Rusty Ryal can not remember a time when he did not know how to swing a
bat. And how could he? The game of baseball is in his blood and in his
name. His father played parts of six different seasons in the major
leagues for the Royals, White Sox, Angels, Phillies, and Pirates, and his home
is in Oklahoma where everybody has a connection to the Mick, Mickey Mantle. Even
his name is tailor-made for baseball, as his father has been quoted saying that
he thought it was "a good baseball name" when he picked it out.
Now in this his fourth minor-league season, Ryal has been alternating between second and third base for the Mobile BayBears in the Southern League.
"Honestly, I've gotten to the point where second and third
base are equally comfortable for me," Ryal reveals. "I don't feel one is better than
the other. I have a different mind frame when I play second than third,
because there's different things you have to know at each position. At
second there are double cuts, double plays, hits and runs. On balls
hit to third you're more stationary, but yet you have to be on your
toes because they're hit differently and there's a lot more time to
react at second base. I've just established a comfortable mindset and
frame to play both of them.
Infielders all have the same fundamentals, just different reads."
For Rusty, baseball is about reading the situation on the field, understanding the situation and then executing your gameplan. This is true when playing defense and when hitting. On his approach to facing pitchers, he says that he tries to get as much information as he can.
"Certain catchers have certain gameplans," Ryal explains. "The main thing is to slow everything down and try to simplify. That's the trouble sometimes. Finding out what adjustment I have to make in a situation. That's the tough part about baseball, is making mental observations and figuring it out. I try to process as much information as I can, and get as much perspective as I can. We're all different players and different hitters."
Ryal notes, however, that there are three things every major league
hitter does and every hitter ought to do: "Recognize pitches. Be ready
to hit. And control your zone," he recites. "From there on, the physical parts are
going to be different. You take as much information as you can, place
it in your mind and your physical work during batting practice, and put
what you practice into your playing."
When preparing for a ballgame, Rusty will only occasionally look at the opposing pitchers' statistics, mostly when he has not seen the pitcher before.
"You can't hit a pitcher on paper," he quips. "If I've seen a pitcher, I
remember his release point, his consistency, and the experience I had
before. But you've always got to see what a guy's throwing that day.
Every time you face a guy, he's a different pitcher, and you just have
to go out there and see if he's throwing sliders in the dirt, throwing
fastballs over. Everyone's going to be a little different every day."
As of this writing Rusty, is emerging from a slump, and when asked how he deals with bad runs at the plate, he says that he doesn't think slumps exist.
"Baseball comes full circle, and I understand that. It's frustrating when it happens. It's not like I haven't produced for much of the year, but for two to three weeks, I struggled. Every player has that. You know, statistic-wise, you might look at it and say I wasn't doing as well, but I just look at it as I've got to get back on track."
I ask him what sort of off-the-field
distractions there are in the minor leagues that might hurt a player
in the short and long-term. "The biggest off-the-field distraction is
the grind," he admits. "Right now we're on a ten-game roadtrip, and I'm trying to
survive as a player, just trying to get through the season and be
consistent. When you're away from home five to six months and you
don't see your family, it's a grind. There's so much downtime with this
profession that it gives you a lot of time to think, but you're away
from home. Your relationships become phone-based relationships. You
just want to be in your own bed and watch your own TV and cable, but
you can't. It takes a special person to play baseball. Those are the
"At home, we have a lot of pond-fishing. I grew up fishing with my grandpa. Hopefully I can take my kids fishing. I enjoy being outside, whether it's on freshwater or a river or a lake or an ocean."
In five years Ryal sees himself playing in the big leagues "for whoever gives me an opportunity, whether it's the Diamondbacks or someone else. I'm a firm believer that I can play in the big leagues. There's people that say I can play in the big leagues. Whether it's to play one game or one at-bat, play for one inning, that'd be a success for me. You want to prolong your career in the big leagues and play a long time, and that's where I foresee myself. That's my goal. I've just got to keep doing what I'm doing to get to my goals."
Send questions or comments for Gregory Pratt to firstname.lastname@example.org
|Are you a monthly or 3-month subscriber to FutureBacks.com? Why not get a lower monthly rate, the special 84-page Scout.com Prospects Guide covering all 30 farm systems, and a $15 gift certificate to WhatIfSports.com included by becoming an annual subscriber? Upgrade today to get the most out of your subscription.|