Charleston's Leeds ready to play ball
Matt Leeds spent many games last season atop the press box at College of Charleston's Patriots Point Field.
Leeds' job during those games was to operate the camera that provided streaming video of the game for the Cougars' Web site.
"I always did a good job for the first couple of innings," said Leeds, a rising junior third baseman for the Cougars. "But then I'd start dazing off a little bit.
"Up there alone on the roof with the camera, that's not the kind of baseball I wanted to be a part of."
Leeds, who is currently playing for the Columbia Blowfish in the Coastal Plain League, is one of many Lowcountry college players scattered around the South playing summer baseball. The summer leagues offer players a chance to sharpen their skills and, in leagues like the CPL, gain experience with wood bats.
For Leeds, the summer amounts to a comeback season of sorts. The 6-0, 185-pounder had been slated to be College of Charleston's starting third baseman last season, until knee surgery during fall practice sidelined him for the season.
Cougars coach Monte Lee replaced him with Joey Bergman, who went on to bat .452, earn Southern Conference player of the year honors and get drafted in the 22nd round of the Major League Baseball draft by St. Louis.
"It's ironic, because Joey might have been playing (another position) if Leeds had been healthy," Lee said. "I'm not sure which one would have played third or been a designated hitter, but Matt definitely would have been a bat in the middle of our lineup."
Bergman's return next season — he's decided not to go pro, and will return for his senior season — and Leeds' return to good health should give Lee a head start on replacing nine seniors from last year's squad, including draftees Matt Mansilla, Brandon Sizemore and pitcher Jesse Simpson.
Leeds, who is from Boca Raton, Fla., showed what he could do as a Cougars freshman in 2008, hitting .300 with a homer and 13 RBIs in just 40 at-bats over 30 games. He hit .333 as a pinch-hitter, including a game-tying two-run homer in the ninth inning of game at UNC Greensboro.
But the left knee he injured as a high school senior started acting up again last fall, leading to microfracture surgery and his second lost season in three years.
"After I blew out my knee my senior year in high school, I had to sit out that season, too," he said. "That was tough, and I thought maybe the second time around it would be easier. But it really wasn't."
Leeds graduated from the same high school as former Cougars pitcher Danny Meszaros, and in fact injured his knee the day before Charleston coaches were slated to see him play.
"I was on crutches when they got here, and they never got to see me play," Leeds said. "But I guess my coach's word was good enough for them."
Leeds is making his current comeback with the Blowfish of the wood-bat Coastal Plain League, playing in the old Capital City Stadium in Columbia. He's leading the Blowfish with a .306 batting average, with two homers and 10 RBIs through 17 games.
"It's great here," he said. "We get pretty good crowds. About a week ago, we had all the soliders from Fort Jackson come out and there were more than 6,000 people at the game. We usually get more than 1,000 per game."
The Blowfish's roster also includes Citadel pitcher Drew Mahaffey, and pitcher Stew Brase and first basemen Nick Chinners and Derek Smith of Charleston Southern.
For Leeds, swinging a bat definitely beats working a camera.
"I play baseball," he said. "I don't want to film it."
Reach Jeff Hartsell at firstname.lastname@example.org