(Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium - Vancouver, B.C.) - It's the only time in my professional baseball career that I have gone a perfect seven-for-seven on the road. In every single stadium within the Northwest League, at some point my pressbox door swings open and some staffer or broadcaster asks me how to pronounce the last name of Jason Leblebijian. I smirk and say "don't worry if it doesn't come the first time, but it's Leb-le-bee-gee-in. Say it five times and then say it twice as fast - see? Right there, that's the way.
For Jason, it's almost a foregone conclusion that someone will ask of his last name's decent which he proudly states as Armenian. Reporters and teammates all give the "of course, Armenia, that's exactly what I was thinking" face before quickly moving on to a more baseball-y like set of questions.
"Lebs" father is from Jordan, his mother Lebanon and his grandparents are from the aforementioned Armenia where baseball was not on the list of games that were played in the mountainous region north of Iraq and Iran.
Jason is actually the first from within his family to be born on American soil with a passport that states Arlington Heights, Illinois as his place of birth. A sports hotbed, it's almost no surprise that before he became a teenager, he would find himself discovering the game of baseball within Little League and immediately took to it.
Fast forward just over a decade and there stands Leblebijian in the middle of the Vancouver Canadians infield talking with teammates as a reliever warms up. His love for the game hasn't changed so much as his realization that to make it in professional baseball - you learn quickly that being a jack-of-all-trades can actually extend your life within the game.
He played for the C's in both 2012 and 2013 which if you remember were pretty good years for Vancouver resulting in a pair of Championships. Jason hit .297 in 31 games for the Canadians in 2012, but returned north a season later because frankly the Blue Jays didn't know what to do with him. He played a week in Vancouver before eventually going up to Lansing (Midwest League) and hit .231 with no home runs and 12 RBI in 50 games. At 22, with no real position and no real standout season statistically, some wondered if Leblebijian was long for the Blue Jays organization.
There is something to be said for being diverse and having the ability to play anywhere at anytime and being reliable enough that your manager feels confident to slide you onto his line-up card. Leblebijian played 99 games in 2014 and 100 games in 2015 between two levels before it became apparent that the Blue Jays saw his tool belt as something useful in the long run. They would send him south, WAY south for a go-around with the Canberra Cavalry that changed everything as just months after hitting a paultry .170 with Class-A Dunedin, it was almost as if Jason had seen the other side of the mountain and began to really make the climb. With the Cavalry, he played 44 games at short, a lone game at second base and hit .312 with eight home runs.
Once back in the US, Leblebijian would hit .294 between Class-A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire while playing in 127 games at three different positions including shortstop and third base. He hit 11 home runs in 2017 at Triple-A Buffalo and also travelled to the Venezuelan Winter League to continue playing - desperately looking for any chance to take that one final step.
This season, he played daily in Spring Training grabbing 13 hits over his 26 games down in Dunedin giving Blue Jays manager John Gibbons a really good chance to size up the now 27-year old fringe player that is considered one of the most reliable within the organization. Whether that translates into a Major League call-up or the chance to simply play baseball at the highest levels of the Minor Leagues remains to be seen - I for one think a coaching gig is in his future whenever his on-field career comes to an end.
He is affable, considerate and one of the most determined players to ever come through Vancouver and has the complete admiration of anyone within the Blue Jays organization who has crossed paths with him. If it's going to happen, it's going to have to happen now with the likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio all on the horizon along with a collection of prospects that the Blue Jays are stockpiling. One thing is for sure - should Toronto need a player that can step in and play all of those needed stopgap positions, they do not have a more versitile player on the Buffalo roster that Jason Leblebijian. That's Leb-le-bee-gee-an ;)
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.