Leone staying positive and hoping for a chance with Indians
When Dominic Leone first arrived at Cleveland's spring training complex earlier this year, he spotted a familiar face.
Leone, a 2009 Norwich Free Academy graduate, was greeted by John McDonald, an East Lyme native now serving as a field coordinator for the Indians organization.
Their conversation in Arizona helped break the ice for Leone, who signed a minor league contract and received an invitation to spring training.
"We've actually kept in touch over the years," Leone said. "His late father was an umpire in Norwich Little League and high school. I've had that little connection with him. The first day I got to spring training, Johnny came right up to me."
Cleveland is the fifth and latest stop for Leone, a veteran right-handed reliever whose fight to earn a spot in the bullpen is temporarily on hold due to the coronavirus shutdown.
Leone, 28, is at home in Charleston, S.C., working out and waiting for word about the Major League Baseball season.
He's hopeful that play will resume this season.
"I wish I had more information," Leone said. "It's up to these proposals going back and forth between the union and Major League Baseball. I would hope there is something. I think fans need it, players want it and owners need it.
"It's an odd world without sports."
Leone, who played college baseball at Clemson, plans on being ready for whenever that day comes.
Either he's mastered the art of good timing or caught a sneak peek of the future in his crystal baseball because he put in a home gym last year, so he's been able to maintain a healthy workout routine.
"It worked out perfectly," Leone said. "I didn't need to scramble and find a place, especially with gyms being closed. I've been able to stay in workout mode. That's going to be an advantage, if we get things rolling again, for guys that kept as normal a routine as possible."
Throwing has been the biggest challenge, according to Leone.
At first, Leone threw into a net in his backyard. After a 14-day quarantine period, he eventually hooked up with some minor league players in the Charleston area. They took all the necessary safety precautions.
"Once we all felt we were in a good place, we all met up and started to play some catch," Leone said.
Leone has grown accustomed to dealing with adversity during his professional baseball career. He's battled through injuries and demotions to the minor leagues.
Since being drafted in the 16th round by Seattle in 2012, Leone has built a respectable resume while appearing in 229 career games — all as a reliever — for a combined five different teams.
In his best pro season, he went 3-0 with a 2.56 earned run average and one save with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2017, setting career highs for games (65) and innings (70.1).
After being traded to St. Louis in 2018, Leone had two inconsistent seasons with the Cardinals, who released him in late November after going 1-0 with a 5.53 earned run average in 40 games in 2019.
"It's never fun getting fired," he said. "It's tough to talk about, really. I have a lot of pride in the work that I put in and the loyalty that I give to the teams that I'm with. I felt a lot of that stuff came quickly. Not that I wasn't expecting it or seeing the writing on the wall.
"I had a great time there despite the struggles. ... I just think that my time there ran its course."
Cleveland gave him new life by signing him in January.
A Red Sox fan growing up, Leone was thrilled to get a shot to work under manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Carl Willis, two people that he has enormous respect for. He heard great things about the Indians from some former teammates that played for the organization.
"I felt very comfortable and it was a good landing spot," Leone said. "They were very up front and honest."
Leone felt good about his mechanics, physical health and mental approach during spring training before it ended.
He believes he put himself in a decent position to make the major league team.
"I felt really good," Leone said. "My first couple of outings may not show it. Physically, I felt good. I think that's more important nowadays than striking out three guys in an inning and putting up all zeros.
"... I felt I put myself in a good spot. I trust my ability and have confidence in what I can do."
What's next for Leone, who was assigned to the Class AAA Columbus Clippers in March, is uncertain.
He's in a holding pattern like every other professional baseball player.
"It's such foreign territory for everybody," Leone said. "I know there's talk of expanded rosters. I think they will have to do that."
For now, he'll continue to enjoy a rare spring at home.
Leone is grateful he has a supportive life teammate in wife, Lauren, to ride out these stormy times. She's been his No. 1 fan during his journey.
"She's a rock star," Leone said. "It's not an easy life for us (as players) and not an easy life for them."
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