POCATELLO — After it was determined there would be American Legion baseball this year, Payton Cleaves came back to the Pocatello Runnin’ Rebels after his freshman year at Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, Oregon, where he was a pitcher-only.
Though Cleaves’ arm talents are considerable, he’s no slouch at the plate either. Cleaves designation as a pitcher-only at Treasure Valley cut out his at bats completely.
Articulate and business-like – perhaps a result of the college seasoning he got at TVCC – Cleaves’ description of how it felt to get at bats once again with the Runnin’ Rebels was, pardon the baseball pun, out of left field.
“Oh man, it felt stupid good,” Cleaves said, maintaining a placidly straight face.
Though Runnin’ Rebels manager Nick Sorrell probably wouldn’t use the description, “stupid good” is one way to describe Cleaves’ success at the plate this summer.
Not only has he been putting barrel to baseball far better than one would expect from a college pitcher, Cleaves’ success at the plate (he’s hitting nearly .400 in his last four games) has led Sorrell to park Cleaves in the critical lead-off spot for the Runnin’ Rebels.
Though Cleaves, who has been active on the baseball diamond since the tender age of 3, says he looks up to and admires Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, his plate discipline and aptitude for getting on base from the lead-off spot is more reminiscent of Ortiz’s fellow 2000s baseball luminary Ichiro. Cleaves cites a zen-like mindset, also reminiscent of Ichiro, as a key factor in his success.
“When I first go out there, being calm and having a calm and focused mindset is crucial,” Cleaves said. “Even when you don’t get a hit or get on base, it sets the tone for the rest of the game and for the rest of the team.”
As a senior member of the Runnin’ Rebels, many of whom he’s played baseball with for the majority of his life, Cleaves is honored to provide that calming presence to his teammates and lead them by example. Being a seemingly perpetual fixture on first base for the heart of the order to knock home certainly doesn’t hurt either.
Though his high school days are behind him, Cleaves is grateful for the opportunity to come back to Legion baseball even after he’s already dipped his toe in the college baseball waters.
He’s also “stupid” happy to be swinging a bat again.
“It’s great,” Cleaves said. “I’m so thankful I was able to come back [to the Runnin’ Rebels] and hit.”
Cleaves and the rest of the Runnin’ Rebels took game one of a doubleheader over the Twin Falls Cowboys by a 4-1 score Wednesday night at Halliwell Park. Playing shortstop, Cleaves turned two double plays, tallied one hit and knocked in a run. Trei Hough got the win, pitching a complete-game four-hitter with five strikeouts.
As of press time, the second game was tied 2-2 in the bottom of the fourth inning.
POCATELLO RUNNIN’ REBELS 4, TWIN FALLS COWBOYS 1
Twin Falls 000 001 0 — 1 4 1
Pocatello 021 001 x — 4 6 2
Pocatello — WP: Trei Hough. 2B: Seth Nate, Braxton Wilhelm.