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Jake DeLeo’s ‘old school’ methods turned him into the player he is today

by Anish Vasudevan, 07-07-2022

Jake DeLeo’s ‘old school’ methods turned him into the player he is today

Jake DeLeo’s parents didn’t want him to scare the neighbors.

In the side of his family’s backyard, DeLeo would slip on 5-pound gloves, pick up a weighted bat and smack an old 18-wheeler tire. When DeLeo made contact, it sounded like a gunshot, and his parents asked him to stop before the sun set.

“Just hitting the tire every night, the bat felt lighter in my hands when I was at the plate the next day,” DeLeo said.

His nightly tire routine was one of the many “old school” training methods DeLeo used to develop his batting skills. He would even run hills at an old, abandoned school near his home, perfecting his base-running abilities. His dad, Stephen DeLeo, described him as a “throwback” player, one that fits perfectly with Chatham manager Tom Holliday. In his second season with the Anglers, he’s been one of their most consistent bats, hitting .250 and launching a team-leading three home runs.

DeLeo’s infatuation with baseball was instant. He would record New York Yankees games, avoiding ESPN updates to not ruin the experience for when he finally sat down. Most of the time, he missed live games because he was in the backyard, smacking at wiffle balls that were propelled from one of two pitching machines his parents bought from the toy store.

DeLeo sent the smaller balls out of the family’s yard with a plastic bat, forcing his parents to run into the street to collect them before he did it all over again.

“I always had a knack for having a bat in my hand,” DeLeo said.

Stephen said DeLeo always created a “different sound” when he hit the ball compared to other kids on his Little League teams. In middle school, DeLeo used a weighted bat with his training. He would swing at basketballs, which Stephen heaved at him since they were “the heaviest thing to hit.”

He would put on a weighted vest as well, heading out for a run almost every evening after finishing his homework. DeLeo ran track during his junior year of high school, but he preferred running on his own terms, sprinting up and down a big hill at the abandoned Nathan Hale schoolhouse.

DeLeo ran a 6.38 60-yard dash and threw up to 95 mph from the outfield by the end of his high school career at preparatory school Avon Old Farms. His “extraordinary measurables” caught the eye of AOF when they recruited him as a junior, said head coach Rob Dowling.

Despite his skills immediately transferring into the prep circuit with four hits in his first appearance and a home run in his first at-bat against Choate Rosemary Hall, DeLeo focused more on the non-obvious aspects of the game. DeLeo started to master situational hitting and became more informed about base-running and defense.

“Some guys of his ability would just dismiss that as beneath them,” Dowling said. “He was never content with the attention that he got, he wanted to get better.”

If athletes worked out before the 6:30 a.m. breakfast at Avon Old Farms, they could go into the dining hall without formal attire. DeLeo and a few of his teammates would work out as early as 5 a.m and show up in their sportswear, a work ethic that Dowling said was “magnetic.”

“We would usually be out of there before everyone else got there,” DeLeo said.

DeLeo’s morning workouts were programmed by Eric Cressey, who is now the Yankees Director of Player Health and Performance. He said Cressey’s programs were smart compared to the old school and new school approaches, implementing design and mobility goals rather than just lifting to be a bodybuilder. His speed continued to improve too, so when he went into a hitting slump in 2019, DeLeo would beat out ground balls to first base.

Still, DeLeo felt that he had tried to use as much strength as possible in each of his swings. With Georgia Tech hitting coach James Ramsey, DeLeo learned to be looser when holding the bat, focusing on “dancing with the pitcher” instead.

DeLeo hadn’t gone more than two days in his career without hitting, but after an oblique injury in February, he couldn’t swing for roughly four weeks. Instead, he stood in bullpens, tracking pitches and envisioning the powerful swing which he had perfected since as long as he could remember.