Before Mike Leake, I was nothing more than a casual baseball fan. I sat at home keeping score while watching RedsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ games, and yes, I pored over the box scores every sweltering summer morning. But that was always a product of my nerdiness not a true neurosis over the game.
Before Mike Leake, I lamented for the days of Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn while latching onto Bronson Arroyo and Brandon Phillips to fill the void. I never paid any attention to prospect boards or minor leaguers. They were problems for future me. My only forays into Ã¢â‚¬Å“advanced scoutingÃ¢â‚¬Â were replies left on comment boards that Jay Bruce struck out too much to be a solid everyday player for the Reds (I was wrong) and that Homer Bailey was overhyped and lacked a secondary pitch (0 for 2).
But thanks to a wiry, pit bull of a pitcher from Arizona State University by name of Michael Raymond Leake, I became the neurotic, often psychotic, baseball fan I am today.
Mike Leake had just completed a staggering junior campaign for the Sun DevilsÃ¢â‚¬â€16-1 with a 1.71 ERA. But there were few indications that Leake would leapfrog the Minor Leagues eight months later, nor that he would match the RedsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ franchise record for most starts to begin a career without recording a loss (10). Yet to this day, I still remember sitting in a Buffalo Wild Wings with my dad and falling in love with the shaggy-haired, short righty from the West Coast.
Mike Leake quickly nestled under Bronson ArroyoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s wing to learn the dark arts of a soft-tossing righty. But from the get-go, Leake ignored the vestments of ArroyoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s craft. Instead of success by deception, Leake attacked the strike zone and never shied away from his fastball.
Mike Leake was a bulldog from day one. A man with an axe to grind but wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t satisfied until he could shave with it.
More than anything else, I loved Mike Leake because he never gave up on hitting. While I reveled in Johnny CuetoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s exploits from the mound, I always looked away when he came to bat because there was just no comfort there. Mike Leake made the batterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s box his home. Following in the footsteps of Micah Owings and Arroyo, Leake wore the mantle of starter who could outhit the bench.
As he got older, Leake shaved the long, shaggy hair, opting instead for a faux-hawk and a goatee. Gradually, his game acquired a certain business-like professionalism that only the veteran players understand.
In May, I was able to see Leake pitch against the Cardinals at Busch. He took the loss after spinning an 8.0 inning gem in front of no offense. A preview of what would be LeakeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s final start, I had no thoughts of the end, his end as a Red, that day. Instead, I focused on how MikeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s new look aged him, constantly reminding me that he was the first RedsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ player whose entire career I had followed. He was the first prospect who had piqued my interest because he was so different.
Mike Leake has defied every expectation: the rookie who didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t need seasoning, the pitcher who traded his wet noodle for a stick of lumber, the interviewee who answered reporters questions without clichÃƒÂ©s, the small righty who didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t need the traditional soft-tossing gimmicks to just outpitch everyone.
After Johnny BeisbolÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s departure, Grant Freking wrote here that Johnny was Hope, the shining beacon on an otherwise completely dysfunctional team. Mike Leake was never Hope, but he was something else. Mike Leake has provided the Character for this team. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s has been both the model of consistency and the element of surprise. Mike Leake was the Diet Bronson Arroyo who may have been better than the original. He was the one, who even during times of tribulation, always knew that “Reds Stadium”Ã‚Â was home.