ORONO — Justin Leisenheimer and Ian Leisenheimer enjoy a special bond.
The 21-year-old identical twins, junior sluggers for the University of Maine, are inseparable on and off the field.
The Leisenheimers, from Middle Village, N.Y., have been double trouble for the Black Bears’ baseball opponents. They have helped UMaine win 11 straight going into Friday’s 2 p.m. opener of a four-game America East series against Binghamton at Mahaney Diamond.
Justin, the starting first baseman, leads the team with a career-best .331 batting average, five home runs and a .543 slugging percentage along with 22 runs batted in.
“That’s sickening,” Ian joked of Justin’s superior numbers this season.
Ian, who sees duty in left field and as the designated hitter, is batting .311 with one homer and 11 RBIs.
“They’re very similar, both power hitters,” said UMaine coach Steve Trimper. “Because of their size (6 feet, 230 pounds) and the way they swing the bat, people think they’re just good hitters.”
Justin has developed into a slick-fielding first baseman while Ian, despite being hampered by an old shoulder injury, has made some defensive gems in the outfield.
The twins’ combined contributions over three seasons are similar. Ian is a career .316 hitter and Justin checks in at .309. Justin has 14 home runs, while Ian owns 11. Ian has racked up 82 of the duo’s 143 career RBIs.
The Leisenheimers lend confidence and experience to a ballclub that often has had four freshmen in the lineup.
“They add that upperclass presence and leadership to our lineup,” Trimper said. “They keep producing when they’re in there and they keep working their butts off.”
The Leisenheimers are intent on helping UMaine win the AE title this season as they don’t expect to return in 2012. Both will complete their degree work in communications in December.
They’re not prepared to pay for another full semester, with housing and living costs, particularly if job offers arise in the meantime.
“We could end up coming back, but right now for us it’s done,” said Justin, who is the older twin by 45 minutes.
Instead, they are relishing what could be their last opportunity to play baseball together alongside a successful, driven group of teammates.
“You want to win a conference tournament, get to a regional and win a game maybe,” Ian said. “That would be pretty tough to live with if we didn’t fulfill that.”
The Leisenheimers relish being twins, although looking so much alike can cause issues. On the field, they can be identified by their jersey numbers. Ian wears No. 40 and Justin is No. 24.
That didn’t stop this reporter from incorrectly crediting Ian with two home runs hit by Justin earlier this season.
“Easiest two home runs I ever had,” Ian quipped.
“As long as it stays in the family, I don’t care,” Justin chimed in.
Sophomore Michael Fransoso said it didn’t take him too long to learn how to tell the Leisenheimers apart.
“At first, you don’t even want to say ‘hey Ian or Justin,’ because you’re not sure,” Fransoso said. “I’d come in and say, ‘hey, man,’ and never call them their name. When you’re around them for a while, you see their differences.”
The Leisenheimers said they haven’t tried to deceive anyone by trading places. They admitted one has accepted birthday wishes for both, saving a little time on the phone for the other.
Ian recounted one incident from a game during which Justin had shouted a derogatory comment at an opposing pitcher.
“At home plate, he starts cursing at me,” Ian said. “I’m like, ‘what are you talking about? Look over there, that’s the kid (Justin) who did it.’”
The twins often share similar thoughts, including each sending the other the exact same text message simultaneously. That might have to do with the fact they’re almost always together.
“I’ve called (Justin’s) home runs,” Ian said. “I’ll say, ‘he’s going to hit a home run this pitch. It’s happened several times.”
Their teammates marvel at the predictions.
“You’re like, how the hell did he know that?” Fransoso said. “It’s crazy, because they do it every single time.”
They share the same apartment, work out with each other and are content to hang out together with their teammates.
Each twin does have a few pet peeves about the other.
“He leaves clothes in the washing machine for like three days,” Justin said. “He uses the dryer to iron his clothes that have been left in there for a week.”
“God forbid I go in (Justin’s room) to watch the flat screen that we both share,” Ian said. I got stuck with a little, crappy, old TV in my room for the last two years.”
The two also share their clothing.
The Leisenheimers are happy to serve as team leaders. They are effective in that role because of their willingness to address issues that might arise.
“Even though I’m not a captain, I’ve been around here long enough that I’ not afraid to voice my opinion,” Justin said.
Their take-charge style is a dynamic appreciated by their coach and teammates.
“They’re very competitive and they want to win and they’ve worked extremely hard,” Trimper said. “I think a lot of the kids follow them.”
The twins’ confidence level has been an important factor on a team with so many underclassmen in key roles.
“They have that swagger that all teams need,” Fransoso said.
Justin and Ian credited their parents, Dianne and Duane, and their extended family with providing the love and support needed to help them succeed.
With the America East tournament set next week, the Leisenheimers are determined to exert their influence to help UMaine win a championship.
“I’m going to leave everything out on the field. Everyone’s got the same refuse-to-lose mentality,” Justin said. “I think right now we’re gelling and we know what to do.”