There is an extensive history of athletes that played both football and baseball at a high level. Bo Jackson was an All-Star in the MLB and the NFL. Deion Sanders, “an absolute icon” in the eyes of the subject of this story, had a year where he simultaneously hit over .300 for the Atlanta Braves and was First Team All-Pro for the Falcons. The Oakland Athletics used the ninth overall selection in the 2018 MLB Draft on now-Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray. The Detroit Tigers have drafted as many Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks as the Detroit Lions, since they drafted Patrick Mahomes in 2014 during the 37th round. Though there are examples anyone can point to, finding an athlete like that is rare.
The Royal Oak Leprechauns have one such athlete in Brandon Mann.
A graduate of Detroit Country Day, Mann is a two-sport athlete at the University of Michigan. Looking just a few rows past Heisman candidate Blake Corum, Mann can be found on the football team’s roster, wearing number five. After that Mann also appears on the baseball team’s roster, wearing number nineteen.
For some context on how difficult it is for a person to accomplish the feat of being a member of both one of the best college football programs in the nation and a college baseball program that was one win away from a national championship a few years ago, statistics can be used. Assuming a college football team is about one hundred people, only five hundred of about one million high school football players get to play for a top five college football program, Michigan included. Mann fits into that top 0.05%. College baseball teams are limited to 40 players. With 61 baseball teams in the “Power Five” conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC), that leaves 2,440 spots for about half a million high school baseball players. This means the top 0.48% of high school baseball players get to play at a “Power Five” school. Multiplying those two percentages together, it says the odds of a high schooler becoming a member of both the football and baseball team at a school like the University of Michigan is about 0.00024%.
Of course, there are many other factors at play here. Not every high school quarterback can lead their high school to the Michigan state title game and win consecutive district championships. Not every high school pitcher has a fastball that sits around ninety miles per hour before throwing a curveball that is suddenly in the mid-to-low seventies.
This summer, Mann has been a very reliable pitcher for the Royal Oak Leprechauns. He started one game this year and faced some struggles, surrendering five earned runs in four innings. Out of the pen, it has been a totally different story. In five appearances in relief, Mann has a 1.50 ERA in twelve innings pitched, striking out sixteen to just four walks.
The idea that Mann was even going to play baseball in college was definitely not a sure thing. The focus was on football. Mann began high school with baseball as his main sport before deciding to focus on football his junior year. According to 247Sports, Mann held Division I football offers from a few other schools, including Kent State, Bowling Green, and Northern Illinois. Then, Michigan came along, with Brandon committing to the Wolverines five days after they broke an eight-game losing streak against arch-rival Ohio State. Originally, Mann went to Michigan just to play football, joining the baseball team about a week before the season began. Mann simply says that he “got lucky,” and that he “found myself an opportunity to get back into baseball once I got to Michigan.”
Last fall, Brandon was able to appear in one football game for the Wolverines. In a packed quarterback room that featured J.J. McCarthy, a future NFL draft pick and considered by many to be the best quarterback in the Big Ten next year, that is no small feat as a true freshman. During Michigan’s 59-0 win over the Connecticut Huskies, Brandon Mann entered the game during the fourth quarter to lead a drive. Mann ended up attempting one pass, hitting his receiver for a seven yard gain.
During the baseball season, Mann received a lot more playing time than just one pass attempt. This spring, he ended up pitching seventeen innings. For someone that joined the team right before the season began and is a true freshman, some growing pains were to be expected. Two months into the season, after an outing against Rutgers where Mann gave up three earned runs in just 1.1 innings pitched, his ERA on the season had ballooned to 11.57. Following that, Mann started to show a lot of improvement. He gave up four earned runs in nine innings pitched over the final months of the season. His final appearance of the year came when he received his first career start in the Big Ten Tournament against Iowa. After that his ERA on the year sat at 6.88, which was the lowest it had ever been all season. That number is not as low as some might hope, but it was a massive improvement compared to where he was a month prior.
This was also all while juggling spring football practice. He would have many days where he would go straight from a practice for one sport to another. Balancing two sports and classes at a university like Michigan seems like a nearly impossible task. Mann says it is “all about communication with coaches and making sure everybody’s on the same page and making sure everybody knows what the plan is so there’s nobody’s in the dark about whatever’s happening.”
With classes done and both football and baseball being in their off-season, Mann needed a team to play for over the summer. The Leprechauns were a natural choice. The Lucky Corner is just a ten minute drive away from Detroit Country Day. Mann says that joining the Leprechauns was “just about getting reps in over the summer, having football and all starting up, it being my main sport as of right now. It was a local team that I knew I could come in and get some quality reps against some good competition.”
Mann already knew a handful of players on the team as well, including some guys from rival Michigan State. Mann has previously been teammates with fellow Leprechaun pitcher Ryan Szczepaniak, a rising junior in East Lansing. Mann also said he has played against Stephen Ruhle, another pitcher out of Michigan State. Representing Central Michigan, Trevor Busyn and Jake Coulter were also former adversaries of Brandon’s before they joined the Leprechauns.
In general, there are not many people like Brandon Mann. Not many people can defy 0.00024% odds. The Royal Oak Leprechauns have never had an athlete like Brandon, and unless he decides to play another season at the Lucky Corner, it is highly unlikely they will ever see another like him again. The chances to see a Michigan quarterback play baseball at the Lucky Corner are limited. There will be a doubleheader against the Sandusky Ice Haulers at the Lucky Corner on Thursday, with the first game scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. After that seven-inning game ends, a second one will begin thirty minutes later. The following two days will feature two final home games to finish off the home schedule this year for the Leprechauns. Friday will be the final game of Royal Oak’s series against Sandusky, and Saturday’s home finale will be a game against the Jet Box.