By STEVE KRAH
Collin Ledbetter was born and raised in Arizona, but the Midwest has also been pretty good to him as he has pursued higher levels of education and baseball.
In the summer of 2021, the right-handed pitcher experienced his first opportunity to play for pay in the United Shores Professional Baseball League.
The 25-year-old arrived this week back in his adopted hometown of Indianapolis where he will plot his future.
Ledbetter is a 2015 graduate of Northwest Christian School in Phoenix. He arrived at the same time as head baseball coach and former Colorado Rockies minor leaguer Rod Bair and was with the varsity for four years.
“We’re still great friends until this day,” says Ledbetter of Bair. “He had a great impact on me as a player and on my growth as a man as well.”
Starting out his college baseball journey in the Valley of the Sun, Ledbetter joined the Dave Grant-coached Glendale (Ariz.) Community College team and pitched for the Gauchos in the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
“(Glendale) has a great reputation — not only in Arizona — but around the country,” says Ledbetter. “I remember being intimidated going into the program. Coach Grant was a real encourager.
“He always gave guys a chance to prove themselves and was always there for help when you needed it.”
Ledbetter was recruited out of high school by Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Mich. David Mitroff was the Golden Eagles head coach at the time. In Ledbetter’s second year at Glendale, Mitroff moved to Phoenix and became a reference for the pitcher’s next move.
Mitroff connected Ledbetter with coaching friend Rich Benjamin at Indiana Wesleyan University. After visiting the IWU campus in Marion, the player decided that it was the best fit for him and came to the Midwest.
“(Indiana Wesleyan) was an up-and-coming NAIA program looking to add pitching depth,” says Ledbetter. “It was the right place for me. It is Christian and a private school. My faith is very important to me.
“Coach Benjamin focused on creating an atmosphere where Jesus was first before baseball. Obviously, he wanted to win. He wanted us to use our talent to the best of our ability to God’s glory.”
Kris Holtzleiter was the Indiana Wesleyan pitching coach during Ledbetter’s time with the Wildcats.
“He’s one of the best encouragers I know,” says Ledbetter of Holtzleiter. “There’s nobody that doesn’t like him. He focuses on the positives, never the negatives.
“As someone who is hard on myself and expects a lot out of myself, I appreciated that.”
Ledbetter herniated a disc in his back that required surgery and redshirted in 2018 – his junior year — after playing in just six games.
At about the same time, Collin’s parents Paul and Deb and younger siblings Lauren and Carson moved from Arizona to Indianapolis to be closer to extended family.
Collin pitched for IWU — getting into eight games (five in relief) with a 0-2 record, 8.47 earned run average, 17 strikeouts and 10 walks in 17 innings – and received a bachelors degree in Sports Management in 2019.
Wishing to pursue a Masters in Sport Management on an accelerated timeline with cost in mind, Ledbetter opted to transfer to Campbellsville (Ky.) University and used his redshirt senior season with the NAIA Tigers in 2020.
“(Head coach Beauford Sanders and pitching coach Brett Neffendorf) loved to win more than anyone I’ve ever played for,” says Ledbetter, who pitched in three games and 2 2/3 innings with a 0.00 ERA during the truncated 2020 campaign. “That’s a great thing. That was important to me.”
Ledbetter said the coaches were no-nonsense and helped players focus on short-term and long-term goals.
After his time at Campbellsville was there more baseball for Ledbetter?
He sure hoped so.
“The goal was always to play professional baseball and keep playing as long as I can,” says Ledbetter.
But there was plenty of uncertainty. Minor League Baseball canceled its 2020 season and many independent leagues followed suit.
Ledbetter kept himself in shape and began training with Jay Lehr at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind.
“Jay really took me under his wing,” says Ledbetter, who had the chance to play catch with former big league pitcher Drew Storen and central Indiana minor leaguers like Parker Dunshee and Nolan Watson. “I saw a lot of development as a pitcher.
“I started showing signs of improvement and that I had the stuff to play at the next level.”
Ledbetter reached out to teams and leagues, including the four-team, Utica, Mich.-based USPBL (Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers, Eastside Diamond Hoppers, Utica Unicorns and Westside Woolly Mammoths).
It was only a matter of hours when director of operations Jason Orenduff replied to his email and he soon found himself headed to Jimmy John’s Field in Utica, about 25 miles north of Detroit.
Assigned to the Woolly Mammoths, the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder Ledbetter was a relief pitcher for a team co-managed by John Dombrowski and Taylor Grzelakowski.
“They definitely had our best interests in mind at all times,” says Ledbetter. “It was a fun atmosphere at the field every day.”
USPBL games were played Thursday through Sunday. There was no practice on Mondays and it was an optional weight room day. There were practices on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
“We were split into position groups,” says Ledbetter. “Pitchers went through an extensive stretching routine. As a reliever I had to be ready at all times. Tuesday was usually my bullpen days with 20-25 pitches and weights. Wednesdays I’d play catch and work on off-speed grips from 60 feet.”
Ledbetter said gameday routines were based on the individual needs of each player. Some recovered faster than others.
“We would hold each other accountable,” says Ledbetter, who made 21 mound appearances (20 in relief) with a 2-4 mark, three saves, 2.78 ERA, 23 K’s and 22 walks in 27 2/3 innings.
While Ledbetter has received an invitation to return to the USPBL in 2022, the league does have a two-year cap.
“Their goal is to push guys out of their as quickly as they can,” says Ledbetter. “They want everybody to be signed my an affiliated team.
“They saw a lot of growth in me as a player. They want the best for everyone. They’ve encouraged me to look at my other options.”
Taking a break to re-set physically and mentally, Ledbetter does not plan to begin throwing again for three or four weeks.
Meanwhile he will pursue a part-time job and may give private lessons.
He will also take the time to enjoy family. Paul Ledbetter is in the insurance business. Deb Ledbetter is a former flight attendant. Lauren Ledbetter (21) is a radiology technician. Carson Ledbetter (19) is attending trade school to become an electrician.
Collin is not related to twins Ryan and David Ledbetter, but he has formed a relationship with the former pitchers at Heritage Christian High School, Cedarville (Ohio) University and the Texas Rangers organization.
Ryan Ledbetter works for a company that has done business with Paul Ledbetter’s firm. Over time, Collin got to know both Ryan and David.
“We hit it off,” says Collin. “We’ve kept in-touch ever since.”