By Dan McGrath
After losing the entire 2020 season to COVID issues, the Leo High School baseball team has embarked on a thorough rebuilding program as it takes to the field for the 2021 campaign.
The Lions are hoping to emulate the success the Chicago Cubs had with a rebuilding plan that produced a World Series title in 2016, or the Chicago White Sox with a rebuild that has transformed them into American League contenders this season.
Rebuilding usually means going young, and the Lions are doing that with a roster that includes no seniors. Evan Hill and P.J. Brown are experienced, multi-position juniors whose leadership and versatility provide Coach Mike Anderson with a strong nucleus for a team otherwise consisting of freshmen and sophomores.
Obviously there’s risk involved with such heavy dependence on youth. But sophomores Matthew Hernandez, Esai Jacinto, Kyrent Cole, Jacob Douglas and Nate Sims and freshmen Shawn Phillips and Lalo Santana all come from high-level youth leagues. It will take them a while to adjust to the game at the high school level, but they know how to play baseball, which gives them an advantage over the woefully inexperienced teams Leo has fielded in recent years.
Despite a 1-2 record, early results have been encouraging. The Lions pounded out 15 hits in a season-opening, come-from-behind 11-9 win at Lindblom, with Hill slugging a home run and two triples. Those bats went silent in a 4-1 loss at TF South two days later, and a 13-3 loss at perennial Public League contender Brooks on Saturday, April 17 looks worse than it was.
Leo spotted Brooks a big early lead with two shaky innings, but settled down, cleaned things up and blanked the hosts the rest of the way.
The Tuesday, April 20 game at Thornwood was a weather casualty and will be made up later in the season. Next up for the Lions is their home opener: 10 a.m. Saturday, April 24 vs. Westmont at Chicago State University.
“The kids have been working really hard and have shown improvement every time we take the field,” Anderson said. “We’ve got some good young ballplayers who love the game. I think we’re going to surprise some people.”