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Mr. Deloach: Two dream careers

Professional baseball player to band teacher
Lee DeLoach takes a swing during

Becoming a professional athlete is a common dream among young kids. Out of those who strive to be one, very few actually get there. Only about 7% of high school athletes play any collegiate sports, and less than 2% play NCAA Division I. Out of that 2%, an even slimmer few go on to play professionally. For athletes, as long as you’re not a one-in-a-generation prodigy the odds are forever stacked against you, level by level. 

One of Audubon’s very own teachers lived out his dream of becoming a professional athlete.

Lee DeLoach, Audubon’s band director and music teacher of thirty years, came from a family of musicians, but as a kid, he was a maestro of the infield. DeLoach was a second baseman coming out of Pennsauken High School, home of the Indians. He had been scouted well, but only played ten games in his 1985 senior season after coming down with mono. Second base may not be the most lucrative position for scouts, but that was fine by him:

 “I especially loved playing defense, in the middle infield. My brother and I were infielders together, so it was great to turn double plays together. When I grew up, I was one of those kids that played wiffle-ball every day, so that was the game that we all loved a lot. We did play football, we played street hockey, and basketball, games like that, but it always went back to baseball being our favorite sport.”

His recruiting stock took a hit, but DeLoach still committed and signed on to play second base for the Rutgers-Camden club, staying close to South Jersey. 

DeLoach’s success continued to rise during his college years, being selected to the NJAC Second Team in 1988 and 1989, one of three to be honored during his time as a Scarlet Raptor, along with designated hitter Pat McGowan and pitcher George Lovett. DeLoach’s accolades and dedication eventually caught the attention of those in the pros, including the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Dodgers have been known in the baseball world for their phenomenal scouting ability; being able to search far and wide for diamonds in the rough that the other 29 ballclubs wouldn’t have found otherwise. DeLoach was drafted in the 13th round of the 1989 draft becoming the first player to be drafted in the history of Rutgers-Camden’s baseball program. Being drafted into the professional realm seems like a dream come true, but for him, the experience was not the decked out spectacle it is today. DeLoach said in our interview: 

“It’s so much different than the football draft because [the MLB draft] takes so many players. I went in not even sure if I was going to be drafted or not… but I did get a phone call on a Tuesday night, the second night of the draft, and it was the one scout that was looking at me, he said that ‘We’re drafting you in the 13th round to the Dodgers, congratulations’. I was in shock, because I didn’t expect to get drafted from Rutgers-Camden. The next day, the head scouts from the Dodgers for this area sat down with me and talked about where I would report, how much money I’d make, stuff like that. It was really laid back, it’s not like I had a lot of press, there were no news cameras coming to my house or anything. It was a cool experience, for sure, but it was different.”

DeLoach reported to the Dodgers’ rookie ball affiliate in Great Falls, Montana, over 1800 miles from Camden, New Jersey. He got a break, knowing some of his teammates from the start helping to ease the tensions of who he would be sharing rooms and lockers with.

“First, I reported to Vero Beach, FL, for extended spring training. We played with the other extended minor leaguers down there, but since the draft back then was in early June, we would finish up our college seasons, get drafted, and report to Florida for about a week for training, and then you’d report to whatever place you were playing for the rest of the season, which was Great Falls for me. But I was lucky, because a lot of the players that the Dodgers picked were also from the east coast, and even from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, so I knew some of the players when I got there. I didn’t know them well, but I knew there was a catcher that played up north for William Paterson, I played against him. So I knew him a little bit, same with a guy from La Salle. I was lucky in that aspect, because we all went up to Montana together, and we were all like ‘Wow, this is far away from what we’re used to’. We all had that east coast camaraderie… but it was far, and I did get homesick. The first month was tough, I was asking why am I doing this, and I wasn’t starting, I was a backup infielder. About a month in, things changed, I was playing a little better, but it still wasn’t great. We didn’t have cell phones, so to call our parents we had to use the credit card payphone, and I was paying a lot of money to call home.”

Even though the views from Montana were beautiful, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for DeLoach in his lone season out west. He came up with a .242 batting average, a .548 OPS, 16 hits, five RBI, and three stolen bases. While DeLoach’s individual statistics don’t come off as impressive to casual fans, his team was a major hit. They ended with a 53-14 record for the 1989 season; the third-best record of all-time for any minor league club. They easily won the Pioneer League championship under manager Joe Vavra, who would later coach at the Major League level with Minnesota and Detroit from 2006 to 2020. Looking at a stat sheet online, DeLoach’s career looks short and a little bit sour; pedestrian numbers and limited playing time. However, DeLoach made a move that many minor leaguers make, but few are recognized for — he was asked to be released, and then retired. DeLoach explains why:

“I underwent arm surgery the following year, in 1990, but by then I had already retired. I voluntarily asked for my release, because at that point, I knew that I was probably going to be a ten-year career minor leaguer. They were going to send me back to extended Spring Training, where you don’t get paid. So I’d be spending three months in Florida, trying to find a place to live, and just practicing baseball every day. But, I looked at it from the far-out perspective and said that I’m probably not going to make it too far, and if I do, maybe Double-A if I’m lucky. I wanted to go back to school and get my music degree at that point, so I decided to just cut it now. I still played in the summer, for a local team called the Roughriders in the Tri-County league for another nine years. I still got to play over the summer, I still loved the game. I had just decided at the end of the 1989 season, after I came home, that I really wanted to pursue that music degree, so that’s what I did.”

