On a cool March afternoon, Danny Gleaves is right in his element. Standing on third base, the St. Rita junior catches the signal from his coach and makes a furious dash for the plate that finishes a sharply-executed double steal.
Gleaves’ natural movement is stuck on fast forward; it is the only tempo he is capable of performing. “He’s just got insane speed,” St. Rita coach Mike Zunica said.
Gleaves is the catalyst for a Mustangs’ attack based on speed and relentlessness on the base paths. Last year, Gleaves set a St. Rita record by hitting .519 (41-of-79) in the leadoff spot for the Class 4A state runner-ups.
Gleaves scored 47 runs and drove in 17 as the Mustangs finished 37-5, a single-season record during Zunica’s highly successful 18-year run. Gleaves optimizes his plate appearances by leading off.
“It’s fun,” he said. “You’re the first guy to see every pitcher.”
His speed and ability to get on base puts pressure on the other team, according to his coach. “He’s tough at the plate and he gets in there and he takes his hacks,” Zunica said. “With that insane speed along with his ability to swing it he gets a lot of infield hits and a lot of line drives, when you total them up, he’s tough to get out.”
His moxie, toughness and athleticism perfectly embodies the aggressive style of play Zunica preaches. The Mustangs are 10-0 and ranked No. 6 nationally by MaxPreps. “Coach Zunica really preaches being aggressive,” Gleaves said. “If we end up making a mistake, we want to make that being aggressive and not passive.”
In the first 10 games, Gleaves is hitting .400, with three doubles, a triple and has driven in seven runs and scored 20 runs. He has 8-for-8 on stolen base attempts and has a gaudy .594 on-base percentage.
A natural hitter with superb hand-eye coordination and good bat speed, Gleaves also has ideal size at 6-1 and 185 pounds. Gleaves said his success is more a function of his direct and intense approach. “I like to call myself a scrapper,” he said. He draws on the intangibles, such as his ability to extend the count and fight off inside pitches.
He simply wears out the opposition. “I don’t go up there expecting to hit home runs,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that I settle to hit singles, but to strive to do that, because that’s what sums up my game best.” Gleaves hit seven doubles last year. Otherwise, his hits were all singles.
Gleaves is also enthusiastic about competing again. The highly-regarded two-way skill player missed the Mustangs’ entire football season after he broke his right ankle during a freak accident in August training. “I just stepped down on it awkwardly, in the grass, and it popped out and I ended up dislocating it,” Gleaves said.
It was a devastating injury. Gleaves grew to appreciate what he lost. “You take it for granted when you’re healthy,” he said. “Now I’m glad I went through it and now I’m not going to take a single day for granted.”
For all of his personal success, context is everything. Statistics are meaningless without positive results, he said. “I just want to help my team win games,” he said.
“That’s the only goal I have.”