Trust, dedication and success: Pat Leatherman nears close of storied career for Chippewas
Jordan Bischel inherited a program that wasn't fully his.
Well, technically, the Central Michigan baseball team was turned over to him when he was officially hired on June 28, 2018, but the core backbone had nothing to do with him.
It had everything to do with nine seniors – Blake Cleveland, Jason Sullivan, Ty Rollin, Jacob Crum, Jack Collins, Bryan Jakiemiec, Evan Kratt, David Cole and, of course, fifth-year Pat Leatherman.
Those student-athletes weren't recruited by Bischel and didn't learn a single thing from him until the 2019 season. Trust and respect had to be earned on both sides of the spectrum.
However, in the matter of a few weeks, the seniors fell in love with the first-year coach and his style of baseball. It quickly translated into winning.
At the forefront of that was Leatherman, a right-handed pitcher who has been with the program for five years. He's the epitome of a blue-collar baseball player. He puts his head down, goes to work each day and humbly succeeds.
Leatherman's career pitching numbers speak volumes: 21-14 record, 55 starts, 3.31 ERA, 298.2 innings pitched, 284 strikeouts, .237 opponent batting average and 1,271 batters faced. He holds the program record for career strikeouts.
"It wasn't just come out of high school and throw well," Leatherman said. "It was all the work that made the strikeouts happen."
Just around the corner is the end of Leatherman's college career. He's slated to throw for No. 1 Central Michigan in the second round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament against No. 6 Ohio at 2 p.m. May 23.
"I think we are going to be loose," Leatherman said. "Take all these games, and we can get a little bit of hardware. I think of the postseason as extra games to play the game we've played our whole lives.
"If we just enjoy the time, it'll come in our favor."
The Chippewas (43-12, 22-5 MAC) earned a first-round bye for winning the conference regular season.
Depending on how the MAC Tournament and selection to the NCAA Tournament shake out, Thursday could be Leatherman's last start.
Since all stories eventually have to end, Leatherman is savoring the final page of the final chapter in his long-tenured book.
"At the end of the day, if it works out, it works out," Leatherman said. "I need to enjoy as much time as I can. In a few months from now, I'm going to miss all these times."
'I was careful when I got here'
Again, Bischel inherited a program that was built on senior leadership, especially from Leatherman.
In certain situations, a new coach will try to change each player. Bischel was the exact opposite. He was hands off with Leatherman due to his age, maturity, track record and developmental state as a player.
There was also mutual respect that quickly formulated into a friendship.
"I wasn't going to march in here and tell him how to do things," Bischel said. "I hoped he could learn from our staff, but I knew trying to change him would've made me a fool.
"I really have a lot of trust in him."
One of the reasons Bischel trusted Leatherman off the bat was because of the 6-foot-4, 234-pound pitcher's ability to prepare. Before each start, he goes for a run.
Not a light jog – a long run. About three miles, to be exact.
For a pitcher, that is the furthest thing from the usual. Most prepare with intense weight lighting or sprints to maximize explosiveness in the game.
"There's not much about Pat that's normal," Bischel said, smiling. "He's a different bird. He wants to be ultra successful, so he goes above and beyond."
The reason behind Leatherman's desire to run is that it puts him ahead of the opposing hitters before the game even starts. Winning the mental battle on the mound means everything, and that's exactly what Leatherman does when he outworks his opponent before first pitch.
Leatherman's running antics were inspired by American ultramarathon runner David Goggins, who is a retired United States Navy SEAL and former United States Air Force Tactical Air Control Party member.
"When I show up and run three miles before my start, I know the other guy didn't," Leatherman said. "I already beat him in that category, so then I can beat him on the mound."
For the younger Leatherman, that's Ian, it means everything to watch his brother push for greatness. As a matter of fact, it inspires the freshman right-hander to do the same as a member of the Chippewas.
"He's a good mentor," Ian said. "If your brother is out there working hard, you can't not work hard. He's ingrained that in me. To have him do what he's done and leave an impact, I want to fill his shoes."
Teaching, developing Ian
One year after Pat left Jenison High School for CMU, his younger brother walked through the door.
Ian had massive shoes to fill, seeing as Pat was ranked No. 500 in the nation and No. 6 in the state, was a three-year varsity starter, threw a no-hitter in his first varsity game as a sophomore and was a stud on the Elite Gold summer ball squad.
Of course, Ian followed suit and stepped up to the challenge. By the time Ian was finished, he was a three-year varsity starter, named to the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association Division I All-State Second Team in 2016 and First Team in 2017 and received All-Ottawa-Kent Conference honors in 2016 and 2017. He was also a two-time all-regional honoree, leading Jenison to back-to-back conference championships before graduation.
Ian is now faced with meeting the standard set by Pat in Mount Pleasant.
"It makes it more fun that he's done what he's done," Ian said. "There's a challenge for me. Going into high school, he was just leaving. It's kind of the same deal with college. He's the hardest working person I know. To do what he did will be a challenge, but it can be done."
Young Leatherman pitched 22 innings as a freshman in 2019. He was 1-0 with a 6.14 ERA, 28 strikeouts, just 13 walks and a .302 opponent batting average in his first college go-around.
Pat obtains a 9-1 record this season, boasting a commanding 2.38 ERA, 78 strikeouts and 79 1/3 innings pitched in 14 starts. He's also earned a .207 opponent batting average.
"This was the first time I ever played a sport with Pat, and we are always competing," Ian said. "We are always doing stuff together.
Besides on-field instructions, Pat has taught Ian everything he knows about being humble. Throughout the season, the fifth-year senior has proven to Bischel that he stands for more than himself. Pat is a team guy and often does the little things on his own – without telling anyone or bragging.
"When we unload the bus and bags have to go to the field, he's grabbing them – not pointing to a freshman to make that happen," Bischel said. "When we get a guy up in the bullpen, he likes to go down and make sure he's all good. He does a lot of little things that really help our program."
If there's anything Ian wants those that watched from the stands at Theunissen Stadium for the last five years to know about his big brother, it's that Pat loves baseball and people.
He will do anything for anyone.
"If you text him in the middle of the night in need of a ride, he'll come get you," Ian said. "He does everything to the best of his abilities."