One of the best plays made on the infield in recent seasons came this past Friday night to close out the Hickory Crawdads 3-2 over the Greensboro Grasshoppers.
With a speedy runner Mason Davis on second and two outs, Greensboro’s Arturo Rodriguez hit a sharp roller in the 5-6 hole. Shortstop Michael De Leon ranged far to his right and made a full-extension dive to stop the grounder, which kept the ball on the infield and forced Davis to stop at third.
“I knew the ground ball was hit hard,” said De Leon when asked if he was surprised to even get to the ball. “So I tried to knock it down because of the situation: runner at second and two outs.”
Not content with simply keeping the run from scoring, De Leon leapt to his feet and from about 120 feet away fired a one-hopper to first where Tripp Martin scooped the short-hop to secure the out and the win.
For his part, the 18-year-old De Leon – the second-youngest player in the South Atlantic League – knew that with the slow-footed Rodriguez at the plate, he would likely have time to make a play at first on any ground ball.
“I just knew the situation of the game,” said De Leon. “The game was close in the ninth inning. I knew who was hitting and running. For me, it was a critical play and because I knew who was running I took the ball and threw it to first.”
At the other end of the play, Martin showed sure hands on the short-hop pick.
“He made a huge dive into the hole, got up and saw that the runner wasn’t quick down the line,” said Martin. “He made a good throw and it was right to me and I was able to pick him up at the end with a quick pick at first.”
Said De Leon of the pick, “I say thank you, because me and him had to work together to make the play.”
Martin’s part of the play was even more incredible considering it was only his third game at the position… ever.
“(Thursday) was my first time there after Guzie (Ronald Guzman) was sent to High Desert. I played first a little bit in spring training and at instructs last year, but I’m still new to the position.”
New, or not, the Samford University product has already learned to expect De Leon to make plays and to be ready with a bullet from second.
“I was always ready for it,” said Martin when asked if he even expected a throw. “I knew we had a chance with the runner that we had at the plate, so it was a great play by De Leon to come up firing.”