The Leiters Return to Central: Cam Leiter Rekindles Leiter Legacy in Bayville, NJ
Before he turned 15 years-old, Cam Leiter had never been to the Jersey Shore. That’s not really news for a random 15-year-old somewhere on the North American continent, particularly one born in Florida and raised in Vancouver.
When your last name is Leiter, however, the Bayville breeze calls you home, no matter where you may be living. In British Columbia, about 40 minutes from the U.S.-Canada border in Washington State, people rarely even made the connection between Leiter and his accomplished, baseball-crazed family. Meanwhile, in Berkeley Township, N.J., his last name is written and engraved on every other thing – including the outfield fence on the baseball field that Cam Leiter now calls home.
For the first time since Al Leiter – the former Major League All-Star with the New York Mets and Florida Marlins and the all-time Major League strikeout leader among pitchers born in New Jersey – was a high-school phenom at Central Regional High School in Bayville, there is a Leiter pitching for the high-school alma mater of Al and his six siblings.
Cam Leiter – the son of Al’s older brother, Kurt Leiter, and a junior at Central – is on the cusp of making his first official start as a junior pitcher at the high school where the Leiter legend was born.
“It’s exciting,” Cam Leiter said. “It’s definitely fun to represent the name on the back and the pride that comes with having Leiter on the back of my jersey. With all my cousins and my uncles did, now it’s my turn. I’m really just excited to help this team because it means so much to our family.”
Although he was raised on the other side of the continent and in a different country altogether, Leiter knew his family’s connection to Central Regional well. He heard the stories of his father and uncles – John Leiter was the first Leiter to don the Central jersey and Mark Leiter enjoyed a 12-year Major-League career – and their time starring for the Golden Eagles, as well as the road that followed.
"There was a Leiter pitching at Central for a whole decade," Kurt Leiter said. "John, our oldest brother, really got the interest in baseball going. Our dad was not really a sports fan, but he became a sports fan through us. It’s pretty unique that we were all able to keep playing into pro ball and those guys (Al and Mark) got to the Big Leagues."
The family history made Cam wonder what it would be like to go back and play in the same place where it all started for the Leiters as a baseball family. Before the start of Cam’s sophomore year of high school in 2019, Kurt made the decision to move back to New Jersey and to settle back in the Shore area.
“I think Kurt really loves the fact that Cam is wearing a Central uniform, walking the halls at Central Regional where him and his brothers were able to do that and I think that’s really cool,” said Central Regional coach Jerry Frulio, a Central alum who graduated six years after Al Leiter led the program to its only overall NJSIAA state championship in 1984. “I know at some point, Cam wanted to play where his dad and his uncles played and it’s a great story. They didn’t just come from Canada, they came from Vancouver. It’s not like Toronto or Montreal. They were cross-country and ended up coming all the way back.”
As Frulio tells the story, Al Leiter was actively involved at helping Kurt and Cam do their research about which are would provide Cam with the next opportunity. Al’s last five years learning the state landscape while his son, Jack, navigated the amateur scene in New Jersey put him in tune with the state’s best programs, but he figured he would check in with the coach of his old stomping grounds – whom he knows well.
“They wanted to come to the Shore but weren’t sure where and Al wanted to find out what’s going on at Central,” Frulio said. It was kind of like, ‘I’m sending my brother and his son, so I want to know what’s going on over there.’ I think he wanted to have that conversation.”
Al put his brother in touch with Frulio while Kurt and Cam were in Illinois and the decision was made: the Leiters were coming home.
“I wanted to get back to the Shore, be around my family,” Cam said. “Central was the spot I really wanted to be at with the Leiter name and to carry on the tradition, because my dad and my uncles went here by none of my cousins did. I wanted to be the one guy to go. It’s exciting.”
Cam Leiter was not the only addition to the Central program. Kurt is now Central’s pitching coach and in addition to getting a chance to work closely with his son, he is working with a promising young group with the Golden Eagles, who are looking to rekindle the magic of 2018, when they reached the Shore Conference Tournament championship game during an 18-win season.
Kurt’s experience has already been a major asset to Frulio and he has learned how best to treat his son within the context of the entire team while also giving Cam as much as he can.
“I just try to treat him like any other player on the field, but it’s constant coaching,” Kurt said. “That’s how we were growing up. It was constant baseball 24/7. We played other sports, but baseball was really what we were all into and it’s the same thing with (Cam) and I.”
