BEMIDJI - For the past 10 years Renee and Doug Leif have been logging the miles along the highways of Minnesota and the Upper Midwest, heading from park to park to watch their son play baseball.
Collin Leif has been one of the key components of a Bemidji baseball program that has enjoyed success at all levels. That run included a trip to the 12-year-old Cal Ripken regional championship tournament in Alliance, Neb. in 2006, a state VFW championship in 2010, consecutive trips to the state high school tournament in 2011 and 2012 and last year's advancement to the state Legion meet.
Throughout that baseball journey Leif has been Bemidji's catcher but starting next fall he will trade his Bemidji uniform for one representing Division I University of Nebraska-Omaha.
Monday at the BSU diamond Leif officially signed the Letter of Intent to become a Maverick and on Aug. 17 he will report for the first day of fall practice.
"I like the town, I like the weather, I like the coaches and I'm looking forward to going there," Leif said. "These types of decisions come from the gut and I have the sense that Omaha is the right spot."
"This is a bittersweet moment for me," Renee said. "I'm extremely proud of Collin. Personally, it would be nicer to have him closer but Omaha will be a great place for him.
"From a baseball standpoint, we're experiencing an empty nest," Renee continued. "But Collin deserves this and we're excited."
UNO became a Division I program last year and played its initial season as an independent. This year it will join the Summit League and among its opponents will be South Dakota State and North Dakota State.
"I'm excited to be on my own and to continue experiencing life," Collin said.
And he is excited about the prospect of playing Division I baseball.
"The coaches told me that the program lost all of its catchers and if I come in and work hard I have a good chance of getting playing time right away. They said that anybody can come in and win the catching job," Leif said.
"I feel I'm ready for the next step but I know I haven't won anything yet," he continued. "I need to keep progressing and fight for that catching job."
As the senior catcher on the state Class 3A runner-up team that finished 25-3 this spring Leif hit .415 in 94 official at-bats. His 39 hits were second on the squad as were his 39 RBI and 50 total bases.
"Playing college baseball at the Division I level is a big step and I'm sure I'll have my share of struggles," Leif said. "But for every struggle there will be an upside. And after playing so many years with these great Bemidji teams, I have learned how to win and how to play with confidence."