116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY – Nothing ever has come easy for Grant Leonard when it comes to college baseball. So why should that change now?
The story has been told repeatedly because it’s a great one. The relief pitcher was part of a team at a Division III school in the Chicago suburbs for a semester in 2015 until deciding he’d rather attend the University of Iowa.
He bugged and bugged Hawkeyes Coach Rick Heller just to get a tryout. Heller relented, Leonard made the team as a non-recruited player and went on to become one of the top closers around, an all-Big Ten Conference guy.
“He’s had an amazing career,” Heller said. “From day one to now, it has just been an incredible story. A great lesson for all kids out there that were told maybe they can’t do it, or they’re not good enough to do this or that. The amount of work that Grant has put in to get to where he is, and the quality teammate that he is and leader that he is, how he gives back and helps the young guys is just fantastic.”
That makes it difficult with the way this season has played out, at least to this point. Though it needs to be stressed there is hope and confidence for a great and appropriate ending here.
Leonard isn’t closing games for Iowa (19-13), which hosts Penn State (12-19) in a three-game series that begins Friday night at Banks Field. His relief role has been more scattered, with an inning here or there.
The right-hander’s effectiveness has taken a hit (an earned run average of 8.22 going into the weekend) with part of the reason being a drop in velocity. The cruel part there is the reason for the velocity decrease might – stress the word ‘might’ – be Leonard’s decision to come back for one more season, taking advantage of the NCAA’s rule to allow players who went through last season’s COVID-caused postponement one more year of eligibility.
Leonard graduated from Iowa last spring and had a finance job locked up in his native Chicago. When the NCAA ruling came down, he talked with his parents and ultimately determined his heart was in spending another season playing with his teammates.
“The real world is always going to be there,” he said. “I have the opportunity to play one more year of baseball at Iowa, which I love, so I could not with a clean conscious turn that down.”
But here’s the kicker. Since he wasn’t attending grad school, Leonard could not practice this past fall with Iowa, instead having to work out on his own at Diamond Dreams Sports Academy in North Liberty.
Yeah, he was still doing the things Iowa wanted him to do to prepare, but he didn’t play fall baseball, didn’t get in any exhibition games or intra-squad scrimmages. He was able to join the team second semester in January.
Did that somehow hurt him in the long run?
“I feel like Coach Heller and I had a really good plan in place to where I was able to get the most out of my workouts despite being away from the team,” Leonard said. “It’s no secret my velo isn’t where it has been. That thought has crossed my mind. Not being able to scrimmage and stuff in the fall could have hurt me. I guess I’ll never know. But I’m not concerned about velo. I’m more worried about getting guys out at this point.”
Leonard has tried to compensate by throwing more of a sinker, adding a changeup and trying to locate better.
It’s a work in progress, though everyone feels there is progress being made. Dylan Nedved has emerged as an effective closer, so Leonard isn’t being rushed into anything.
“I have total faith that Grant will get the job done when he is out there,” Heller said.
Leonard has 20 career saves, which is second all-time at Iowa. He needs just two to tie Kurt Belger for the school record.
It’d be very cool if somehow, someway he was able to get a couple of those before season’s end. Maybe more than a couple.
“My whole thought process every single practice or bullpen … is get that much better every day,” Leonard said. “I don’t worry about what happened this past weekend, I just worry about what I’m doing at that time. As long as I can throw a bullpen and feel happy with working on things I set on working out and getting better each day, then I’m pretty confident that coming around this time of year I’m going to be back to being Grant Leonard.
“Each day that goes by I’m getting one step closer to being that guy.”
Comments: (319)-398-8258, firstname.lastname@example.org