Bradley pitcher Mitch Janssen (Photo courtesy of Mitch Janssen)

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Bradley Pitcher Doubles As Pilot

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Mitch Janssen keeps a baseball in his flight bag.

It started as a practical thing – you never know when you may need to stretch your arm a bit – but now it’s largely symbolic for Janssen, a 20-year-old Bradley pitcher who is also a professional airplane pilot and flight instructor.

Bradley righthander Matthew Richey, who has been in a plane piloted by Janssen at least five times, said he’s impressed by how his teammate commands an aircraft.

“The first time I flew with him, I was sitting next to him while he was speaking to the air-traffic controller,” Richey said. “It was like Mitch was speaking a second language. I’ve never heard anyone talk like that before.”

Janssen recently became the youngest pilot rated to fly a specific type of multi-engine jet, the Phenom 100.

And, fittingly enough, his 2017 summer league team was … the Lafayette Aviators.

Janssen started training to be a pilot at age 16, and he already has more than 1,000 hours of flight time.

Those statistics – so far at least — overshadow his pitching numbers, which include last year’s 1-2 record and 7.53 ERA in 13 appearances, including four starts. 

But Janssen, a 6-2, 205-pound junior righthander, still dreams of becoming a pro pitcher before he embarks on his final destination as a commercial airline pilot for a major airline.

“Baseball comes before flying,” Janssen said.

Janssen, who has a 3.4 grade-point average while majoring in consumer sciences, manages to find time for books, baseball and planes.

As a full-time pilot for Synergy Flight Center in Bloomington, Illinois, Janssen recently took five hours out of his school schedule to fly a customer to New York before heading back and arriving on campus in time for a 3 p.m. baseball practice.

Janssen, who served as the co-pilot on that routine flight, has long been a multi-talented person.

In high school at Princeville (Ill.), he was a four-year letterman in baseball, football and basketball.

In football, he played quarterback, middle linebacker, kicker and punter. He could throw the ball 55 to 60 yards, and he once booted a 47-yard field goal in practice.

But baseball has always been his passion – well, right along with flying. As a freshman at Bradley, he started two combined shutouts, including one that became a six-pitcher no-hitter against Robert Morris-Springfield, an NAIA school.

Bradley righthander Mitch Janssen (Bradley Athletics)

Janssen’s fascination with flight began at age 6 when he and his family flew to South Carolina for vacation.

The pilot, knowing it was Janssen’s first flight, gave the boy a gold-colored, plastic set of wings, the type he could pin to his lapel. Janssen spent the entire flight looking out his window, letting his imagination soar above the clouds.

From that point forward, any time his grandparents would take a flight, they would bring back a toy airplane for Mitch. Janssen would save them all, letting his grandparents know which planes were missing for his collection.

By the time his freshman year at Princeville had rolled around, Janssen was ready to go wheels up. He had done the research and figured out that Synergy Flight Center was the best place for him to learn to fly.

All he needed was his parents’ permission, and he got that without too much trouble.

“I was more nervous when he got his driver’s license than him flying,” said his mother, Stephanie Janssen. “There are way more people down here than up there.”

Students are eligible to get their private pilot’s license at age 17, and that’s exactly when Janssen got his – just one month after his birthday.

Since then, Richey and several of his teammates have been on planes piloted by Janssen, including Andrew Ivelia. Former teammates Spencer Gaa and Cord Perea have also taken the plunge.

However, Bradley first baseman Luke Mangieri is too afraid to go up with Janssen, who happens to be his roommate.

Even so, it’s obvious Mangieri respects Janssen’s accomplishments.

“I know he’s good – he’s a professional pilot,” Mangieri said. “It’s unreal how he manages his time. When he’s not in school or at practice, he’s in the air.”

Ironically, Janssen’s father, Steve, used to be afraid of flying, too. He didn’t get over his fear until his honeymoon with Stephanie in Jamaica nearly 23 years ago.

Steve’s life took new heights with Stephanie, and now he’s drawing inspiration from his son to do something he never thought he would accomplish or even attempt.

“I’m studying to get my pilot’s license,” Steve said. “Mitch is my instructor.”

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