Last weekend, Saint Martin’s University held its annual alumni baseball games on its campus in Lacey, Washington. The University’s current roster of players hosted a team comprised of alumni for a pair of seven-inning games. This year, the game featured the Saint Martin’s baseball program’s most well-known Saint, Justin Leone. Leone made the highlight reel when, with a wood bat, he clobbered a homerun beyond the cavernous left-field alley, over the fence for the only homerun of the day, and one of the few hits notched by the alumni team.
Mariner fans may remember Leone from his run with the team in the summer of 2004.
Leone was drafted by the Mariners in the 13th round of the 1999 amateur draft after attending Saint Martin’s College (now University). He worked his way through the Mariner farm system, playing in Everett, Wisconsin, San Bernardino, San Antonio, and Tacoma as an infielder, predominantly at third base. In the minor leagues, Leone consistently posted promising offensive numbers that indicated he’d someday appear at the MLB level.
In 2003 Leone earned recognition for his play with AA San Antonio. In 135 games, he hit a .288 AVG, with a .405 OBP, 21 HRs, and a .541 SLG. His effort earned him the title Texas League Player of the Year, as determined by Baseball America. He was also selected as the Texas League Player of the Year by Topps. Finally, the Mariners named him their Minor League Player of the Year as well. Seemingly, he was on the verge of joining the big club.
He began the 2004 campaign with the AAA Tacoma Rainiers, but was promoted to the Mariners when Miguel Olivo was sent to the disabled list with kidney stone issues. On July 2, Leone made his major league debut in Saint Louis, pinch hitting in the top of the third inning for Jamie Moyer against Woody Williams. Two days later, he made his first start at shortstop. Then, from July 8 through August 17, he served as the regular third basemen, as Scott Spiezio moved across the diamond to play first base. But unfortunately, on August 17, against the Royals, Leone was hit by a Matt Kinney pitch, and was forced to leave the game prior to his next at-bat. X-rays taken that night revealed broken bones in his left hand. Leone was placed on the disabled list, and never appeared in another game in a Mariner uniform.
He spent the 2005 season with the Rainiers, and in October of that year was granted free agency. In 2006, he was in the Padres system, and appeared in one game at the big-league level. It was Leone’s last appearance in an MLB game. Since then, he spent time in the Giants, Yankees, and Rangers systems before being granted his free agency again at the conclusion of the 2009 season.
For his career, in 32 games, Leone hit .214, with 6 HRs (including a bomb off Cliff Lee), 13 RBI, and an OPS of .733. And, while his big-league career may very well be over, he will undoubtedly be welcomed at every future Saint Martin’s University alumni game to have fun and share his experience and knowledge of the game with players at his alma mater.