'I was meant to be here': Pat Leatherman breaks Central Michigan's all-time strikeout record


Pitcher Pat Leatherman pitches during the first game in the series against Bowling Green at Keilitz Field on April 27.

Pat Leatherman is the new strikeout king of the Central Michigan baseball program.

In a 7-3 victory over Bowling Green on May 4, Leatherman struck out Mike Malewitz looking in the fourth inning for his 288th career strikeout, tying the record achieved Josh Collmenter (2005-07).

Leatherman struck out Jack Connelly swinging in the following inning to break the all-time mark.

"Everyone is fighting to be that star," Leatherman said. "To pass a guy that has such recognition on campus and nationally, it just makes me feel good about the work I put in."

The 6-foot-4, 234-pound Jenison native capped off the bottom of the fifth with two more strikeouts and finished the game with nine punch outs to put him at 293 total in his CMU career. Leatherman gave up one run on three hits over 6 2/3 innings in the Mid-American Conference victory.

Leatherman's strikeout record goes further than just a three-digit number. It's a testament to his work ethic and relentlessness to push through even when naysayers aimed to block his path.

"It solidified that I was meant to be here," Leatherman said. "Growing up, there were a lot of people saying I couldn't come here or go to other schools, that I wasn't good enough, so it gives me the satisfaction that I made the right choice."

Leatherman, a fifth-year senior right-hander, knew what was at stake months ago while surrounded by roommates Tyler Hankins, Blake Cleveland, Griffin Lockwood-Powell and former player Brock Ridgeway.

The five sat around and looked over the record book one night. Leatherman did some quick mental math and came to a realization that he was unaware of beforehand.

"OK, that's reachable," Leatherman remembers thinking to himself about the strikeout record.

He kept it in the back of his mind.

Leatherman knew he was just 12 strikeouts away from breaking the record heading into his start against Western Michigan on April 27.

Of course, he punched out nine in a one-run, seven-inning performance to guide the Chippewas to a 6-1 win.

"Just looking at the numbers, I do a lot of calculations," Leatherman said. "I got nine against Western, so I was like, 'Oh, man. This is close.' I know people say they don't think about achievements, but I knew what I needed."

Even if Leatherman would've forgotten that he needed three to tie or four to break the record, his teammates would've reminded him – as they did Saturday against Bowling Green.

The leader of that group was junior right-hander Zach Kohn, who made it a point to get in Leatherman's ear after his strikeouts of Neil Lambert and Nick Neibauer in the second frame.

"I knew I was close, and it was great to have my parents, fiancé and (my brother) Ian (Leatherman) there," he said, noting his brother, also a pitcher on the baseball team, was the pumped. "It's just crazy we are on the team together with me being a senior and him being a freshman. He's here to experience this and I was there to experience his first college outing."

Collmenter, the former CMU pitcher that Leatherman passed up, was the 2007 MAC Pitcher of the Year. He was selected in the 15th round of the 2007 MLB Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks and eventually made his big-league debut on April 17, 2011.

Since then, Collmenter spent time with the Diamondbacks (2011-16) and Atlanta Braves (2016-17). He owns a 38-35 record with a 3.64 ERA and 494 strikeouts in 695 1/3 MLB innings. He is currently a free agent.

Ty Dunham (274 strikeouts) and Zach Cooper (270) are in third and fourth place behind Leatherman and Collmenter.

For his CMU career, Leatherman has a 19-14 record with a 3.40 ERA over 53 starts and 286 innings. 

"It wasn't just come out of high school and throw well," Leatherman said. "It was all the work that made the strikeouts happen."

As Leatherman's college baseball clock ticks down with just nine regular-season games remaining, he is focused on soaking it all in and keeping the Chippewas alive for as long as possible.

"We've had so much energy this year, and it's been such a great atmosphere," Leatherman said. "I'm pretty happy with where we are at. We will keep having fun down the stretch."