DeLoach went to Temple University and earned his degree in music education in 1993. For him, being a music teacher was his foremost aspiration, even over playing professional baseball. Music is a passion that runs through his entire family, as he followed in the footsteps of his father who was also a band director. DeLoach went down the list of all family members who were or are band directors, including his father, brother and brother-in-law. DeLoach already started the process of joining the music education field while he was still playing at Rutgers-Camden, stating that:

“In my last year at Rutgers-Camden, I had already started to think about transferring to pursue music education. I wasn’t involved in music over at Rutgers-Camden, I was a business major. I had thought to myself that I really wasn’t enjoying this whole business thing, and I really wanted to be a music teacher. My father, who is also a music teacher, didn’t want any of us to be music teachers because he didn’t think we’d make enough money. But, things changed — my brother got a scholarship for music, and he saw how interested I was in it, so I decided to go for it. I used some of the money I made from the Dodgers to go to Temple, and that just about paid for my college in full. When I signed with the Dodgers, I got a $13,000 signing bonus, $10,000 of that was for me to use. The other $3,000 was for me to finish my degree at Rutgers-Camden. I ended up using all $13,000 to pay for Temple, which paid for two of my three years. The third year I had paid for myself, since I had run out of the Dodgers money… and people say ‘Oh, you spent all of your professional money?’ But I used it for something good, instead of buying a fancy car or something. When I arrived in Great Falls for camp, I already had teammates who had the newest cars and nice jewelry. I had a plan and I knew how I was going to handle it.”

While DeLoach was playing professionally, and even before he graduated as a Raptor, he knew what he wanted for the road ahead. For someone who has at least three different relatives in his inner circle with extensive education expertise, the transition from athlete to band director wasn’t hard. 

DeLoach stated many times in our interview that he knew what path he wanted to take, and was able to confront the idea of retiring professionally head-on, instead of putting it off and playing several years in an industry where he wouldn’t have progressed much further from where he already was. When he was ready to begin his teaching career, he knew where he would start to look for a job.

“My brother-in-law was the band director [at Audubon] for five years. During the three years I was at Rutgers-Camden I actually helped him with the marching band as a side job — I’d come at night, and just be like an extra instructor. After I graduated from Temple, my first job was at a high school in Pennsylvania as a long-term substitute, only for about six months. Then, I got the job [in Audubon], and part of the reason I was hired was because they knew who I was from my brother-in-law. I’ve been here ever since, it’s been like, 31 years now.”

A commonly asked question that DeLoach gets is, “Why did you never coach?” Audubon, after all, is tied for the most New Jersey state championships for a public school, with eight titles. The Green Wave doesn’t have any pro athletes on their current staff, but Lee, in the eyes of many, was a great fit to be an aide to head coach Rich Horan, who’s been Audubon’s commander in chief since DeLoach was still at Temple. It was in his mind to coach, but things just didn’t work out, as he elaborates:

“I thought about it, but I knew that the demands of being a music teacher involved a lot of after-school activities, with the marching band, I just didn’t think I had the time to coach. By my third or fourth year, Don Seybold asked me to come out, and I threw batting practice and observed some of the kids practice… but back then, there were so many good coaches that they didn’t really need my help. I don’t think I was ever officially asked, but I don’t think I would have had the time for it.”

Lee DeLoach certainly has plenty to be proud of.. Many of us are lucky to accomplish one career dream — and for many, the ultimate strive is to be a famous athlete. But accomplishing two career dreams, and making careers out of both, is a statement that a very select few have the privilege of claiming.


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About the Contributor
Dan Wilkins, Writer
I have been a journalist and sports commentator since 2016, and have since taken my aspirations to writing for The Parrot at AHS. I started out as a public address announcer for the local Audubon Little League, serving there for five years, along with ventures in youth football in Oaklyn, and a litany of sports for AHS. The sports that I cover as of this publication are soccer, field hockey, and football in the fall, basketball and wrestling in the winter, and baseball in the spring. Besides broadcasting and commentary, my other main interests include music, riding my eight-speed bike, photography, and travel. I am a huge fan of progressive rock, including the bands Genesis, Rush, and Yes, among others. When I'm done with high school, I plan to attend a four-year university to pursue a career in sports broadcasting and hopefully get a job in the media for Major League Baseball in the future.

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