Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sealing the Leake

I once said "I like Ike," so I can also find an appropriate reason to say "I like Mike." That's Mike Leake, a former baseball standout at Arizona State University, in the role of a righthanded pitcher, as well as an infielder/outfielder who is also on the list of the great up and coming ballplayers that I recorded images of with my own cameras over the course of the last few years.

For Mike Leake, being selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the first round of the 2009 amatuer player draft as a pitcher, then going to the 2009 Arizona Fall League and working out with the Reds during 2010 Cactus League Spring Training as a non-roster invitee worked out much better than most had anticipated.

It would earn him a spot on the Reds 25 man roster as the fifth starting pitcher for the Reds, beating out Travis Wood and another highly regarded pitching prospect in Aroldis Chapman, as well as becoming another of many players to make the big league roster without having to play a day in the minor leagues.

I waited quite a while for a chance to watch Leake in action during the regular season and finally got the chance on May 20, 2010, when his Cincinnati Reds were broadcast on Major League Baseball Network for the "Thursday Matinee" game, when the Reds took on the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field in Atlanta that afternoon.

Mike and his team broke out with an 8-0 lead over the Braves by the 2nd inning and he would even help himself out going 2 for 3 at the plate, though not driving in any runs. On the mound, Mike would pitch 6 innings, allowing 5 hits, 1 base on balls and striking out 6 batters.

Despite Mike's good performance, he and the Reds were not able to hold onto their big lead and would lose to the Braves in dramatic fashion in the bottom of the ninth inning. Reds leftfielder Laynce Nix, who had hit a home run to pad his teams lead in the top of the fifth inning, had a high fly ball hit by Brave's pinch-hitter Brooks Conrad bounce off his glove to clear the fence for the game winning grand slam home run. Oddly enough, Reds first baseman Joey Votto also hit a grand slam home run, in the top of the second inning. You don't see two in one game very often these days.

Mike Leake, despite the disappointing loss for his team, was able to show playing prowess in many areas that day, to include at bat and in the field, often looking a lot like the good infielder he was when I saw him during his playing days at Arizona State University. For the Reds he wears jersey number 44, a number more common in baseball with big hitters, Hank Aaron and Reggie (Mr. October) Jackson just to name a few.

With Stephen Strasburg continuing to do well in Triple-A ball in the Washington Nationals organization, as well as Mike's former ASU teammate Ike Davis with the New York Mets, Jason Heyward with the Atlanta Braves, and recently Starlin Castro with the Chicago Cubs, I meant what I said when I mentioned the fact that the race for the NL Rookie of the Year award will be a tight one this season, just like what's expected of the races for playoff spots and division tiles can be.

My hat's off to all the up and coming young players who are on the verge of making good names for themselves and our national pastime. It's going to be an interesting 2010 season in that regard and hopefully, many others. It's still early in the 2010 Major League Baseball season. The best is yet to come.

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