Every team needs a leader, and the American Legion Manhattan Manko junior 17ers seem to have one in third baseman Isaac Leon.
Leon, who will be a junior at Manhattan High this fall, is in his second year with the summer team that opened play today in Salina’s 23rd Annual Kansas Grand Slam Wood Bat Tournament.
“Since last year, he’s taken on a great leadership role and he’s always wanting to get better,” 17ers head coach Dan Rumsey said. “I think that shows well for him and his character, and it shows the younger guys how to get things done on the baseball field.
“He’s always wanting to come out and practice, take a few more ground balls and a few more hacks in the cage.”
Leon is hitting .391 this summer — the fourth-best average on the team — and is second in hits and RBIs with 18 and 12, respectively. He’s moved up to the three-spot in the lineup this summer, and on the mound he’s struck out 18 batters out of the bullpen.
“He’s pitching and hitting just as well,” Rumsey said. “Last year, we had him hit sixth or seventh, so he’s seeing better pitches now and he’s adjusting to having to lay off curve balls. But he’s doing a better job at taking what the pitcher gives him.”
Leon said even though the 17ers are struggling this summer, there is improvement still being made.
“We’re a young team and we struggle, but we work with it and make the best of whatever we can,” he said.
Personally, Leon said he’s tried to work on facets of his game.
“Fielding has been my biggest strength,” he said. “It’s all about repetition, so it’s just been a building process.
“Pitching — last year I had a lot of problems leaving the ball up, but this year I’m doing better keeping the ball down.
“With hitting, there’s still some mechanics I need to work on, like dropping my back hand — I’ve been popping up a little bit — but it’s still been a good year hitting.”
Leon, who comes from from a family of New York Yankees fans and admires the Yanks’ second baseman Robinson Cano, hopes to keep playing baseball after high school.
“It’s something I would think about playing in college if I have the chance to,” he said.
The 17ers kicked off the 23rd Annual Kansas Grand Slam Wood Bat Tournament in Salina on today .
Rumsey felt good about his team’s preparation after Wednesday’s practice
“We’re real confident,” he said. “Wood bats will even out the playing field a little bit and I think we’ve had enough experience with the wood bats that we’ll do alright and hold our own.
“In the last two years, this is the time we’ve played our best baseball. We’ve been together for a month, we have our pitching staff figured out and we have our lineups figured out. Starters have emerged and role players have emerged, so we’re real excited to get this thing going.”
The tournament began today at 11 a.m. and goes through Sunday. Teams from Salina, Wichita and Topeka will compete and the top three in each pool will advance.
Manhattan plays was also set to play tonight at 6 against the Topeka Scrappers.
Rumsey said taking advantage of opportunities is going to be key this weekend.
“It’s going to be all about making plays on offense and defense,” he said. “The team that has the least amount of mistakes is usually going to win the tournament, combined with great pitching. I’ve very confident in our pitching staff.
“If we can put pressure on the other team’s defense, I think we have a good chance of doing something special.”