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.”