The Hoffarth HOF tour of Cooperstown IV: Don’t be so leery of the people you run into

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If was just another summer’s day, the odds would not have been all that great of running into former Dodgers pitcher Tim Leary at the Syracuse Airport waiting for the same JetBlue ride to JFK in New York City en route to a trip back to L.A.

But because the National Baseball Hall of Fame staged its second annual Baseball Classic on Father’s Day, bringing Hall of Famers such as Harmon Killebrew, Bob Feller, Gary Carter and Phil Niekro together for an exhibition against other former big-leaguers, Leary was one of the participants recruited to both pitch an inning and even take some cuts.

Anyone who remembers the Dodgers’ charge to the 1988 World Series title knows Leary won 17 games that season (second on the staff to Cy Young Award winner Orel Hershiser) and even collected a walk-off, game-winning RBI as a pinch hitter.

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Leary said he is preparing an application for the Cal State Northridge head coaching job, which came open a couple of weeks ago. Steve Rousey was relieved of his duties by athletic director Rick Mazzuto in early June after eight seasons.

“I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but because it’s a Division I program, and in one of the toughest conferences in the country, plus one of the best locations baseball-wise, there’s a huge upside to being there,” said Leary. “I’d love to help make this a desination point for baseball — from a facility to camps and clinics.”

Leary’s coaching history includes his role as the pitching coach at his alma mater, UCLA, under Gary Adams from 1996 to 2000 (going to the College World Series in 1997), then returning for Adams’ last year in 2004. Leary has been privately coaching since then and working in the insurance business.

Drafted as a junior out of UCLA in 1979 by the New York Mets — No. 2 overall, in a class that included first-rounders Andy Van Slyke, Tim Wallach and Steve Howe – Leary pitched professionally until 1994, spending time with the Brewers, Dodgers (’87-’89), Reds, Yankees, Mariners and Rangers. His .221 career batting average (.269 in ’88 when he won the Silver Slugger) may be more impressive in his 14 seasons than winning 78 games — in ’88, he had nine complete games and six shutouts in a 17-11 record with a 2.91 ERA.

Both an All-American pitcher and an Academic All-American in the same year (1979), Leary went back to UCLA to graduate in 1987 with a degree in economics. He finds that background helps tremendously functioning in today’s amateur baseball circles.

“Fundraising is paramount in this environment, and the UCLA model we used was way ahead of the curve in funding amateur sports,” said the 51-year-old based in Santa Monica, who is in the process of forming a non-profit organization that will also help fund youth sports. “That’s just the way it is these days.”

Among the players Leary coached at UCLA were eventual big-league pitcher Jim Parque, the former Crescenta Valley High standout who played on Bruins teams with current major leaguers Chase Utley, Garrett Atkins and Troy Glaus. Toronto Blue Jays reliever Casey Janssen, a 2004 fourth-round pick out of UCLA, is another of Leary’s former students.

The deadline to apply for the CSUN job is July 9, and Mazzuto appears to want to fill the job by the end of the month. (If you’re interested in applying, here’s the link to the app). Mazzuto said the school has “generated a significant number of resumes” to form what he believes is “a quality pool of applicants” that will be reviewed next week. The week after that, candidates will be invited on campus for interviews.

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