By By Matt Williams, Salem News
Every single time a baseball flew out of Jack Leathersich's left hand, in one way or another, it was leading up to this.
A hardball journey that began on diamonds across the city of Beverly and took stops in Virginia, Cape Cod and at UMass Lowell will continue to the professional ranks as the New York Mets made Leathersich the 162nd overall selection yesterday in the fifth round of the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
"It's tough to bring everything into words," said Leathersich, who watched the draft at home in Beverly surrounded by his parents, siblings, girlfriend and a few lifelong friends.
"I've put so much work into this and been through so much, it feels great. I want to thank all my coaches and teammates and family and friends that have helped me out along the way."
A left-handed pitcher with 90-mile an hour heat that projects as a reliever in pro ball, Leathersich was the Mets' sixth selection overall, the first lefty they took and the 24th overall southpaw to be drafted.
After receiving a call from Mets scout Art Pantarelli, Leathersich saw his name come across as a draft selection, "It was indescribable. It's a great moment not only for me but hopefully for the whole community," he said.
Leathersich, who just finished his junior season at UMass Lowell, said he plans to meet with his advisor and Mets officials later this week to discuss financial terms. A news release from the school said he was likely to forego his senior year of college to play professionally.
"The Mets got a player that won't be scared by the big stage; he's going to thrive in that kind of environment," River Hawks coach Ken Harring said in a release. "New York is an organization he can develop in and if he works his tail off and pitches the way I know he can, I think he can get to the big leagues in a few years."
It was also a somber day for the 20-year-old Leathersich, who learned last night that Adam Keenan, one of his teammates at UMass Lowell, had passed away after collapsing during a summer baseball practice.
"All of our teammates have to come together and you just hope something like (the draft) can brighten up everybody's day," Leathersich said. "This is for Adam and our whole team. It makes you realize you need to savor every moment in your life."
The powerful Leathersich, a graduate of Beverly Little League and Beverly High School (Class of 2008), was second in the nation in strikeouts per nine innings this spring at 12.74. He compiled a 6-2 mark with a 1.62 earned run average while setting three UMass Lowell records: single season strikeouts (126), strikeouts per nine innings and most times striking out 10 or more in a season (7).
He helped the River Hawks reach the NCAA tournament and earned a spot on the Daktronics All-East Region second team.
"We had a heck of a season," said Leathersich. "There are some things we'd like to have done differently, but we won 37 games — that's not an easy thing to do."
Having shown off his relief pitching ability for Orleans of the Cape Cod League last summer, Leathersich showcased his skills for the Washington Nationals and Philadelphia Phillies in the weeks leading up to the draft.
"I only threw for two teams. I was invited to (throw for) 15 or so, but being a pitcher I knew my arm needed some rest after a long (college) season," said Leathersich. "I heard from basically every team and they all had me projected to go between the third and seventh round. Waiting through the fourth and the start of the fifth I was getting a little nervous, but when I got that call I can't describe what it felt like. It was unbelievable."
At 6-foot and 205 pounds, Leathersich has consistently added power and velocity to his pitches since he graduated from high school three years ago. His draft stock skyrocketed as a result, and as he continued to thrive no matter at every level from the NCAA to the famed Cape League.
"If you put your mind and heart into something, it's going to happen," said Leathersich. "I know the type of hard work it takes to have this happen, and I just feel blessed to have the gift I do. I'll try to take advantage."
Leathersich, who will try to become the third UMass-Lowell product to reach the majors, added "I can't wait to start this journey."