LAFAYETTE (KATC) – It was hard for UL Baseball senior Gunner Leger to temper his excitement in the Cajuns season opener versus Texas. But it wasn’t the strikeout, instead the 630 days leading up to that moment that made it so emotional.
Let’s rewind to 2017, where Leger had a career junior year. His 10 wins led the sun belt, while his ERA was a shade under two and ranked 2nd in the league. The left handed pitcher was named the SBC pitcher of the year.
“My goal coming into here. play 3 years, play pro ball, be a big league baseball player,” Leger admits. “Everything was kinda lining up the way it needed to.”
But toward the end of his junior season, Leger started to feel tightness in his left forearm. An MRI revealed he would need Tommy Johns surgery. Despite the injury scaring off some major league teams, he still had an offer on day two of the MLB draft.
“The guy was scheduled and basically accepted a spot to get picked in the 8th round,” Tim Leger, Gunner’s dad, said. “(He) agreed to terms for about 45 seconds. called back and asked for the difference. they weren’t willing to do it and he wasn’t willing to accept less than what he had set to go in.
“I felt like I was worth something and that didn’t happen,” Gunner said. “I kinda felt like I had some unfinished business here.”
But Gunner would have more unfinished business to tend to. Leger knew of a small cyst in his left femur dating back to high school, but with new examinations, things changed.
“When we got the X-rays back, it had literally doubled in size,” Gunner said. “It had taken over my whole femur, from knee to hip.”
Surgeons inserted a 15 inch permanent rod in his femur to remove the cyst. With both operations complete, Leger would have to sit out a season.
During the rehab process Tim Leger was hired as an assistant coach for Billy Napier’s initial staff with UL football. The timing was perfect.
“When he was at McNeese, it wasn’t bad. Being an hour away is not tough, but (the distance to) Monroe’s not fun,” Gunner explains. “My family means so much to me and that’s a big reason why I came here.”
“Most of my career I’ve spent time away from my son to raise other kids,” Tim said. “For the first time ever really, everything is in one city.”
Gunner was cleared to start throwing last spring and participated fully in fall practice. But it was the month leading up to opening weekend that provided the senior some of his toughest challenges.
“Literally 3 weeks before Texas he was in our living room saying. ‘I think I’ll be able to pitch opening weekend, I just don’t know if I’ll be able to start and go 5 innings and give us a quality start.'” Tim Leger said.
Gunner pushed his way to that Friday. With a large section of family and friends in attendance, the 5th year senior threw 5 scoreless innings, allowing 2 hits with 4 strikeouts versus the Longhorns. The result was a dream come true, 630 days in the making.
“I literally had to think about what my pregame routine was because it had been so long,” Gunner said. “Sprinted down by the scoreboard. Took it all in. Got emotional thinking about everything that happened. After that it was just routine.”