Davidson Baseball’s Lebek Takes Bumps, Bruises, and Bases
The most hit-by-pitches in Davidson history.
It’s not necessarily the record Justin Lebek set out to set or grew up dreaming about. Game-winning home runs and diving catches are much more appealing to aspiring ballplayers, not to mention less painful.
But Lebek’s new mark of 28 HBPs is a source of pride for the senior right fielder from Wilton, Conn., and it certainly resonates among those who join him in the dugout on a daily basis.
“To me, toughness and consistency go hand-in-hand with him,” said head coach Rucker Taylor. “I think that describes him in a lot of ways, not only as a player but as a person. He’s a really consistent guy in his performance and really his demeanor. I think there’s a lot of value in that.”
Lebek’s teammates notice how he seems unfazed by what happens in a game, whether he’s on a hot streak at the plate or is hit by a fastball that cut too far inside. When he’s hit and simply drops his bat and jogs to first without showing pain, they often call him “Robot.”
“It’s a compliment,” said second baseman Matt Frey.
Lebek was hit once as a freshman in limited action, then 14 times as an everyday starter his sophomore season. He absorbed 11 pitches a year ago. Ironically, he’s been hit less this year than ever, despite being a regular starter for the third straight season. He was hit Feb. 16 against Towson, which tied the previous record set by Kurt Davis (’99). He broke the record March 29 at VCU.
“For me, the adrenaline kind of takes over,” said Lebek. “Everyone gets fired up when you wear a pitch. You want to look like it hurts as little as possible. Some definitely hurt more than others.”
A right-handed hitter, he’s mostly been hit on the left side, typically the upper arm or upper leg. But he once took one on his right calf — “Still not sure how,” he said — and he’s been hit on both knees, which always reminds him that the direct hits on bones are the worst. Once, he was hit twice in the same spot on his left thigh in the same game, which produced what he called a “double bruise.”
“That looked pretty gnarly,” he said.
Lebek remembers one day as a youth league player when he was hit twice in the helmet, which ended his summer.
Last fall, he was hit in the knee by teammate Allen Barry during an intrasquad scrimmage. It stung pretty good, but he jogged to first and decided to steal second on the next pitch because he thought no one would expect it. He was right and easily advanced 90 feet.
“Sometimes,” said Lebek, “it works to your advantage.”
Frey recalls Lebek taking a pitch off his kneecap a few years ago.
“It made this horrible noise, and ‘Robot’ Lebek just ran to first,” said Frey. “We’re all looking at each other like, ‘Lebek’s just going to play that off?’ It was unbelievable. It sounded like death.”
Frey has been hit eight times this year, more than any player on the roster through 24 games. He was hit twice in the second game against Towson and three times that opening weekend.
“I’m not trying to get hit,” said the left-handed hitting Frey, who wears a protective face shield on the right side. “I’m not standing on the plate. I just keep getting hit. I don’t know what’s going on.”
The HBPs have given Frey a few bruises this season, but they’ve also given the junior a glance into what Lebek has endured throughout his career. Lebek’s not trying to get hit either, but he’s also going to stand his ground.
“He’s not afraid to wear it,” said Frey. “He’s willing to do that for his guys, and that’s really admirable. Nobody’s ever questioned Lebek’s desire to win.”