“Kurt is very big on command and I know that conversation is probably had 20 minutes out of every hour in that house,” Frulio said. “They are a great duo, they are great together, they mesh well.”
The Next Generation of Leiters
The Leiter name has been in the baseball news cycle often lately thanks to the exceptional performance of Al’s son Jack, who is carving through SEC opponents for the Vanderbilt University on the way to becoming the favorite to go No. 1 overall in July’s MLB First-Year Player Draft.
“It pumps me up every time I watch (Jack),” Cam said. “How dominant he is and what a great guy he is There is no cockiness in him. He is very humble and definitely someone I look up to. He’s dominant. He is going to be very good.”
The numbers on Jack Leiter during his time at Vanderbilt are eye-popping: 92 strikeouts, 22 walks in 55 1/3 innings with a 0.98 ERA and a 7-0 record. Leiter opened SEC play with a no-hitter and 16 strikeouts against South Carolina, then followed it up with seven no-hit innings before being pulled against Missouri in his next start.
“To go in there like he has and to dominate the SEC – you’re only talking about five or six starts, but you could see he’s got it,” Kurt said. “And he is a very nice kid and he’s humble.”
On top of the on-field dominance, Jack Leiter has already become a person other pitchers look up to and seek out for advice. In interviews with the likes of Rob Friedman (better known on Twitter as The Pitching Ninja) and Jared Carrabis and Dallas Braden on Barstool Sports, Jack has made it known how much he studies other pitchers and asks about their grips and mechanics. Throw in his father’s passion for pitching and he has a lot of knowledge to share despite turning just 21 years of age on April 21.
“He was down a lot (during the shutdown) because he didn’t go to Cape Cod, so he got to come down a lot. Just listening to him talk about the game and just his mindset was a great experience,” Cam said of the time he spent with his older cousin.
“You watch how he carries himself,” Kurt said. “As coaches, you talk about a pitcher’s mound presence and he’s got it. Even when he got in that jam in the LSU game: bases loaded, one out and he strikes out the next two guys. That’s a mindset that he has. Al had it too, except Al showed emotion more. Keeping your head in it – that’s what it’s about.”
Jack Leiter has been a national story and Al, meanwhile, has kept up his impact on his old community. Central is overhauling the baseball field on its campus with what Frulio described as a “generous donation” from Al.
While Leiter’s donation is at work on Central’s field, the Golden Eagles are playing on the field that bears Leiter’s name. Cam Leiter’s first official high-school start will be on Al Leiter Field at the Berkeley Little League Complex on Tuesday against Southern Regional. It will mark the first time a Leiter has pitched a high school game on the field as a home ballplayer.
With the Leiter name and genes, Cam Leiter is part legacy player and part self-made. The amount of pitching knowledge and experience at his disposal just within his father’s side of the family is almost unheard of. Not only does he have the ear of his father – a former standout at Oklahoma State who made it as far as Double-A in pro ball – and his two Major League uncles, Al and Mark; his older cousins have also blazed the more recent trail for Cam Leiter to follow.
“All the knowledge I get is amazing,” Cam said. “And it’s also cool because I get a lot of old-school knowledge from my dad and my uncles and then I talk to my cousins and I get a feel for what it’s like with the newer generation. So I get knowledge from a lot of different people and it’s just up to me to use it to the best of my ability.”
Before Jack Leiter exploded as a pro prospect between his junior and senior season at the Delbarton School in Morris County, the sons of John and Mark Leiter were high-school pitchers in New Jersey who landed Division I scholarships. Mark Leiter Jr. starred at Toms River North High School, pitched at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) and made it to the Major Leagues with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2017 and 2018, as well as the Toronto Blue Jays for part of the 2018 season. John Leiter Jr., meanwhile, was a top pitcher at Toms River South and played his college baseball at St. Peter’s College.
“You saw it when we were growing up and with my nephews and now Cam’s got the passion and the drive for it,” Kurt said. “Which is cool because that’s all I have done all my life: baseball and watching sports and talking baseball. They can learn a lot from just watching games on TV. Anybody can. It’s kind of all highlights nowadays, but to watch a whole game and to watch a whole game by a pitcher – they can learn a lot from that, and (Cam) does that.”
