Relief pitchers are people too, even those who don't happen to compile saves, so this Answer Man session takes you to the bullpen of the Cincinnati Reds. There works right-hander Sam LeCure, one of the best pitchers in the majors that many fans outside of Cincy don't know.
In his third full season in the majors after playing for the University of Texas, LeCure comes from a big family in central Missouri and has gone on a remarkable life journey. He's got a serious beard and mustache, he enjoys interacting with fans on Twitter @MrLecure, and he likes his job setting up Aroldis Chapman — no matter when manager Dusty Baker brings him in to pitch.
David Brown: The term "middle reliever" is kind of bland. You also are called a "set-up man." Do you like how Dusty Baker has described you, as a "utility pitcher."
Sam LeCure: I like that. I like utility. It's a fair description of what I do. I'm kind of all over the map. I'm never going to pitch the seventh inning every time. I think it's good and bad, in that sometimes Dusty will wait for situation to call on me, and it might take some time for that situation to arise. Or depending on whatever the matchups would be, or who's fresh. But I kind of like that I can pitch all over the map. It gives me more opportunities. And it's fun — I like not knowing when I'm going to pitch.
DB: That makes you different from a lot of other pitchers. It seems like, these days, relievers beyond just the closer "like to know" when they're pitching.
SLC: I think I am different, at least now. It's just my third year in full-time relief after being a starter, and I'm still kind of learning the ropes. Maybe in two years, I'll want to know if I'm going to pitch in the seventh inning, or eighth or be a closer. I think guys can take comfort in that because they can routine themselves. They know exactly when to stretch, or anything. I just like to get on the mound and start firing; if I get too much time to think about it, sometimes I'll psych myself out. That's why I like getting thrown into a tough spot. I don't have time to think about what the spot is, I've just got to make pitches.
DB: One of your fans named your mustache "Cornelius." Is that for Yukon Cornelius from "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" or Don Cornelius from "Soul Train"?
SLC: Here's where the Cornelius originated: Actually, it was in St. Louis and it must have been in 2011, because by then I had grown the mustache. When I got called up in 2010, I did not have it yet. I was having breakfast at the Cheesecake Factory with some family and one of my nieces decided that Cornelius looked like a good name for my mustache. She was 8 years old at the time, so I don't think any of those [other Corneliuses] were the inspiration.
DB: There are people on the Internet who say they want to "be" LeCure's mustache. Let's say your upper lip was hiring. What qualities would you look for in a mustache?
SLC: Toughness, No. 1. Self-confidence. It's got to be OK with who it is. Because I don't claim to grow a great mustache. But I like for it to feel comfortable in its own hair, so to speak. I would look for that. Competitiveness. Qualities that I would look for in myself are qualities that I'd look for in my mustache.
DB: How long does it take to get where you're at now with your mustache growing?
SLC: Probably about three weeks or so. Three or four. I always shave it in November — they have the "Movember" thing — so I'd say it takes a good three or four weeks to get a good mustache going.
DB: That sounds quick.
SLC: I don't know, because growing up, I didn't really grow facial hair. It was always kind of "Joe Dirt"-ish, so to speak. I feel like all of my brothers are like that. I come from a big family and none of them can really grow facial hair — except one.
DB: Do you think your mustache is more popular than you are? Let's say you got rid of it, would there be repercussions?
SLC: I think there would to a degree. Like, some people get obsessed with high socks and stirrups. I think there would be a little bit of falling out with that. I think park of it is, people relate to a little bit — the working-class guy. They probably look at me and think, "I could go down after the game and have a Pabst Blue Ribbon with that guy." There'd definitely be a falling-out, especially in the Northern Kentucky area.
DB: Good beer choice, by the way.
DB: Taking yours out of the equation, who has the best beard in baseball?
SLC: We were just in Washington and Jayson Werth has trimmed his down quite a bit, but his video board picture — that's a beard. And I saw Josh Reddick's a little bit, but that was out of control. I'd say Werth has a really good beard.
DB: Did you see that Reddick shaved his beard and sold the hair for like $40?
SLC: Really?! Kind of like the "Locks for Love."
DB: But it was in pieces. What would you do with Josh Reddick's facial hair?
SLC: I would say I'd burn it, other than it'll stink. I'd like to know what somebody who paid for it is going to do with it.
DB: Does the fact that Marty Brennaman's given first name is Franchester make his amazing hair all the more majestic? Don't tell me that you didn't know his name wasn't "Franchester."
SLC: I did not know that his name was Franchester. That's very unique. But he shaved his helmet off. His big hair was part of his schtick before he shaved it off at the stadium. ... Fran ...?
