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Stingers' Leyva trades cleats for coaching

Tribune file photo Willmar Stingers’ first base coach Carlos Leyva and baserunner Max Kuhn chat during the Stingers’ game against the Alexandria Blue Anchors on June 26 at Bill Taunton Stadium in Willmar. The 24-year-old Leyva is in his first season as a coach.

All it took to jump start Carlos Leyva’s coaching career was a trip to Green Mill.

The former Willmar Stingers’ second baseman ran into manager Matt Hollod at the Willmar restaurant last August.

“It was at the end of last season,” Hollod said. “The night before I was leaving I went to Green Mill to have dinner and Carlos was in there … I was like ‘what are you doing here?’ He came back to visit his host family and some friends. We briefly talked about (coaching) and talked a couple times over the winter, and that was that.”

Leyva has taken over first base coaching duties as well as working with the players on base running, infield defense and the mental side of the game.

“As these guys get older they know how to play the game,” Leyva said. “It’s more dealing with bad games mentally and making it a routine playing every day. It helps that I was able to play professional ball and this is very much like professional ball.”

He added that his new job is a change from his playing days, but that he thinks it’s the beginning of a career.

“You always miss playing, but I think I’ve accepted that I’m not playing anymore,” he said. “Just being around baseball is awesome. Coaching is a whole other challenge.”

Hollod said Leyva was a guy who came to the field every day and played the right way.

“He was very mature and knew how to flip the switch that once the game started he was all focused on the game,” Hollod said.

Leyva was one of the standouts of the Stingers’ inaugural 2010 season. He hit .323 batting out of the leadoff spot and had the second-most at bats (217) on the team after Jordan Smith.

His 29 stolen bases from that season still stand as a franchise record.

Leyva, who starred at Division II Cal State Dominguez Hills from 2008-11, was selected by the New York Mets in the 32nd round of the 2011 MLB draft.

He started out with the Mets’ rookie Gulf Coast League affiliate after signing his pro contract. Four games later, the Mets promoted him to the New York-Penn League’s Brooklyn (N.Y.) Cyclones, and before the 2011 season was over he had been assigned to the Kingsport (Tenn.) Mets of the Appalachian League and then back again to Brooklyn.

Leyva said he didn’t expect to play professionally at all.

“I thought I was done playing after my college season,” he said. “The third day of the draft I got a phone call from the Mets and they’re like ‘Are you ready play more ball?’ I said ‘yeah,’ bought some new cleats and I was on a plane.”

He hit .227 in 88 bats between the three teams that season and said he decided to voluntarily retire because he wasn’t happy with how much he was travelling.

Leyva spent the past year working with his family’s business in California.

“It was very different from baseball,” he said. “Once I stopped playing I was done with baseball. I wanted nothing to do with (it), just kind over the whole baseball thing. But little by little … it’s in my blood. Coming back as a coach is great.”

Ben Brewster

Ben Brewster covers the Willmar Stingers and other area sports, as well as laying out the daily sports section cover for the West Central Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @benbrewster.

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