Bryson LeBlanc is always up for a challenge.
In 2009, he hooked on with the University of Oregon baseball team as a volunteer assistant coach, working with the outfielders and coaching first base as the Ducks returned to the diamond for the first time in 28 years.
Several months after Oregon's season ended, LeBlanc was hired as the first head coach for the Cowlitz Black Bears, the newest entry in the West Coast League.
Another new team, another new challenge.
"We've been working on this roster since last August," said LeBlanc, a New Orleans native who also was part of the Ducks' surprising march to the NCAA Regionals this spring. "When our guys started rolling in here (last week), I knew their names right off the bat. I'm usually not very good with names, but I feel like I've known them for a while now. I couldn't be more proud to be here with them."
LeBlanc, 28, didn't make the trip to Connecticut with the Ducks for regionals because of his commitment to the Black Bears. He spent several days helping get the new David Story Field ready for Opening Day, and finally met up with his team of top-notch college players — part of it, anyway — for several pregame workouts.
This is LeBlanc's first head coaching position. So far, he said, it has been "very educational and very fun."
"It has been great working with the guys. I'm getting attached to them already. Sometimes you get oversold on a particular group. But I wasn't oversold. They're great guys and it's a privilege to coach them," said LeBlanc, who also serves as Oregon's camp coordinator and administrative assistant.
"Personally, I think I would have liked being one of their teammates, back when I played," he added. "But being their coach is definitely something I'm going to enjoy."
LeBlanc arrives in Longview-Kelso with a strong college baseball portfolio. The 5-foot-5, left-handed hitting outfielder played two seasons at Delgado Community College in New Orleans after graduating from Ridgewood Prep High School, where he was a Louisiana all-state selection in 2000 and 2001.
He transferred to the University of Missouri after leaving Delgado, and as a senior helped the Tigers reach the NCAA Super Regionals for the first time in school history. Missouri lost in the Super Regionals to Cal State Fullerton, which was coached at the time by current Oregon skipper George Horton.
As a senior, LeBlanc was named Mizzou Baseball Performance Athlete of the Year.
"We couldn't be more pleased to have Bryson as our first head coach," Black Bears owner Tony Bonacci said. "His experience speaks for itself."
LeBlanc earned a degree in biological sciences from Missouri in 2006, and received his Master's in physical education/exercise and sports science, with an emphasis in sports business administration, from the University of Central Missouri in May of 2009.
As for his debut with the Black Bears, it ended in a 5-5 tie after 12 innings when the Opening Night fireworks — set off prior to the top of the 13th at nearly 11 p.m. — left a cloud of smoke in the outfield.
The Bears picked up their first victory the following night against the Portland Dukes, 5-0. They open West Coast League play at home Friday against the Corvallis Knights.
His other team, the Oregon Ducks, bowed out of the NCAA Regionals earlier this week after a loss to Florida State.
"It was hard to listen to them lose on the radio. I could imagine all of the pain and sadness those seniors were going through, playing their last game," LeBlanc said. "I spent two years with those seniors. It will be hard to go back (to Eugene) in the fall and not have them there."
Bears Notes: Stephan Sabol, one of four catchers signed by the Black Bears, was taken by the Atlanta Braves in the 17th round (524th overall selection) in the Major League Amateur Draft on Tuesday. Sabol, who recently completed his senior year at Alison Niguel High School in Alison, Calif., is a 6-foot-1, 203-pounder who bats right-handed.