SLC: Huh. Did you know that Aroldis Chapman's first name is Albertin?
SLC: We're all learning today.
DB: What's he like?
SLC: He's a great dude, man. Sometimes you forget that he's 23, 24 now. But he's really adapted well over here. I think having some Latin guys made him very comfortable. But he's always upbeat and in a good mood. He has an aura about him. I was watching the game last night and I got a front-row seat for one of the best shows. It's exciting watching him go out there. He commands the attention and does well with it. He's a good dude, though. He's fun-loving and a great teammate. When he first got up, he probably didn't know what to expect. He was a little bit hesitant to be himself. But once he felt comfortable — and I think this is a great group of dudes — he's opened up a lot. He's a guy you want on your team for the obvious reasons and for the clubhouse reasons.
DB: And you said that when he pitches, he's the type of guy that you stop what you're doing to watch.
SLC: Yes, like when Barry Bonds was in the home-run chase. That's something you want to see. He just commands it on the mound. I would hope that I had a mound presence like him. Obviously, it's not going to be coming out quite as hard.
DB: Why do the Reds seemingly have as many mascots as players?
SLC: Haha, what are they? Rosie Red, Mr. Redlegs ... what's the plain-looking one? Just Mr. Red? And then they've got Gapper. I feel like there's another one. I don't know why they have so many. I mean, they don't really do anything on the field. That's just me. When they involve them, it's usually on the video board race. But yeah, we've got enough mascots to field a football team. I don't get it.
DB: Do you remember when Mr. Redlegs fell off the ATV and lost his head?
SLC: Haha! No that must have been before I got here. That's classic. I bet that scared the [bleep] out of some kids.
DB: Where does "Five things" come from?
SLC: Just a daily focus on the things that we should be grateful for, things that we should stay positive about and not take for granted. I went down to the Dominican Republic for a couple of years and played winter ball down there. Unless you've been somewhere you don't have the daily niceties that we enjoy here, then you might not appreciate some things like toilet paper. Or, a hot shower. "Five things" is more me trying to have an understanding of the things we're blessed with.
DB: These are things that you experienced, not stories told to you.
SLC: Yeah, like when we'd go on road trips, you'd have to bring your own separate roll of toilet paper with you. The hotels, yeah. Here, they probably would be two or three star hotels. But it was more often miss than hit that you were going to get a cold shower. That's where "Five things" came from, thinking, "Man, I can't believe I took that for granted."
DB: Do you have a favorite thing to argue about with teammates?
SLC: Religion. That's such a tough one, too.
DB: Where do you come from on that?
SLC: Where do I come from? Or where am I at now? I went to Catholic school my whole life, until I went to college (at the University of Texas). There was a time when I wanted to be a priest. Everybody's got a crossroads or a turning point in their life and I went through a tough stretch there. I had the thing in college where I was kicked out, essentially, and I went through a divorce and started asking some questions. Of myself and about that. At the time, it was like, "Why did God let this happen? ... Yeah, I didn't go to class, but I'm a good person. I try to treat people well. So I started asking a lot of questions and developing my own ideas of what that meant. I believe in the Bible, but that it's an interpretation of right and wrong, good and bad. So we talk about that kind of stuff [as teammates]. It's not just, "How to get Albert Pujols out."
DB: Do you argue with your family [about religion]?
SLC: No, no. But I try to be open-minded. I don't feel like they're wrong for their opinions or beliefs. I don't think I'm wrong for my beliefs. I don't know if I'm right. They don't know if they're right. That's the faith. I believe the Bible is an interpretation and you can use its lessons to point you in the right direction, the path that you want to be on. Do I know if there's an afterlife? No, nobody does, other than the people that are in it. There may be nothing, it may be blackness. I can't wrap my head around the fact that I'm not going to be able to have a thought [because I am dead]. I hope that there is. They talk about God as being an energy. Basically, I don't believe in the bearded guy in the sky.
DB: But there's another level of existence, like, whatever the spark is that powers our bodies lives on in another way?
SLC: Yeah, I think it does. I just can't wrap my head around nothingness. I hope that there's something afterwards for us. People talk about "heaven and hell," and maybe I'm talking about the same thing, but in another way. And my interpretation is, if you were a good person here, then you're afterlife will be a better one. But I want accountability. Like, when something good happens, I don't necessarily want to give praise to God. Because I don't want to blame him when something wrong happens.
DB: Like praying for someone to miss a field goal.
SLC: Yeah, right. It's not His fault. He didn't kick it. Know what I'm saying?