A Special Summer at the Shore
With the Leiter name and talent also comes connections. Cam Leiter was supposed to make his Central debut in 2020 as a sophomore but when the season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, like so many others, he had to work out on his own.
While most players got together with whatever friends and teammates from the neighborhood and nearby towns to throw and hit, Cam Leiter had some serious star power at his workouts. With pro and college baseball on pause as well, Central’s baseball field became a Leiter family reunion, with Mark Jr. and Jack making the trip back to the Shore to workout. They also extended the invite to Todd Frazier, who was then a member of the Texas Rangers and looking to keep sharp before Major League Baseball eventually resumed in July.
Frazier still makes his home in Toms River, so it was an easy trip for the former Home Run Derby champion to make and get some work in against two Big-League-caliber arms.
Cam found himself not only watching his older cousins get their work in while picking up some pointers, but also got to face an active Major Leaguer in two live at-bats. The first time he faced Frazier went surprisingly well. The second time went more the way one would expect.
“I faced (Frazier) two at-bats,” Leiter recalled. “The first one, I got him 0-2 (in the count) and he grounded out to short. The second one, he took me like 400 feet to left field. He crushed it. It was a changeup. Now I can say I gave up a homer to a big leaguer. It was a really good experience for me.”
Very few players have the connections to land a workout with a Major League players and in that sense, Cam Leiter was born into baseball privilege. At the same time, with no spring and very little summer to showcase his talent, he had to find other ways to show college coaches what he could do.
With no competitive baseball to play, Cam Leiter made sure to record his bullpens and workouts on video and relentless sent them to college coaches on Twitter. Most messages went unreturned but a handful of schools began to respond. Xavier University was the first, followed by the University of Central Florida.
“Just to learn what he did, on his own to get noticed,” Frulio said. “Kurt doesn’t know – Kurt’s a dinosaur so he’s not up on Twitter. Obviously, the name carries a lot of weight, especially with Jack doing what he is doing. Coaches are probably willing to take a flier on Cam just for that reason. It makes sense. What’s the worst that could happen? When he was coming here, I just thought, ‘If he is half the pitcher that his cousin Mark and his cousin Jack are, we’ve got something special here.’”
Once the word got out that there was another Leiter showcasing a fastball that crosses into 90-miles-per-hour territory while standing at a lanky 6-foot-2 with room to grow, more schools got on board and reached out to Leiter. Ultimately, he went with one of the schools who was first to the party and gave his non-binding verbal commitment to UCF.
“Near the end, it went through my travel team, the New Jersey Marlins, but at the beginning it was almost all through Twitter,” Cam said. “I reached out, some coaches answered, some coaches didn’t. I talked to (UCF) throughout and I ended up picking up double-digit offers, but UCF was the spot I felt the most comfortable: great weather, great coaching staff, I felt like I could succeed there early on and really find my groove there freshman year, hopefully.”
Adding to the Leiter Legacy
With a college commitment in the bag, Leiter has turned his attention to improving as a pitcher and helping his new team shake off a difficult 2019 season to become a 2021 contender. According to Frulio, Leiter has reached as high as 92 miles-per-hour with his fastball with a breaking ball and changeup that are coming along as secondary pitches. He has also shown a dangerous bat at the plate during the preseason, which includes a home run over the fence that has his last name on it.
“When I played, if you threw 90, no one was touching you,” Frulio said. “Now, there are three, four, five guys in the lineup on every team who can put the ball in play against you. He has great stuff. He is electric. But he is not going to just throw it by people. He is going to have to pitch.”
As opening day approaches, Leiter has already pitched three games at Leiter Field for his new team – one vs. Toms River East in the Last Dance World Series last July, another vs. Wall to open this preseason and one more against Ranney to wrap up his preseason. The preseason opener against Wall was a fitting matchup given that Al Leiter’s most legendary moment as an amateur player came against Wall in 1984, when he struck out 32 batters in 13 innings. Wall’s John Spinapont matched him with 13 scoreless innings and the game was called when it began to rain heavily.
It was just another connection Cam now has with his accomplished uncle and he is hoping to be able to draw a few more parallels along the way.
“It’s a blessing, the family I’m in,” Cam said. “With all the knowledge I get – and it’s not just pitching mechanics. It’s stories or pitch sequencing. The Big League Dream is achievable to me. For a lot of guys, it’s really far away, but I look around at my family and I think, ‘Why can’t it be me?’”