Ryan Klosterman: The SEC's best shortstop

Two short years ago, Ryan Klosterman was languishing at Clemson, sitting through a redshirt year and wondering if he'd ever see the field for the Tigers. Today, Klosterman looks upon his decision to transfer to Vanderbilt as "the greatest decision of my life," and Commodore fans would second that emotion. The Commodores (42-17) face George Mason (39-17) Friday at 3 p.m. ET in the first round of a three-day, double-elimination tournament.

In the aftermath of a 2004 Vanderbilt baseball season that has easily surpassed all others, whom would you have chosen as Most Valuable Player? Surely it's got to be second baseman Warner Jones, who led the league in batting with a torrid .425 regular-season average, right? Or maybe Jeremy Sowers, the dominating lefty who should go in the first round of next week's Major League Draft?

So the conventional wisdom would go.

Yet when it came time two weeks ago for Vanderbilt's players, coaches and support staff to vote on the team's Most Valuable Player, the award went overwhelmingly to durable shortstop and leadoff hitter Ryan Klosterman. When it came time to identify the one man who came to the ballpark to play every day... who earned the respect of his teammates and left nothing behind on the field... the choice became an easy one.

Head coach Tim Corbin put it this way: "MVP to me means a guy who works well in the locker room; a guy who can play defense; a guy who can challenge his teammates every day; and a guy who can get a big hit here and there.

"[Klosterman's] work habits seep throughout the team, and he never takes a day off. His character is impeccable."

Last week the junior received another well-deserved honor, that of first-team All-SEC shortstop. As the Commodores' leadoff hitter, he sets the table for the offense; on the basepaths, he knows only one speed (all-out). At short, he serves as the anchor point for a defense that's been rock-solid up the middle.

His 2004 numbers are plenty impressive (.349 average... 66 runs scored... 14 stolen bases... a league-leading .975 fielding average). But the numbers only tell part of the story.

Listen to his teammates and coaches talk, and you'll find Klosterman is the glue that has held the team together, the inspiration through the team's tough stretches. Out of a doggedly tough collection of Commodores, he perhaps best exemplifies the variety of grit and toughness that Corbin preaches daily.

He even gets it done in the classroom, where he finished last semester with a 3.8 GPA.

After the bustout year Klosterman has had, it's almost beyond belief that a mere two years ago he was languishing at Clemson, taking a redshirt year, and wondering if he'd ever see the field for the Tigers. When Corbin, then an assistant at Clemson, was offered the Vanderbilt job in the summer of 2002, Klosterman was quick to inquire about following him.

"I was playing summer ball, and Coach Corbin called my dad to tell me he'd gotten the job and to wish me luck," Klosterman said Wednesday from Charlottesville, Va. "It was my dad who asked him if he was going to need a shortstop at Vanderbilt, and my dad was the one who kind of initiated it. We sort of took it from there."

With the blessing of Clemson Coach Jack Leggett, Klosterman arranged a transfer to Vanderbilt, where he would have three years of eligibility remaining.

Entering a program as the only player familiar with Corbin's system could easily have created a tense situation for Vanderbilt's returning players. But with his stellar work habits steeled by two years at Clemson, it didn't take long for "Klostie" to earn the respect of his teammates.

"I'm sure a lot of players on the team thought I had some kind of special relationship with Coach," he says. "The situation wasn't like that at all.

"The philosophy and mentality that he was trying to develop with this program were things that I'd already gone through at Clemson. Maybe there were some of the drills that I was more familiar with... I guess I just knew a little more what he expects out of his players."

Today, Klosterman looks upon his decision to transfer as "the greatest decision of my life," and Commodore fans would heartily agree. Yet on the heels of a supreme season, there is reason a-plenty to be worried whether the Clermont, Fla. native will be back for his senior season. His stock in next Monday's Major League Baseball Draft has skyrocketed, and some say he could go as high as the third round.

Klosterman will have none of that kind of talk, especially this week. Along with his teammates, he is dutifully focused on advancing in this weekend's NCAA Regionals. The Commodores (42-17) face George Mason (39-17) Friday at 3 p.m. ET in the first round of a three-day, double-elimination tournament.

Once again Klosterman's leadership and experience will come in handy, as he is the only Commodore ever to participate in an NCAA Tournament. Clemson made it to the Super Regionals his freshman year.

"The SEC Tournament was a really good learning experience, as far as learning how to play in tournaments, learning how to stay out of the loser's bracket," Klosterman said. "I think it will help us tremendously for this regional."


In VandyMania's complete interview with Ryan Klosterman, the Commodore shortstop talked Wednesday about this weekend's NCAA Regionals, his decision to transfer from Clemson to Vanderbilt two years ago, and his thoughts on the upcoming Major League Baseball Draft. To read the complete interview, click here (premium subscription required).

Photos by Neil Brake, courtesy Vanderbilt Athletics.

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