DB: Cincinnati is known as the "Queen City," so why don't they blast "We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions" at least once a day?
SLC: Queen should be involved a little bit more. I might actually talk to someone, because I can tell during the game what's going on as far as songs played and what inning they do that [at Great American Ball Park]. Queen songs definitely should make an appearance in the Queen City, for sure. Then we can get a concert going. Are they still around?
DB: Yes, they perform but without the old lead singer Freddie Mercury. He died 20 years ago.
SLC: Do you know why Cincinnati was named the Queen City?
DB: I was going to ask you that. Queen, like, as in "Riverboat queen"?
SLC: That could be it. That could be right on point.
DB: What does Ted Kremer have to do to become a full-time bat boy?
SLC: He shouldn't have to do much, because every time he's showed up we've had a lot of fun and scored a lot of runs. He could be all of the "Five things." I nearly teared up just watching how good of a time he was having. I had pitched the inning before and then I came in and Todd Frazier hit that home run and Teddy was just beside himself. You could feel that everybody felt that way. It was one of the coolest feelings I've ever had on a baseball field, if not the coolest. It was just so contagious. He should be honorary bat boy at least once a month.
DB: Has his presence changed how you feel about people with special needs? Especially in terms of, could you see yourself being a dad for someone with special needs?
SLC: That's heavy duty. I hadn't thought about it in that context, but definitely. Just to see how much happiness that he brought, and he had and was projecting, isn't that what we all want? Isn't everybody chasing happiness in some way or form? Or whatever they think happiness is? Some people think it's money, some people think it's fame. Teddy, he was happy to be at a ballgame, man. We're real lucky to be able to do that on a daily basis. For the guys in that clubhouse and people watching at home, hopefully they could feel that energy, too. It may be a tough thing to deal with, but what a blessing it also could be.
DB: When you notice fans (often Cardinals fans) boo Brandon Phillips, what do you think?
SLC: He loves to play in St. Louis. He feeds off it. No. 1, I think back to the altercation when they were at our place and Brandon had said something in the newspaper about the team and he came to the plate and tapped Yadier Molina with his bat and they kind of got into it. I think more of that was the Cardinals fans protecting Yadi. They love that guy here and I know why: He's one of my favorite players to watch. But the players don't think about that stuff anymore. It's a great rivalry but they don't want to go out and fight about it. They want to play it out on the field. We respect them and hope we're starting to gain some respect for our quality of play.
DB: I'm curious about Homer Bailey. Will he reprise his role as Batman in the upcoming "Justice League" movie?
SLC: Haha. I love that because he does look exactly like Christian Bale. We were all watching something the other day ... "3:10 To Yuma" and everybody's like, "Here comes Homer!" Homer does not want attention in that way. So I'll say, 100 percent, he will give up his role as Batman. He's got a great personality, but he's mostly business-like. He's a good, ol' country boy and he's got his ways and everybody understands that.
DB: But couldn't his parents have named him "Sinker" Bailey?
SLC: Haha. Do you know the story behind that? He's named for his grandfather. His given name was David, but I know they started calling him Homer in honor of his grandfather. But yeah, that's the worst name imaginable for a pitcher.
DB: Balk Bailey?
SLC: Balk Bailey, yeah. Sinker Bailey or Strikeout Bailey. Ground Ball Bailey. You've got several there that would fit better than Homer.
DB: Who's got a funnier last name? You, or [Reds' GM] Walt Jocketty?
SLC: I haven't really thought about that, but now that I do, Walt Jocketty does. I get a lot of people playing off my name. I get called "Sam LeQueer," which is insensitive. "Sam Liquor." I don't know if mine's funnier, but it's got more opportunities.
DB: How often does some funnyman come up to you and refer to "The disease and LeCure"?
SLC: I get that a lot on Twitter, especially when I'll come into a situation in a game and get out of a jam. "I am the LeCure, yeah."
DB: You're the youngest of eight kids; Did you have it tougher or easier as a result?
SLC: I definitely had it easier. Now, I feel like it's harder because my older siblings — I'm the baby — and I get it a lot from them how my mom dotes on me a little bit. It's just annoying to hear them talk smack about me. I felt like I could spend a lot of time with mom. She was getting closer to where her work schedule isn't quite as hectic, so we spent a lot of time together.
DB: Eight kids, how do they break down by gender?
SLC: Including myself, it's six boys and two girls. My brother Dan is the oldest and he'll be 50 this year.
DB: How does that feel, having a brother who's 50?
