It’s been a long road for David Ledbetter, but the former Yellow Jacket All-American finds himself just one step away from Major League Baseball.
The righthander was recently promoted to the Round Rock Express, the Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. He was a third-round draft pick by the Rangers in 2013 and the 99th selection overall.
Prior to that, Ledbetter posted a 20-10 record with a 2.54 ERA during his three-year CU career from 2011-13. He struck out 238 batters in 191 innings and led NCAA Division II in 2013 with 13.38 strikeouts per 9 innings. He still rates second all-time for the Yellow Jackets in wins, strikeouts, and earned run average.
Ledbetter has made the rounds in the Rangers’ organization. He’s pitched for the Spokane Indians (Northwest League), Hickory Crawdads (South Atlantic League), AZL Rangers (Arizona League), High Desert Mavericks (California League), Frisco RoughRiders (Texas League), and now the Round Rock Express (Pacific Coast League).
Through three starts with the Express, he sports a 2-0 record with a 3.38 ERA heading into his next scheduled assignment.
As things worked out, my wife and I were visiting our daughter and son-in-law in Des Moines, Iowa at the same time Round Rock came into town to play the Iowa Cubs.
The four of us had the pleasure of attending the July 2 outing when Ledbetter went seven innings and fanned four batters in getting the 8-4 victory in front of more than 10,000 fans on Fireworks Night.
The next morning, I had the chance to get together with David. Upon walking into the team hotel near the I-Cubs’ Principal Park, he greeted me wearing a “Pray. Compete. Repeat.” T-shirt, shorts, running shoes, and backpack. He was prepared to catch a team bus a little more than an hour later to head to a local gym for a workout.
In the meantime, we sat down at the popular Scenic Route Bakery in downtown Des Moines so I could get his take on his experience in minor league baseball as well as his memories of attending Cedarville University and playing for the Yellow Jackets.
What do you recall about your experience at Cedarville?
All I remember about college is that I loved what I was doing and wanted to do as much as I could. Cedarville was not only the first place I figured out a routine for baseball, but also I figured out a routine for life. I think that’s more important than what you do on the field. If you can’t get your priorities set straight in your life, then the other stuff will just crumble.
What memories do you have playing for the Yellow Jackets?
There’s been no team I’ve ever played on that’s been like the ones I played on at Cedarville. The reason is because we were literally like brothers. We spent all of our time together. Yes, we do that here (in the minor leagues), too, but that was the first time I really did that – it was like our own fraternity.
I stay in touch with a lot of those guys who were on the team just because we were rooted in something a lot more meaningful than just one game. Those relationships will dig deeper and touch different parts of your life that you never thought they’d be able to touch.
Shout out to Coach (Mike) Manes, too. He gets the game, but he gets the game of life a lot more than he gets the game of baseball. It was good to have a mentor like him. I miss that guy!
Even though Ryan is out of the game, what did it mean to experience college and professional baseball with your twin brother?
He’s my best friend. I wish he was still playing. We don’t get to talk that much now, because he’s super busy. You wish every relationship was like the one you have with your twin brother. You experience everything together and we did everything together. It’s a good place to understand where you want relationships to be and how can I reach that goal faster with somebody else.
Was it always your goal to be a professional baseball player?
Yeah! It was a dream! I remember we had a business class my freshman year where we were asked to write out our goals, ‘Where do you see yourself in one year, five years, ten years?’ Well, I’m like, ‘I’m going to be a professional baseball player!’ This is what I’m going to do, I want to start a foundation, do all this stuff. When I was reading over it, I first thought, ‘That’s pretty audacious!” But, now, it’s just cool to see it kind of come to fruition.
What do you say to a prospect who may have the same dreams as you had?
Figure out your life before you figure out what you want to do. What are your priorities as to how you want to be remembered as a man … as a Christian. Are you putting those things first? If you are, then you had better keep striving toward what you want to accomplish as hard as you can.
Are there talented players in the minor leagues that just don’t have much direction?
That is true. Sometimes you’re just given gifts. It’s as if God just reached down and His hand touched you. ‘You’re going to throw a baseball. You’re going to hit a baseball.’ Sometimes, it’s hard to get away from the game to understand what you want to do and who you’re going to be.
