The lineage carried down to Leone, now of the Seattle Mariners
New York - It's getting to where we have lineage. Honest baseball lineage: John McDonald begets Rajai Davis. Who begets Andrew Carignan. Who begets Matt Harvey. Who begets Eric Campbell. Who begets Dominic Leone. Who begets Jesse Hahn.
Our corner of the world.
Here it was another big league ballpark Monday night. Yankee Stadium. And we were in the house. Again. Our little hamlets, so often dismissed as an annex of Rhode Island by all those urbane dwellers of other Connecticut precincts, developed another major leaguer, this time Leone, the former Norwich Free Academy whiz kid of the miniscule earned run average for the Seattle Mariners.
Leone and the Mariners came to the Cathedral for a makeup game from an April rainout, part of that old Seattle-to-New York-to-Atlanta-to-Tampa itinerary. Leone, 22, might have been the happiest guy in the Bronx.
"Dream come true," he was saying. "All the clichés you can think of. Luckily, we have a lot of good guys, a lot of welcoming guys. There wasn't a lot of intimidation coming in."
Not that it would have bothered him. His baseball education prepared him too well. His baseball education: growing up at the NFA baseball camp. In the same neighborhood as Carignan and Campbell. Around NFA coaches John Iovino and Duke Campbell. Watching Johnny Mac and Rajai and Matt Harvey and Hahn.
"I never let thoughts of doubt get in my head that I was going to be almost 'stuck' in the northeast," Leone was saying, now that he's happily 'stuck' in the northwest. "Like you can't get out. And then watching Campbell, Carignan and Harvey move out and do their own thing, that motivated me. You can do it. They do recognize the talent up there. Why can't I be next?"
He was next, officially, on April 6, 2014, in Oakland, ironically where Carignan spent some time as well. His first win came May 22 against Houston. He is pitching to a 1.52 earned run average from the bullpen, third among rookie relievers in the American League with 26 strikeouts. He's stranded 91 percent of inherited runners.
And yet there's still all the innocence that comes with being a 22-year-old living your dream.
"My debut in Oakland it was like, holy moley, this is it right here. Boom," Leone said. "I had a decent outing. I think that kickstarted everything. … When I faced Prince Fielder for the first time, I thought, 'I was watching that guy on SportsCenter two days ago.' (Facing) Jeter would be one where you almost want to step back, tip your hat at him and go."
Leone attended Clemson and was Seattle's 16th-round selection in the 2012 draft. His path to the bigs included forays in places called Everett, Clinton, High Desert and Jackson. He's lived a life that's been busier than Times Square already.
"I don't think there was ever a doubt that he wanted to be a Major League Baseball player," Iovino, who attended Monday night's game, said. "He always had the makeup. If you listen to him, he sounds like a veteran already. I'd make him a cross between Andrew, who is more in your face, and Eric, who is more laid back."
Iovino, already the proud father of Kory, who was a member of NFA's 2003 state championship team, has so many more honorary sons. Maybe this is the reward for all those things coaches endure: endless days of tossing batting practice, bus rides, parental sniveling. The reward is when you read things like this:
"I.O. is a big part in my baseball career," Leone said of Iovino. "Growing up, I went to his camps. He looked out for me. He would be tough on me because I think he knew what I could be. When he (retired) after my sophomore year, it was tough. I was like, 'oh, my God this is like my baseball mentor.'
"But what he left with me was 'today is today and tomorrow is tomorrow.' It's something to clear my head, especially when times get rough. He still preaches it today when I talk to him. It's a nice reminder of where I came from, what I've learned and paying respect to someone who's meant a lot to my baseball career."
Dominic Leone. Another example that we're becoming a story in baseball. There was even some press room chatter before the game about this little corner of the world, that triangle from East Lyme to Norwich to Mystic that's raining pros.
"A lot good guys," Leone said. "I'm not surprised by it because we all saw it. A lot of people around the country don't realize that area can be a well for better baseball players."
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.
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