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Torreys sad to see all-around top athlete Saleh say goodbye

Michael Saleh is La Jolla Country Day’s everywhere man. When he’s not starring on the Torreys’ baseball team, he’s earning All-Coastal Conference honors with the boys soccer team. And when he’s not making his name known for Country Day’s teams on the athletic fields, he can be found on stage as a leading member of the school’s acclaimed musical performances.

Saleh may just be as versatile a high-schooler as they come.

“He is the scholar, artist, athlete that the Country Day model seeks,” Torreys baseball Coach John Edman said. “That’s exactly Michael. When he was finishing the soccer season with the team in the CIF playoffs, he was getting ready for baseball and was out with us the day after his soccer season ended. Somewhere in between, he found time to perform with our madrigals group in the school musical. He does it all. He’s a pretty amazing kid.”

During the months of March, April and May, Edman is fortunate enough to have much of Saleh’s attention focused on the baseball diamond. A senior captain for the Torreys, Saleh is the team’s starting shortstop and its leadoff hitter, both roles in which excels.

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Edman said Saleh is hitting at the top of the Torreys batting order this season mostly because he fits best there with this year’s club. He batted fifth last season, and the fact that he can serve as either a table setter or a run producer in the middle of the lineup proves just how well he handles the bat.

“He could really go anywhere. He’s real versatile,” said Edman, who has also used Saleh in the No. 2 hole, a spot that calls for a contact hitter who can bunt or execute the hit and run to advance runners.

“He’s a gap hitter. He does a great job of driving runs in when there are runners in scoring position. He’s very intelligent about the strike zone. He’s got a real sound, aggressive approach early in the count and does a great job when he gets to two strikes. He does a great job of battling and making our opponents make plays. He’s a real good contact guy and is always a threat to double or triple because he hits the ball pretty solid to the gaps.”

In the field, Saleh invokes memories of some of the game’s great defensive middle infielders, like one-time Padres shortstop Ozzie Smith. He possesses excellent range, covering ground from deep in the shortstop hole to behind the bag at second base. He throws well and makes all the routine plays, but above all, Edman said, his work with the glove is what sets Saleh apart from others.

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“He’s got the best hands of any player I’ve ever coached,” said Edman, who during his time in the game has worked with athletes not only at the high school level, but also at the Division I college level. “He has fantastic hands and fantastic instincts. He’s not the fastest kid, but he gets great jumps on balls and is so quick with his hands adjusting to bad hops and getting rid of the ball really quickly.

“There was probably one kid I coached when I was at the University of Michigan that had any better quickness than Michael. He’s very, very quick with his hands.”

Saleh isn’t large by athletic standards. He’s 5-foot-10 and about 160 pounds, but he is an accomplished enough baseball player that he should be able to continue playing the game in college.

He is considering Haverford, Middlebury, Tufts and Emory and has received considerable interest from the coaching staff at the University of Puget Sound, near Seattle.

Edman said Saleh turned a corner in his baseball career last summer, when the shortstop was invited to play with a junior Olympic team based in Arizona.

Saleh found that he was able to compete with top players from around the country, not just those at the small schools in the Coastal Conference or in San Diego County.

“I think it was a confidence thing,” Edman said. “He competed real well with all those guys.”

Of course, from a selfish perspective, the Torreys coach will be disappointed to see Saleh depart after this season. Saleh is the type of player he wishes he could have more of, and often that leadership has carried over to the rest of the team.

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“He is always doing exactly what he should be personally, but also from the perspective of leading the other guys,” Edman said. “They have a lot of respect for him because, No. 1, he’s a great kid, a great friend and a great teammate and, No. 2, he works his tail off in every practice. He‚s exactly what a coach would love to have from the perspective of a role model for the other players.”