Jason Leblebijian has been at the Triple-A level for two seasons.
And now he's been a Triple-A All-Star, twice.
Some players take the selection as a dubious distinction – an honor they are grateful for, but it's still Triple-A, still a level beneath their dream of being an everyday Major League player.
Leblebijian sees it differently. Two All-Star game appearances mean he's doing something right. It points to consistency. It's a waymarker of sorts for the 27-year-old third baseman who has become one of the most dependable hitters in the Buffalo Bisons lineup.
"It means I'm consistent which is always a positive," Leblebijian said. "You make adjustments and you try to get better and better and being two years in this league and going to another All-Star Game definitely just shows consistency I think. At times you always wonder if you're on the right track, if you're going the right way. Something like this gives you some satisfaction that you're doing the right thing, so it's good."
Leblebijian leads the Bisons in home runs (10) and runs scored (35) while batting .243.
And while there's always work to do, Leblebijian isn't nitpicking his work at the plate. The mechanics, they're pretty much set. Now, it's all about the mental side of hitting, the strategy, the approach, the game within the game.
"I think now it's just did I stick to my approach? Did I get a pitch to hit?" Leblebijian said. "Sometimes a guy pitches to you and you have no chance. Sometimes you just get yourself out because of stupidity. You try to do too much or whatever it may be. I think the biggest thing I focus on right now is just starting on time. Just being able to see the ball. You know, give myself a chance. Even if I chase a pitch or something like that, make sure I'm in the best position to put it in play and give my teammates a chance."
His teammates have been a big part of the equation. While Leblebijian becomes just the third Bison in the modern era to be selected to back-to-back All-Star Games, catcher Danny Jansen will make his first appearance in the Triple-A All-Star Game after being an Eastern League All-Star with the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats in 2017. The catcher leads the Bisons in batting average (.293) and RBIs (39).
For Leblebijian, sharing the All-Star Game with Jansen, his roommate on road trips, makes it even more special.
"It's well-deserved on his part," Leblebijian said of Jansen. "Especially the last two years he's done amazing. Being able to experience this with him, the guy is so loose, so happy. Plays the game with so much fun and passion. It's going to be amazing to experience the three days with him."
The three days in Columbus, Ohio, at Huntington Park begins on July 9 with the Home Run Derby and Skills Competition with the battle between the International League and Pacific Coast League All-Stars set for July 11. The Columbus Clippers are hosting this year's All-Star Game.
And the joy of sharing it with a teammate is part of the journey for Leblebijian and Jansen. Much of the Buffalo Bisons roster has grown up in baseball together, starting in Class A. Through the last four years, the roster has largely moved up the Toronto Blue Jays farm system together, creating a culture that not only has a strong desire to win, but a strong desire to see each other succeed.
"I think the biggest thing is we're able to talk to each other," Leblebijian said. "No one's worried to call someone out if they think they're slacking. No one's too prideful to acknowledge people doing well. Once you get past that on a team, I think the chemistry is a lot better. We're not just teammates here, we're all friends because we've played together so long. Being able to have that and being able to trust each other definitely helps."
Leblebijian will not only get to share the experience with Jansen, but with his family and friends. A native of the Chicago area, he has about 15 people who will make the four-hour trip to the All-Star festivities.
And he'll be able to give a little guidance to Jansen. The catcher was voted onto two All-Star teams last year – Florida State (Class A) and Eastern League (Double-A) – but only played in the Double-A All-Star Game.
That was a terrific experience, but still, Jansen doesn't really know what to expect when he gets to Columbus for the Triple-A All-Star Game, other than the quality of players he will be around will be a level better.
"Catching wise it's handling a lot of the good arms," Jansen said. "I'm sure there's going to be a lot of guys that have good stuff and maybe have been there before and maybe have big-league experience. I don't know what it's going to be like."
Ah, but that's where his teammate can help pick him up.
"I've been invited to a couple All-Star Games before but last year was the first one I actually played in," Leblebijian said. "There's that nervousness in not knowing what to expect. This year I'll be able to know what's ahead of me and kind of be able to enjoy it a little more."