Jim Leyland’s son, Patrick Leyland, was selected by the Tigers in the eighth round of the 2010 amateur draft and he’ll be the first to tell you that he’s worked just as hard as anyone else there and feels no extra pressure while sharing the Leyland name.
“I don’t really focus too much on being a Leyland and what that means in the Tigers’ organization,” says Patrick. “I think that’s more for the fans to talk about and it doesn’t really affect me too much. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well and that’s what motivates me.”
He certainly has been able to motivate himself throughout his career to become a good player and viable prospect within the Tigers’ farm system. Playing catcher in high school, he hit .597 as a senior and while throwing out 14 of 18 attempted base stealers, halted opposing teams from running freely around the bases. Those kinds of numbers earned him Pittsburgh Post-Gazette high school All-star honors and caught the eye of major league clubs.
Turning down a scholarship to play collegiate ball for the University of Maryland, Leyland decided take advantage of the opportunity before him at the professional level which of course was quite the jump from high school ball.
“It’s a big leap obviously [going from high school to professional ball]. I’m 20 years old now so I’m still getting used to playing every day – not actually playing every day but at least being here every day and going through the work outs. Playing as much as we do and doing as much as we do to try to get better is a big jump when you’re used to playing three times a week to now doing it every single day as your job. It’s definitely a little bit of a culture shock at first but I think I’m getting better at getting used to it.”
Getting used to it seems like a relative term when, as the son of a major league baseball manager, Patrick has been around baseball his entire life. Growing up and experiencing things others might only dream about, Leyland can’t imagine any other type of upbringing.
“It was a great way to grow up and I could not have asked for a better way to experience my childhood. I got to do a lot of things that a lot of people probably wished they could have done while getting to spend a lot of time in major league clubhouses.”
With a dad who’s also experienced the amount of success as Jim Leyland has in over 25 years of managing, Patrick has gotten to live through some spectacular moments.
“For the ’97 World Series [with the Marlins] I was pretty young at only six years old so I don’t remember all too much of that other than just being there. But ’06 [with Detroit] was really special for our family. It was his [Jim Leyland’s] first year there and we were just getting back into the swing of him managing and it was a great run. We all really enjoyed it.”
Even while having a front row seat during a couple World Series runs, Patrick still cites being drafted by his dad’s team as giving him a feeling that he’ll never forget.
“I was excited; probably just as excited as everybody was who got drafted on that day,” Leyland says as he pauses contemplatively. “I was sitting at home with my mom and when we heard it we were both extremely happy. I got a call from my dad later that day and it was just a really great day.”
After spending a season in the Gulf Coast League, Leyland was invited to attend the Tigers’ big league camp the following year and got a chance to actually play for his father. He then spent that season with the Connecticut Tigers in the New York-Penn League where he batted .220 through 25 games. Even though his statistics weren’t eye popping, the Tigers continued to like what they saw in the young right-hander’s raw potential and ability.
With a couple of spring training seasons under his belt playing for his father with plenty of current Tigers, Leyland has reveled in the opportunity to get better with the help of big league ball players.
“Since I got to spend the last two spring trainings with all the different Tigers players, I got to know a lot of those guys pretty well and they all try to help me when they can. They all try to help my career which is definitely a great resource to have.”
Now with the Whitecaps and appearing in 25 games so far, Leyland is hitting a solid .260, including a span earlier in the season where he hit safely in eight consecutive contests. Splitting time behind the plate with teammate Curt Casali, manager Ernie Young might be trying to ease the third year player in while helping him continue to adjust to playing professionally. Nonetheless, Young is quite pleased with what he’s seen from the 6-foot-2, 210 pound Pennsylvania native.
“Leyland is probably playing three times a week while splitting games with [Curt] Casali,” said Young, “so it’s kind of tough to get in a big time groove. But he’s gone out there and he’s been very competitive at the plate which is what you want to see. He’s going out there competing at each at bat.”
His competitive drive may be something else that comes from his father, a three time manager of the year who’s won over 1,600 games. Though Jim Leyland is as fiercely competitive as anyone else, he’s always been more concerned about being a good dad.
“He’s a dad first,” says Patrick. “He obviously helps me with my career, my play and everything like that but he’s more concerned about how I’m doing in general. He’s a lot more concerned about that than worrying about different techniques and all that sorts of stuff.”
And at the end of the day, whether it’s a 162 game major league season or a 140 game single A grind, father and son will always make time for each other.
“I talk to him every single day, multiple times. I’m in touch with him all the time.”