Los Altos High baseball player Leong overcomes concussion

Matt Leong
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Los Altos High junior Matt Leong stands at the plate against Leland in March.

By Pete Borello
Staff Writer/This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

It’s been more than four years since Matt Leong sustained a concussion that has altered his baseball career. A catcher since Little League, the Los Altos High junior last year was advised to switch positions to lower the risk of triggering his post-concussion syndrome.

“From age 10 or before, my passion was catching,” said Leong, injured during a backyard football game. “It was difficult (to give it up), but I was having head problems again and the doctor said the best thing to do was to stop catching.”

Moving from the infield to the outfield this year, Leong was off to a stellar start when the Eagles’ season came to a premature end because of the coronavirus pandemic. After six games, Leong had eight hits – including two doubles – along with six RBIs. His .615 batting average ranked second among the team’s starters.

“I was probably having the best start to a season in my career,” he said.

It was supposed to be Leong’s second season on varsity, but everything changed after that visit to the neurologist last year. Just days after making the team as a catcher, the sophomore broke the news to head coach Gabe Stewart.

“Catcher is the one spot on the baseball field where you don’t want to put a young man in that situation,” said Stewart, who acknowledged that he suffered a few concussions playing sports in his youth. “Even something inadvertent like a foul tip could put his future in jeopardy.”

They agreed that Leong would move down to junior varsity and learn a new position – second base. The transition went so well that Leong earned all-league honors at season’s end.

This year, Leong made another switch.

“The coach said he wanted my bat in the lineup, so I tried left field,” he said.

Stewart wasn’t surprised Leong made what he called a “seamless transition.”

“Matt is one to put in the work and do whatever is necessary to succeed,” Stewart said. “He has extreme mental toughness. There was not one shred of doubt that if the coaches asked him to do something, within reason, he would do it.”

While Leong misses catching – his idol is San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey – he is happy to still be playing what he described as “my favorite sport since I was 5 years old.”
Leong never expected that concussion to impact how he plays the game today. It occurred at a Super Bowl party during a friendly game of football.

“A bigger kid knocked him over – it was just an accident – and he hit his head on the ground,” mom Tracey Leong said.

At first, the seventh-grader thought he was OK.

“I didn’t have experience with head injuries – it was new to me – and I didn’t really feel anything. I thought it was normal, and I went on with my day,” he said. “The next day, I couldn’t think straight.”

A trip to the doctor revealed a concussion.

“I thought I was fine the next week or so, but it dragged on,” he said. “I missed five weeks of school.”

The headaches lessened over time but never went away completely. A year later, Leong contracted a virus that he said caused headaches that were “more painful than my concussion.” Doctors told him that his concussion made those headaches worse. He missed six more weeks of school.

The headaches eased over time, but there were days Leong had to miss Little League games and he stopped playing travel ball.

Now Leong is back playing the game all-out.

“The only thing that scares me is a ball to the head while hitting,” he said. “Otherwise, I still slide, layout for a ball and dive for it. I have no worries about that at all.”

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LA native Gampell having career year as season ends early

By Pete Borello
Staff Writer/This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Carson Gampell’s senior season on the Grinnell College baseball team was off to a better start than he ever expected. The Los Altos native was batting a team-best .593 after eight games and received conference and national recognition for his performance during the first week of March.

“I would be lying if I said it wasn’t the best stretch of my career – by far,” said Gampell, whose three homers and 13 RBIs also led the Pioneers.

But the first baseman will never know how long that stretch would have lasted. On March 11, Grinnell – a small, private liberal arts college in Iowa – canceled its spring sports season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Carson Gampell” width=
Jackie Lin/Special to the Town Crier
Carson Gampell keeps his eye on the ball. The Los Altos native led Grinnell College with a .593 batting average this season.

“That was a tough day for all of us,” said Gampell, a graduate of Menlo School, “but it was 100 percent the right decision.”

It overshadowed two pieces of positive news Gampell received that week. A day earlier, he was named the Midwest Conference Player of Week for the first time. And two hours after learning that not only was the season canceled but all classes would go online, he was honored by D3baseball.com. The website, which covers NCAA Division III baseball, selected him as the first baseman on its Team of the Week.

“It was a wave of emotions,” Gampell said of his roller coaster of a week. “Bittersweet is the best way to put it. It was great to get the league and DIII honors, but it also may have been the last time I play baseball competitively.”

If it was, Gampell went out with a bang. He went 4-for-4 with two homers and five RBIs in the Pioneers’ March 8 finale, a 14-11 win at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

“That was one of the best offensive games of my life,” Gampell said. “I don’t think I had ever hit two homers in a game before.”

The effort capped a stellar series for Gampell, who batted a sizzling .769 over the four games.

“That last weekend was the best of my life,” he said. “I was confident at the plate – and the ball looked so big – and I just tried to stay locked in.”

Along with his impressive batting stats (10-for-13 with three homers, a double and eight RBIs), Gampell was flawless from the field (no errors among his 19 chances) in the series.

But more importantly for the two-time team captain, the Pioneers won three of the games to improve to 5-3.

“We were playing well, battled back and showed grit,” Gampell said. “We have never made it to the DIII tournament – the conference tournament winner goes – and we were thinking we could do that this year. We were looking forward to that.”
As was Grinnell head coach Tim Hollibaugh, also excited by the way Gampell and company were playing as they headed into their conference slate.

“He is just a tremendous person that we will all miss, along with his eight other senior teammates,” Hollibaugh, said. “You can’t replace experience in athletics, and this group was special.”

Last year wasn’t so special for Gampell, though, as injuries limited him to just 11 games. He focused on getting stronger in the offseason, and it paid off.

“When you’re strong, you don’t have to do as much at the plate,” Gampell said. “Just put the bat on the ball and let the power do the rest.”

This was the kind of player Hollibaugh always hoped the 6-foot-4 Gampell would turn out to be.

“To see him at full strength truly demonstrated his full potential,” the coach said. “The numbers he was putting up were crazy, and it would have been fun to see this play out with a full year.”

While the pandemic has prompted the NCAA to grant seniors in spring sports another year of eligibility, Gampell said he won’t be back at Grinnell if he decides to play again. On track to graduate with a double major in economics and math, Gampell plans to attend grad school in the fall (Grinnell does not have a graduate program).

“It would be awesome to play another year somewhere, but I’m not banking on it,” he said. “The door’s slightly ajar – it’s not slammed shut.”

If that door does shut, Gampell’s last season will be one he will remember for closing too soon.

“To get it taken away like that was really tough,” he said. “For me, the biggest thing was not knowing that stepping off the field that Sunday was going to be it.”

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Eagles end with a win

Matt Leong” width=
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Los Altos High’s Matt Leong, above, slides safely into home plate last week against Leland.

It’s too soon to tell if the Los Altos High baseball team will play another game this year. But if public concern about coronavirus does wipe out the rest of the season, the Eagles can at least take some solace in knowing they ended on a winning streak.

In its final game before school closed, host Los Altos routed Leland 12-4 Thursday for its fourth win in a row.

Baum returns to Florida to take part in Girls Baseball Breakthrough Series

Courtesy of MLB
Jamie Baum takes part in a pitching drill at last month’s Girls Breakthrough Baseball Series in Vero Beach, Fla.

Jamie Baum took a break from basketball last month to participate in the other sport she loves to play – baseball.

The rising junior at Los Altos High was invited to Florida to take part in Major League Baseball’s Girls Baseball Breakthrough Series.

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