What are the biggest challenges of minor league baseball on and off the field?
I would say on the field is learning to perform the same way every day. It’s impossible living up to people’s standards. You’re never going to satisfy everyone. How can I pitch my same game every day?
That applies to life, too. How can I be consistent every day in who I am? I’m a Christian. Am I reading the Bible every day? Am I being a good husband every day. Am I being a good family man every day? If we wrote down and accomplished these daily goals, we’d be unstoppable. The hardest part is keeping it all balanced.
What is a day like when you are scheduled to pitch?
It’s pretty simple. I eat breakfast, read or do whatever I want to for a little bit including talking to some people – family and friends. It depends when I head to the stadium because if I know there’s going to be good food there then I may go a little bit earlier to eat. I actually take a short nap in the clubhouse and then get ready for the game. My nap allows me to reset my mind and then my prep starts. I do a lot of different stuff about 30 minutes before I go out to the field where I do an additional 30-minute warmup routine.
What are games like the days you aren’t pitching?
I’ll never watch baseball the same after having been in the game so long. I just watch it differently. I watch the pitches and how the hitters adapt. What are they telling the pitcher? Can I guess the sequence? That kind of thing. I watch their swings. What pitches work? What doesn’t work? You treat it like a game, but you still have to take care of your business.
What are the challenges of being married as a professional baseball player?
It’s tough. Every marriage is going to have it’s own struggles and it’s own highlights, too. So, when we get together, it’s so good to see her (Elizabeth) and be reunited with her. She’s doing her pharmacy residency in Ohio. It’s tough when we’re apart, but I completely trust her, and she completely trusts me. Can I be a good husband even while I’m away, because it’s really hard? If anyone knows any good tips, I’m open to them. Haha!
What about the support of your family during your baseball career?
Unbelievable! You have to have that foundation. Who is your support and where does it come from? If you don’t have that, then it makes everything that much harder. The heartaches will be greater and the ups-and-downs of life will be much steeper without that foundation.
Now that you’ve reached the Triple-A level, what goes through your head knowing that your next promotion, if it comes, is to the major leagues?
I really don’t think about it. On one hand, it’s cool to think about stuff like that, but that’s when it can sneak up on you. The devil is kind of like that. He deceives us when we least expect it.
I have to look at the big picture. I just have to keep doing the same things I’ve attempted to do for years … throw strikes, try to get outs as fast as I can, and hopefully everything else comes to fruition. How can I be consistent? It’s the same game in college as it is right now. It’s just different hitters and different approaches. They’ve gotten a lot better. I’ve gotten better and how can I continue to improve?
What can you learn from the players who have already been to the major leagues and have come back to Triple-A?
One thing you can see from all of those guys is that they get their business done. They take it seriously, but they also know you have to have fun with the game. If you can’t treat it like a game, then it will eat you up and spit you out. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned from them … How can I take care of business, but still treat it like a game?
How much is on your shoulders to take care of your own business as a professional?
If you’re going to make this a career, it’s 100% on you. You’ll always have guys telling you what to do, but it in the end you need to make the decision to succeed. If you’re going to play this long term, you literally have to always take care of your body. The biomechanics tell us that throwing a baseball is one of the worst things you can do to your arm. So, I had better take care of it.
Did you have a time line for your professional career or do you just have an open mind about it?
I already did that. When I got drafted, I said, ‘OK, here’s my plan. This is what I’m going to do.’ You know as well as I do, life doesn’t really turn out like that. I talked to Elizabeth a long time about what we’re going to do this year. We agreed, let’s just see how this year goes, we’ll pick up and then decide what we want to do after that. We’ll do it together. Whatever happens we’ll just give it our all.
Have you thought about life beyond baseball?
With my brother now starting real life, even though people jokingly describe it that way, when I reach that point whatever I’m doing with Elizabeth is going to be my real life. I want to love that no matter what I’m doing. If I wasn’t doing anything, I’d still like it. I think it’s just a choice we need to make every day.
Story by Mark Womack, Cedarville University Sports Information Director.