The human alarm clock in the next room couldn't care less that Randy Leek didn't get home until 2 a.m. Thursday. Not even the shutout he threw the previous night or the nearly four-hour commute home could buy Ducks' starting pitcher, Leek, an extra hour or two of sleep.
Baby-sitting issues had kept him from riding the team bus on the trip to York, Pa. He was forced to hop into his Toyota Camry on Tuesday to meet the team for his scheduled start Wednesday against the York Revolution.
Leek responded with his best start of the season, allowing four hits and a walk with five strikeouts to improve to 9-4 with a 3.94 ERA. He also reinforced why he would be a worthy, and fan-friendly, choice to start in the Atlantic League All-Star Game Tuesday night at Suffolk County Sports Park, the Ducks' home field.
Shortly after the game, he was back in his car making the late-night drive back to his house in Levittown.
Calls of "Mommy!'' and "Daddy!'' began seeping through the monitor at 7:30 a.m. Thursday for what has become their daily wake-up call with no snooze button. Two-year-old Ryan was ready to start his day, which meant it was time for his dad to begrudgingly begin his as well.
"A lot of times I feel beat and run down the day after a start, but I was pleasantly surprised when I woke up this morning," said Leek, 33. "I wasn't hobbling around like a 90-year-old man."
Mornings are a special time for the Leek family. That helped compensate for Randy's lack of sleep and the fatigue in his left arm, which had finished throwing 122 pitches a mere nine hours earlier. Leek headed downstairs with his wife, Cristina, and their son to have some breakfast and watch Ryan's favorite cartoon, "Handy Manny,'' signifying the beginning of a day in the life of a Duck.
Other than the welcome mat shaped as home plate resting outside the front door and a cardboard box filled with game balls and baseball mementos, there are few indications that a professional baseball player lives in the two-story ranch, equipped with three bedrooms, an office and a playroom. The house rests virtually in the shadows of MacArthur High School, where Leek led the Generals to a state championship in 1994 and won the Diamond Award as Nassau's top position player in 1995.
With Buzz Lightyear and Mickey Mouse dolls neatly stacked in the living room as a cable guy worked to restore the picture on the flat-screen television hanging on the wall, Leek enjoyed some time with his family despite a schedule that often conflicts with that of Cristina, a physical therapist.
"The three of us don't really sit down for too many dinners together, which kind of hurts," Leek said. "It's not a traditional 'Mom and Dad work 9 to 5, then come home and have dinner.' It's a little different. We have our time together in the mornings and we try to make it as special as we can. ''
Their time together on this morning consisted of some tee-ball in the back yard. Leek, a finesse pitcher who says he has never reached 90 mph, credits part of his success this season to the sudden development of his curveball, yet no sign of the curve was evident with Ryan in the batter's box. Leek tossed underhand to his son, a lefthanded thrower and hitter like his dad, and Ryan took some mighty cuts as Cristina looked on.
As early afternoon set in, family time gave way to work time. With players in the Atlantic League making a maximum of $3,000 a month during the course of the season, many look to supplement their incomes through winter ball or other business opportunities.
"You can't make a living playing with the Ducks," said Leek, who says he has never been recognized away from the ballpark. "It's good-quality baseball, but you can't do this for the rest of your life. It's not financially possible. I'm lucky that Cristina has a good job that allows me to keep playing."
Leek - who was drafted by the Tigers in 1999 and spent time in the Dodgers, Cardinals and Blue Jays organizations - also co-owns an indoor sports training facility in Farmingdale called The Hitter's Club, which consists of batting cages and a pitching mound where players can get private professional lessons or teams can rent the facility for indoor workouts. Leek arrived shortly before 1:30 for a half-hour private lesson with a 16-year-old pitcher looking to improve his mechanics.
"His head is all over the place. He's got to keep his head still," Leek said. "If he stops collapsing on his backside, his head is going to be a lot more still and there will be less movement and he will be accurate and consistent with his pitches."
After the lesson, Leek headed straight to Suffolk County Sports Park, where his duty for the day was to patrol shallow centerfield during batting practice and shag fly balls. Unaware that batting practice was canceled because of the late trip home the night before, an unfortunate result of not being on the team bus, Leek arrived at the ballpark three hours earlier than his teammates.
With the clubhouse to himself and unexpected time to spare, Leek - who now is in his fourth season with the Ducks and became the franchise wins leader in May when he earned his 33rd career victory - watched television, did some reading and rode the stationary bike until it was time to head to the dugout to watch the game.
"I'm a fan on days I don't pitch," Leek said. "I don't do much that a fan doesn't do."
After watching Newark defeat the Ducks, 6-4, Leek showered, had some chicken and pasta from the postgame spread in the clubhouse, then made the 25-minute ride home. With his family fast asleep, Leek - still feeling the effects of the night before - headed straight to bed and settled in just before midnight.
In about seven hours, the human alarm clock would be going off.