show you.'"

Leister recalled going out and throwing a shutout.

Later that night, after some cocktails, Leister recalled running into Nottle, Leister reminding his manager what he told him.

"He goes, 'yeah, you told me, now shut up and go to bed,'" Leister recalled. "From that point on, Ed always seemed to be kind of in my corner."

Leister went on to start 13 games for New Britain that year, going 8-6 overall, with a 3.17 ERA.

Toledo's Ned Skeldon Stadium in 2011. The stadium was home to the Toledo Mud Hens from 1965 to 2001. John Leister played there from 1986 to 1990 as a member of the visiting Pawtucket Red Sox. (G21D Photo)
Coming out of the next spring, Nottle was moving up to manage Pawtucket. Leister moved up with him. Leister got the word from Nottle himself, the manager misdirecting him into thinking Leister was staying at AA.

When it was clear Leister was going to AAA, Leister recalled responding "you butthole," or maybe words to that effect.

At AAA, Leister recalled it being a new adventure. The ballparks were nicer, they flew to away games, and people came out to the park.

His first few outings there, though, Leister recalled getting knocked around. It was Nottle who helped get him passed it.

The night before his next start, Nottle noticed Leister staying in and resting, instead of going out with teammates. Leister noted he was simply staying in and resting for the next day's start.
Brockton Rox coach Ed Nottle coaches third at Pittsfield's Wahconah Park in 2011. (G21D Photo)
Nottle went through Leister's first three outings. Did he stay in for the first one? The second one? The third? Leister did.

"He goes 'well that crap obviously isn't working, so get your butt out of here now,'" Leister recalled Nottle telling him. "'Go out, hang out with the guys, drink a beer. Do whatever you've got to do, but relax.' And that was my first win."

Leister credited Nottle and pitching coach Lee Stange with letting him go deep into ballgames. Oftentimes, Leister would get himself out of trouble.

In 22 starts in 1986, Leister went 8-7, with a 4.08 ERA. His first year at AAA, Leister said was about getting comfortable there. Going into his second, he was. He knew the players, who to pitch around, who to go at. He felt like he had the league wired, that his arm was "as live as it was going to be."

It was in 1987, in May, that Nottle delivered the news that Leister was going up, news that Nottle never received in his own decade-long playing career.

Earlier in the game where Leister got his big news, he recalled Nottle being heckled about his career. They were playing at Tidewater and Leister recalled the sailor yelling, asking Nottle how it felt to be in the twilight of a mediocre career.

Leister recalled Nottle not missing a beat, yelling back his own question, asking how it felt to pay to watch it.

An inning later, Nottle delivered the news to Leister, he was going to the majors.

Leister recalled sitting there for a minute. "You're like, is this happening?"

Leister's pitching coach Stange confirmed it was.

"He goes get your (butt) in there and pack your bags," Leister recalled, "I ain't gonna ask you twice."

And Leister was on his way to Fenway Park.

Go to Part 4: John Leister, Greatest Day

For more on Ed Nottle, read the August 2011 Greatest 21 Days Ed Nottle interview

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