Editor's note: Doug Hennes, vice president for university and government relations, contributed this guest column to The Scroll.
After four years and 185 games, a college baseball career had come down to what might be one final at-bat for Dan Leslie – and, for that matter, for his dad, Tim.
The Tommies’ third baseman stood at the plate with one out, the score tied 2-2 and teammate Matt Olson standing on second base in the bottom of the 12th inning of the NCAA Division III championship game. Wooster All-American Mark Miller had pitched the entire game, holding Leslie hitless in five trips and inducing him to ground into double plays in the 8th and 10th.
“I went for a walk after those innings,” the elder Leslie said. “It was very frustrating.”
The younger Leslie, needing to be more patient than his pacing dad, worked the count to three balls and two strikes in the 12th before slipping a single between the third baseman and shortstop into left field. Olson cruised around the third and easily beat the throw with a headfirst dive across home plate. Pandemonium ensued as the Tommies piled on top of each other.
Tim Leslie stood in the stands behind third base and smiled. A season was over – for he and his son. A college career was over – for he and his son. And the son had delivered the hit that won a national championship.
“Thankful, fortunate, blessed – we are all of that and so much more,” Tim said days later. “It was just a storybook ending.”
And not just for the son, but for his parents as well. Tim and Julie Leslie had followed Dan since he arrived at St. Thomas four years ago. They followed the team on four spring break trips to Florida and four regional playoff trips to Wisconsin. Of the 184 games the Tommies played heading into the championship game against Wooster, Tim estimated he saw all but a half-dozen each year. “A lot of baseball,” he said, “but it never got old.”
Dan starred for the Tommies on the mound as a freshman and sophomore, compiling a record of 12-5 and playing third base when he wasn’t pitching. He hurt his arm before his junior year and threw only four innings in relief. He hadn’t pitched this year until the Midwest regional title game against St. Olaf. The result: a 5-0 shutout that catapulted the Tommies into the World Series.
“That’s who he is,” Tim said of his son. “He was a handful as a kid – a very determined personality and the kind who would demand the ball from his coach and say, ‘I can do it.’ ”
Ten days later, when Dan came to the plate in the bottom of the 12th and a national championship on the line, Tim had a certain confidence that his son would come through. Despite having no hits in the game. Despite those two double plays.
“I was so proud of him,” Tim said. “I will never forget this.”
Tim considers himself lucky to have seen the game. He fell 10 feet from the stands to asphalt during the regional tournament when a railing broke, suffering a concussion and a separated shoulder. “I don’t remember a thing,” he said. “Not coming to the field, not leaving in the ambulance, not being in the hospital.” But he was back in the stands – sitting – the next day.
And he’ll be back in the stands next fall and winter when the St. Thomas basketball team takes the court. Youngest son Peter will be a sophomore guard, coming off a 30-1 freshman season that saw the Tommies fall one game short of reaching the Division III Final Four. There’s not much that can top Dan’s NCAA baseball title . . . but how about one in basketball, too?
“That,” Tim said, “would be sweet.”