SCOTTSDALE – When Mariners Triple-A pitching coach Alon Leichman learned he had made Israel’s 2020 Olympic baseball team, it felt like his career was coming full circle. The pitcher had been through two Tommy John surgeries, needed a third and once thought his playing days were over before they had even begun.
Born and raised in Israel, Leichman knew it wasn’t the ideal place to pursue a baseball career but still became involved with the Israeli national team at 10 years old.
“Growing up there is the best. I for sure miss it. I think it’s great there, playing baseball there was not ideal because no one plays baseball there. No one really plays baseball. You know, obviously it’s a million times different here, but I liked it,” Leichman said. “I think it kind of made me the player I was and the coach I am. Pretty much, you’re on your own, you gotta figure things out. I mean, Israel baseball is a huge part of who I am, I wouldn’t be here without them for sure.”
This offseason, he is the pitching coach of the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League, teaching the next generation of pitchers how to make it to the majors, once a goal of his. Before the major leagues were a thought, Leichman played baseball at Cypress College for three years before transferring to the University of California, San Diego to finish out his collegiate career.
However, his never-ending cycle of tearing his UCL kept him from competing professionally.
“I didn’t really make that decision (to not go pro). So my first game in the States coming from Israel, I got hurt. And had Tommy John surgery and then never really recovered well,” Leichman said after the Javelinas’ game Wednesday. “So about three years later, I got my second surgery. And then six months after the second surgery, the doctor said, ‘You need a third.’
“And I was like, ‘No, I’m good. I’m good’. So I just finished out my college career, not knowing whether my next step is gonna go and transition into coaching or scouting or something. Then I was still able to play. But I couldn’t, I couldn’t play more than a tournament for a summer.”
Although Leichman knew he couldn’t sustain more than one month of play at a time due to his injury, he continued to play with Israel, competing internationally. Knowing he could still throw the ball, he couldn’t completely give up the game he loved.
Every summer, Leichman would suit up and take on the pitching rubber for Israel. Five years after his last college appearance, Leichman appeared on the biggest world stage – the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
“I couldn’t sustain a full year anywhere, but I knew that I could still play, catch and kind of stay in shape enough for a good week or two. Once a year. So, I kept playing, I kept playing for Israel in the summers and then, next thing you know we’re going to the Olympics like alright, strap up,” Leichman said.
While the Israeli baseball team failed to medal, Leichman used his experience in Tokyo to teach up-and-coming pitchers in the Mariners organization. Leichman began his coaching career with the Mariners in 2017, and in 2022 he was announced as the pitching coach of the Tacoma Rainiers, the Triple-A affiliate.
Before he made the transition to the major leagues, Leichman took his skills to the Cape Cod Baseball League, where he had previously coached before joining the Mariners. Knowing he could still live out his dream of being in professional baseball after his playing career ended meant the world to him, and reignited his passion for the game.
“If I’m not in baseball, I don’t know what I’m doing,” Leichman said. “My dream was always to play in the big league, but now if I could coach in the big league, coaching pro ball, that would be the next best thing.”
Yoel Monzon, who was the former pitching coach for the ACL Mariners and worked with Leichman, believes “he’s always willing to help the player.”
“He realized that it’s not about him, it’s more about the players, more about the people that he can touch and then help them,” Monzon said. “And that’s how I think he has impacted the game.”
While coaching with the Fall League, Leichman hopes he can continue to advise pitchers and teach them about his experiences in the game.
Juan Then, who Leichman has coached since he first signed with the Mariners, said Leichman is “just a really great person. I really learned how to carry myself around other people, how to treat other people with the example that he’s given.”
“He’s more, he’s more than a father,” Then said. “I wanna say he’s a father figure, but he’s so much more than that.”
Leichman will return to Tacoma for the upcoming season and hopes he can teach prospects to expect the unexpected.
“Keep an open mind. Keep an open mind and work hard, but you know what you’re gonna learn. So if you have a closed mind, you won’t learn,” Leichman said.