Gwinnett Braves third baseman Joe Leonard stands ready at third base during a game this season. Leonard leads the International League in defensive fielding percentage at his position. (Gwinnett Braves/Chris Roughgarden)
LAWRENCEVILLE — This is a story of the exception.
It doesn’t prove anything. Well, it shows that every person, every baseball player, can slip, show weakness, have a bad day. Or in this case, a few.
Joe Leonard, entering Saturday, started 91 games at third base for the Gwinnett Braves. Seemingly every day he trotted out there and every day he stood there was a black hole for balls hit his way.
In his first 86 games, 247 balls were hit Leonard’s way where a play was expected. 246 of those times, he delivered. His only error in those games came in his fourth game against the Charlotte Knights on April 7. For the next, four months to the day, he didn’t commit another fielding error.
“He’s been so dang dependable,” manager Randy Ready said. “He’s spoiled us all year long.”
And this isn’t his first time doing this. With Class AA Mississippi, Leonard committed just 11 errors on the season and earned the Gold Glove Award for all of minor league baseball at his position.
The Pennsylvania native plays third with as sure hands as any player.
But Thursday, something happened. His human side showed. Leonard was charged with two errors in a home game with Durham. The next night, some tough luck earned him three more.
“Uncharacteristic” Ready said. “Everyone is in shock. I said it last night, even in the game report (sent to the Atlanta Braves), I said Joe misplayed a routine ground ball and I haven’t said it all year.”
In the stretch, he committed five errors on seven balls hit his way. He made his final two plays Friday night including a stabbing grab and throw on ball blasted down the line. In the stretch, his fielding percentage dipped from .996 to .977 at third base. In 10 games at first, for the record, he hasn’t made an error.
That’s what makes those two games so interesting, or at least noteworthy. It was something happening that simply doesn’t happen when Leonard’s one the field. And it’s not more telling than this, after five errors in two games on nine balls hit his way, Leonard still leads the all International League third baseman in defense and fielding percentage.
“You go through it,” Ready said. “He’s spoiled us all year long, making one error at third base up until four days ago that’s unheard of at any level.”