Leindecker's heroics on par with all of East Lyme's Maroon Five
Middletown – The week had been brought to us by the number 26, the number that belies the abundant tradition of baseball at East Lyme High. It had been 26 years since the Vikings last played for the state baseball championship. And yet the names from lore and legend are no less significant now.
Dennis Long. Jesse Long. Pete Walker. John McDonald. Todd Donovan.
The all-time Maroon Five.
Funny thing, though: Not even their estimable careers and resumes feature anything close to resembling what this young guy, C.J. Leindecker, accomplished in the state tournament of 2015.
Leindecker, a senior right-hander, was magnificent. And every synonym thereof. He saved two games. He won two games. And he pitched four innings of one-hit relief Saturday night. Another hit here or there and he'd have been the winning pitcher in the state championship game, completing a 5-for-5 masterpiece.
The Vikings, who honored all the Vikings who wore the uniform before them with their chutzpah, fell 3-2 in the title game Saturday night at raucous Palmer Field. Even the result – a gutbuster – can't cheapen the effort of young Mr. Leindecker.
"It's amazing what he did," East Lyme coach Jack Biggs said. "Big game pitcher. He locked it down for us all tournament."
Leindecker, who pitched seven innings Wednesday, wanted to start Saturday's game. He tried to talk Biggs into it. Biggs, who would like Leindecker to stay healthy beyond his time in high school, kept him in the bullpen. Leindecker entered in the fourth with the Vikings down 3-1.
"I lost my voice," Leindecker said after the game, alluding to the emotions of the night.
This was C.J. Leindecker's final sporting act at East Lyme. He graduates later this month and furthers his baseball education at the best place to do so: UConn-Avery Point. This proves, once again, that the great Roger Bidwell knows a good player when he sees one.
"He's got a good arm and he's got talent," Bidwell said. "He's been overlooked because he's not a big kid. Scholarship programs want those 6-2, 200-pounders. For a non-scholarship program like ours, we have to identify kids like C.J. They fit our profile."
Which is to say this: Avery Point players are 1) good; and 2) not prone to bouts of unnecessary emotion. And Leindecker does calmness from habit, not reaction. In the semifinals, teammate Matt Spang made an error in the bottom of the seventh with the Vikings protecting a one-run lead.
"I knew Matt would get the next one," he said. "I don't like to show emotions. It just affects the team negatively. I try to stay as positive as I can. I've played on teams with kids who were like that and it just brings the whole team down."
Leindecker might already be the favorite kid Bidwell has never coached. (Yet).
"His presence jumped out at me," Bidwell said. "He's a little more mature than most guys his age. On the mound, you can't be emotional. Umpires miss pitches, teammates boot ground balls. If you're emotional, you won't survive. He's very much under control."
Fitting, too, that Leindecker personified the image of his team. The Vikings went through a state tournament watching and reading about Division I players. They even beat one in the semifinals. Meanwhile, Biggs had a bunch of nice kids who played hard and play for each other and came within a hit or two of the hardware.
"I don't have any Division I guys here," he said. "Just a bunch of kids who battle for each other."
Biggs should have said he doesn't have any Division I players ... yet. Don't bet against Leindecker. The coaches who judge him for his size will be the coaches watching Leindecker get their hitters out. If he listens to Bidwell, pitching coach Jeff Clark and inhales the aura of one of the best junior college programs in the country, the prediction here is that Leindecker will be playing baseball and getting paid to do so one day.
"He's going to get his chance to pitch," Bidwell said. "There's a real opportunity."
And it was a real privilege to watch him this postseason.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.