SLC: He could be [old enough to be] my... My parents had five kids in, like, seven years, then they took 10 years off and had three more over like a four or five year period. It was just how it worked out, or maybe they were bored, I don't know. Maybe mom just missed carrying babies.
DB: Your parents have been married for 50 years?
SLC: It's pretty amazing. I know how much [money] they were making, and to have eight kids, and have given them everything that they needed, and have everybody healthy. We're very lucky. Especially now, you just don't see it as much anymore. People don't make that commitment. I don't know what the numbers are, but isn't it pretty close to 50 percent, married and divorced? For them to be going at it like that for 50 years is awesome.
DB: Does your family come out to your games, or do they hesitate because they don't know if you're going to play or not?
SLC: Since they're all grown and have kids, a lot of them will take time in the summer and come up for five days in Cincinnati, and there's a pretty good chance they'll see me in a five-day period. For here [in St. Louis], if it were a weekend, I'd be leaving 20 tickets a game. But since it's during the week, they'll have kids doing stuff or school, and it's not that bad. But they're all baseball fans; all of my brothers played baseball. It's more for them about seeing me, and they can watch the games on TV.
DB: I have it on good authority that you used to be a babysitter. What do you charge an hour for an 18-month-old?
SLC: Boy or girl?
SLC: Prices are pretty high. Back then? I was probably doing it for 20 bucks an hour. Maybe then. But the kid I was babysitting, Trent Rosecrans' nephew, I probably should have been charging a little bit more. He was also redheaded.
DB: Redheads are trouble no matter which gender?
SLC: I will say that. So we definitely can't talk about my girlfriend [laughs].
DB: Did you have any other "regular people" jobs?
SLC: Yeah. In high school, I worked at an ice cream shop in Jeff City called Zesto. Made some good Polish sausage, and I put together some good ice cream sundaes. When I was in college, when I was academically ineligible for my junior year, I worked for Miller Beer, and I delivered Miller Lite to the grocery store. That was fun, running into teammates and classmates as I'm stocking beer on the shelves. At Albertson's.
DB: How did the beer delivery job happen?
SLC: A good friend of mine — it was Drew Stubbs — his dad was good friends with the guy who ran the place. I got a nice little deal, some perks. I got to bring some beer home for the weekend.
DB: What do you think? Beer distributorship if you get a few more years in the majors, so you'll have enough money to invest?
SLC: That was pretty tough work, man. I was showing up at 5:30 in the morning and you'd work until 5 at night, stocking and lifting pallets of beer. Setting up all that stuff. It was tough. After baseball, I'm looking more at the consumption of the beer rather than the distribution.
DB: What's it like being in the fraternity of University of Texas Longhorns who've pitched in the majors?
SLC: I don't really think about it. I don't think about it because of my exit from there, No. 1. I suppose I'll always be a Longhorn. I think it's neat, and there's some great tradition there. I still get to play with some of the guys who've been around like Brandon Belt and Taylor Teagarden, Huston Street. Guys like that. Chris Davis was at Texas a little bit. I'm not too sentimental as far as that goes, or nostalgic.
DB: Because of how it ended?
SLC: Maybe. If I would have won a national championship there, then you're on the map a little bit down there. But I was just kind of a guy that was there.
DB: You mentioned earlier that you became academically ineligible when you were a junior.
SLC: Yeah. I had the conversation with somebody the other day. I was thinking about school and different things. And the question came up: "What did school teach you?" Somebody's going to look at my transcripts and say, "Nothing." But it taught me a lot about accountability, about discipline, being on time. If you say you're going to be somewhere, be there. If you're going to do something, to do it. Don't half-ass your way through everything. I don't have the grades to back me up, but I feel like I did learn a lot from school.
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2009 • Shane Victorino • Carlos Pena • Jay Bruce • Joe Nathan • Joe Maddon • Joakim Soria •Joey Votto • Tom Glavine • Adrian and Edgar Gonzalez • Chris Volstad • Paul Konerko • Edwin Jackson•Mark DeRosa • Tim Lincecum •Dave Righetti • Pedro Martinez • Denard Span • Cal Ripken
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2008 • Hunter Pence • Justin Morneau • David Wright • Erin Andrews • Andy Van Slyke • Derek Jeter• Bob Uecker •Bert Blyleven • Torii Hunter • Joba Chamberlain • Larry Bowa • Zack Greinke •Kerry Wood • Huston Street • Josh Hamilton • Milton Bradley • CC Sabathia • Mike Mussina •Jason Bay •Cole Hamels • Ron Santo • Francisco Rodriguez• Ryan Dempster • Evan Longoria
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