Member Profile – Jeff Liefer
Vice President, Pura Vida Farms
Growing up in Upland, CA, at a young age Pura Vida Farms Vice President of Sales Jeff Liefer knew he was a talented baseball player. However, “nowhere in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d play in the major leagues.” Yet for seven seasons, Liefer did just that
Liefer comes from a produce family. His father, Dale, is a long time produce pro, and brother Wes is the owner/president of Pura Vida Farms. Asked whether he was interested in produce or working in the industry growing up, Jeff said, “Not at all. I remember driving around with my dad as a kid. He would be talking about ‘72s’ or ‘88s’, and I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.”
But Liefer did have a clue about playing baseball. In Little League, at the ripe old age of 12, Jeff smacked 18 home runs.
In high school, Liefer showed his ability at both Damien High School and Upland High. “As a freshman, I played second base; then as a sophomore, I played shortstop, second and center field.” In his final two seasons Liefer added third base to his resume.
When entering high school, Liefer had no idea that a Major League Baseball career was in his future. “My only goal was to get a college scholarship.”
By his senior year, however, baseball scouts were constantly knocking on his door. “It was a crazy year. In my senior year, I kept moving up the draft board, and I was selected in the sixth round by the Cleveland Indians.”
LIefer stayed true to his original objective, however, and entered Long Beach State. As a member of the “Dirtbags,” a moniker the team had earned for its scrappy play, Liefer went to the College World Series in his freshman season. Long Beach State got edged out in the semi-final game and finished third. Liefer made the All-Tournament Team.
After his sophomore season, he headed north to play summer ball in Alaska, a well-known stop for college baseball prospects. After lighting it up, “Publications like Sporting News and Baseball America started projecting me as a possible first round pick.”
Sure enough, after his junior season at Long Beach State, Liefer was taken in the first round of the 1995 Major League draft by the Chicago White Sox. Even highly-touted players have to pay their dues, and Liefer played three years in the minor leagues. One vivid memory was a trip to the rest room that ended up delaying a game 20 minutes after he got locked in. “It was very warm, and the guys were drinking lots of water to stay hydrated. There was a bathroom behind the dugout, and after the inning, I went inside. When I tried to get out, I couldn’t because the door handle was jammed.”
He continued, “Of course, we went 1-2-3 in a very quick inning, and eight players take the field … with no first baseman.” One of his Indianapolis teammates who was waiting to use the restroom was aware Liefer was stuck. The umpires were alerted, and the game was held up. “Finally, someone opened a vent above the bathroom and handed me a chisel and hammer, and I got out.”
Liefer added that when he ran out to his position, everyone knew what had happened, and someone on Louisville’s team threw out a roll of toilet paper. The next day, he was contacted by Dan Patrick of ESPN. Liefer reluctantly told him the story, and by that night, Jay Leno was using the situation as a punchline.
His first game in the Major Leagues is another memory he will never forget. “My first game was in the Kingdome in Seattle. It was the first time I had played in a dome. It was the third game of the season, and I was hitting clean up, playing first base in my first big league game, Frank Thomas hitting third and Magglio Ordonez hitting 5th. I was pretty nervous. I’d say most of the game was a blur–especially the first few innings. I got a hit in my first at-bat off Freddy Garcia, so that took some of the pressure off and helped me settle down a bit. My most vivid memory of that game was Ken Griffey, Jr. getting to first base and smelling like a bottle of Drakkar Noir (cologne), which I found very odd.”
Liefer enjoyed his best season in 2001 when future Hall-of-Famer Frank Thomas went down with an injury, and Liefer platooned with Jose Canseco. Liefer had 18 home runs that year.
He said one of the highlights of his career happened not on the diamond, but at the induction of Frank Thomas into baseball’s Hall of Fame. “I had spent a great deal of time with Frank on the White Sox, and during his Hall of Fame speech he specifically thanked me.”
Liefer also spent a couple of years in Japan playing for the Sebu Lions in 2006 and 2007. He remembers the fans in Japan were always respectful to the other team and would never leave a game early. His wife, Missy, and son, Cade, joined him over there, and Liefer said, “Cade even went to an international preschool in Japan.”
After returning to the United States, the former Major Leaguer decided it was time to hang up the spikes. “My family was always with me during the season. When we would go on a road trip, they would usually stay behind in our home city with some of the other families. Occasionally, if our road trip was close by, they would drive to wherever we went and stay with me in the hotel and go to games. In the big leagues, they would make some of the trips to certain cities like NYC. Missy and I were in New York City staying at the Grand Hyatt at Grand Central Station on 9/11.”
Liefer said his family was one of the main reasons he retired. “Cade was going to be starting school in September, and I knew if I played the following year, they would not be coming with me because of school.”
So in 2008, Jeff traded his bats and balls for pineapples and melons at Pura Vida Farms working alongside his brother and dad. He just celebrated his 10th anniversary with the firm.
Besides Cade, Missy and Jeff also have a younger son, Rocky. Jeff spends his spare time coaching his boys in various sports.