By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
Steve Rodriguez has a rule. If his team scores 20 or more runs in a game, the head coach will find his oldest pitcher and offer him an at-bat.
“Some of them don’t want to,” Rodriguez said. “They think they do until the opportunity arises, and then they say, ‘Nah, I’m good.'”
Well, on March 6, the Bears dropped 20 runs on Memphis to cap off a double header at Baylor Ballpark, and 23-year-old lefty reliever Ryan Leckich, who was born on July 14, 1997, took a step into the batter’s box for the first time in almost five years, striking out to end the game.
“It didn’t end the way I wanted to, but it was really fun,” Leckich said. “The other guys, they were screaming in the dugout and everything, and it’s really cool to be able to say that I was able to hit in a college game.”
The fifth-year senior is better known for throwing strikes rather than hitting them.
Bring the Energy
According to senior closer Luke Boyd, “Leckich is definitely that bulldog on the mound.”
When Styx’s “Renegade” comes out through the speakers at Baylor Ballpark, it can only mean one thing — the 5-foot-10-inch, 190-pound left-hander from Port Neches is making his trek out of the bullpen. The Bears and their fans are in for a treat. Leading the pitching staff with 66 appearances during his Baylor career so far, Leckich has become one of the Bears’ most dependable set-up men. He’s the guy you call before sending your All-American closer out to ice the game, and that’s a role he’s grown comfortable in.
“I really enjoy it. I’ve gotten used to it over these past couple years, and I’ve embraced it,” Leckich said. “I know my role — seventh, eighth inning guy, trying to get Luke into the game. If we get Luke into the game, it’s usually a good sign for us.”
Leckich came to Baylor as the No. 5-ranked left-hander in Texas by Perfect Game. 2016 was a good year for Leckich. As a senior at Port Neches-Groves High School, he was a 2016 Rawlings-Perfect game All-American honorable mention, a Texas Region second team honoree, a Super Gold Baseball MVP, district co-MVP and an all-state all-star participant. With an 8-2 record and 1.15 ERA, he led the PNGHS to a district championship and finished his four years of high school with 23 wins, a 1.65 ERA, 228 strikeouts and seven saves over 146 innings while hitting .345 with 50 runs, one homer and 50 RBI.
“He is an ultimate worker. He is a competitor. He’s high energy,” said pitching coach Jon Strauss. “I mean, you’ve seen him on the mound and when he’s on and off the field. He just leaves it all on the field every time he’s out. He pitches like it’s the last time he’s ever gonna pitch.”
But like most young college pitchers, it took Leckich a couple of years to adjust to the collegiate game. The energy he brought to his pitching could be a little too much at times.
“Figuring out him early his career was the emotional part,” Strauss said. “He sometimes, he got out of control, because he was trying to move too fast. So he’s been able to have a lot of energy but still control himself, and he’s also had great stuff, but he had to learn, just like everybody else, how to control his emotions and how to get guys out at this level and he’s been awesome.”
In this audio clip, Leckich talks about learning from pitching coach Jon Strauss about controlling his emotions on the mound.
As a freshman for Baylor, he made seven relief appearances in 2017, making his debut against then-No.15 Oklahoma on March 24, 2017. In two-thirds of an inning, he only gave up one hit and one unearned run. As a sophomore, during Baylor’s championship season, Leckich pitched in 20 games with three starts, working 32 innings and recording three wins. He had 10 scoreless outings and 11 appearances with one hit allowed or less.
But it wasn’t until his junior year when he finally fell into the role he’s become known for, following the bullpen legacy established by the Old Guys the year before.
“I learned a lot from them, mainly just how to prepare, how to get ready for open situations, because most of them were bullpen guys,” Leckich said. “In the bullpen, it’s a little different because you really don’t know when you’re going to pitch. And so you have to be prepared for pretty much every game. And I learned how to prepare, how to be ready and then how to recover and get ready for the next outing whatever that may be.”
As a junior in 2019, Leckich made a team-high 29 outings with one start, pitching 43 innings, 42.1 of which were out of the bullpen. He finished the season with a 2.30 ERA, a 4-1 record and 42 strikeouts. His longest outing was a three-inning performance against Oklahoma State on May 17, 2019, and he also posted season-highs with four strikeouts against Dallas Baptist on April 2, 2019, and TCU on April 26, 2019.
Coming into 2020, the Bears had some things to figure out in terms of their offense, but the pitching staff wasn’t a point of worry mostly because it was packed with veterans like Leckich and Boyd. In 7.1 innings of relief, Leckich posted a 2.45 ERA giving up just six hits, three runs, two of which were earned, and tallying six strikeouts. He set up Boyd for saves against UT Rio Grande Valley on Feb. 26, 2020, and against LSU in the Shriner’s Classic on Feb. 29, 2020.
But in an unexpected turn of events, the world of college athletics came to a halt in 2020, and Leckich saw the mound for the last time against Cal Poly on March 6, 2020, wrapping up his true senior season with a loss.
Recharge and Reload
Like many of Baylor’s super seniors, Leckich took the opportunity to return for a fifth season after the NCAA granted them an extra year of eligibility. He earned an undergraduate degree in finance and began working on his MBA in management information systems.
And out of the few good things to come out of the pandemic, Leckich also had the opportunity to take care of his health.
“[Quarantine] was pretty tough, but it actually worked out somewhat well for me,” Leckich said. “I was able to get a surgery done on my hip, helped me out to maybe get a little healthier, which actually worked out really well timing wise because I rehabbed basically all through the quarantine. And I was able to come back in the spring and feel healthy now and ready to go.”
Starting out 2021 healthy and sporting a vintage-style mustache, Leckich has put up 4.1 relief innings for the Bears so far, once again just trying to hold off Baylor’s opponents in order to give Boyd the opportunity to shut them down.
But he’ll probably let the Bears’ explosive offense do all the hitting from here out.
Leckich discusses the reason for growing out his mustache.