ALTOONA, Pa. — This year's edition of the Altoona Curve doesn't quite feature a multitude of top prospects. In fact, their best prospect might just be the guy in charge of leading the players, manager Michael Ryan.
Since becoming a manager in 2013 for the West Virginia Power, the Pirates' Single-A affiliate, Ryan has done nothing but win, earning some hardware along the way.
He managed High-A Bradenton to the Florida State League title in 2016, before winning the Eastern League title in 2017 in this first year as manager of the Curve.
To get to that point Ryan, an Indiana, Pa., native, spent 10 years with Minnesota as an outfielder after being drafted in the fifth round in 1996. He appeared in the big leagues for the Twins from 2002-2005 before returning to the majors with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2010. It wasn't until a few years before his playing career ended that Ryan began thinking about pursuing coaching.
"About three or four years before I stopped playing," Ryan said. "When teammates would come to me and ask questions like, 'What do you see?' I was asked a couple times if I ever wanted to become a coach and that's when it started sorta crossing my mind and where I thought I'd give it a try."
Ryan's style as a manager is simple and to the point, as the players call it. They know what they're going to get night after night from their skipper.
"He's a great guy, great coach, great manager, can't ask for anything better," outfielder Bligh Madris said. "Comes out and he's honest with you every single day, and he's consistent. You know what you're going to get out of him day in and day out. He expects your best every day and we get his best every day."
It's no surprise players respect Ryan for his knowledge and ability to see the game from a different perspective, but his fellow coaches do as well.
"It's been fun. Michael knows the game and he knows a lot of what's going on, the ins and outs of it," pitching coach Joel Hanrahan said. "It's been fun to work with him because he sees every little thing that happens in a game, and you kind of sit there and go, 'How did you even see that?' I'm sitting right next to you during the game and I don't see half the stuff he sees. His mind is always working and what he sees is unbelievable."
To hear Ryan say it in his own terms, one understands why he's able to impact players, whether they're a top level prospect or a pick up from an independent league.
"I think being able to teach the game and showing the players you care about them, developing relationships with them guys. I think the best thing you can have is a player who will run through a wall for you," Ryan said. "Those are the best relationships I had with managers I played for. I just wanted to run through a wall for them because I knew they cared about me and I knew he was there to help me. I think those intangibles make a pretty good coach."
When in the dugout, Ryan is as stoic as they come until, of course, he has to stick up for a player or argue an umpire's call. Behind closed doors, Ryan isn't afraid to lay into his guys — as witnessed occasionally from standing outside the locker room postgame — and when he does yell, his players listen.
"Michael's not an in-your-face, going-to-yell-at-you kind of guy. He kinda sits back, watches and doesn't speak a whole lot when the game's going on. But when he does, he's got the guys' attention," Hanrahan said. "It's one of those 'when daddy speaks everybody listens to him,' and that's kind of how he is. He uses words wisely."
Coaching at any level, whether it be the minors, majors or even the high school level, is a thankless job and it takes a truly special individual to subject themselves to the criticism of the role and still find the reward in it.
"Watching players get better, by far. The most rewarding part of it is when a player gets it and you see the look on their face, how proud of themselves they are," Ryan said. "The other perk is when you have the players get called up to the big leagues and you're one of the guys they call and you're able to watch guys on television. That's special."
Ryan's had several former players make it to the big leagues this year, names like Cole Tucker, Bryan Reynolds, Mitch Keller and Jason Martin.
"You become proud. You're so happy for them. You know the ups and downs, inside and out that they've gone through, and how they've battled through it," Ryan said. "All the hard work they've put in, you're just so proud of them that they were able to accomplish their goal of getting to the big leagues. That's why we get out of bed in the morning and come to work, to try to enjoy that with them at times."
Coaching isn't just something Ryan does during baseball season, it's something he also finds himself doing in the winter as he coaches basketball teams his two sons are playing on. There are more similarities than one might think when it comes to coaching 10-year-olds and professional athletes.
"Patience. It's amazing how you have the same problem with 10-year-olds that you do with a professional baseball team. You just have to be patient. They're going to get it on their own time," Ryan said. "Just like the guys you mentioned, Tucker and Keller. They're going through the same exact thing as these guys in the clubhouse here. There are struggles, there's ups and downs but there's also a lot of success, and that success is going to come for these guys."
"That's the same thing with teaching 10-year-olds how to play basketball. We went from, on our basketball team, we couldn't dribble or hit a free throw. All of a sudden our second to last game we go 7 for 8 at the line. It just shows you that if you put in the hard work, you're going to improve and good things are going to happen. I believe that's what's going to happen to a lot of those guys in that room."
Whether it's a group of 10-year-olds, top-10 prospects or undrafted players, Ryan knows how to get them to buy in and run through a wall for him. It would be no surprise if Ryan found himself in a Major League dugout in the near future as a coach or even a manager. He's got the wherewithal and intangibles to be successful at the next level, wherever that might be.
CURVE'S TOP HITTERS
Hunter Owen, 3B -- Owen is leading the Eastern League with 15 home runs, three shy of his career-best 18 he hit with Bradenton last year.
Bligh Madris, OF -- Madris hit .411 last week, including hitting his third home run of the season against Binghamton on Saturday. Madris, 23, is hitting .249 on the season.
CURVE'S TOP PITCHERS
Top starting performance: James Marvel vs. Portland on June 13: seven innings pitched, two runs on three hits, five strikeouts and three walks. Marvel is 6-5 with a 3.58 ERA.
Top reliever: Blake Cederlind. On June 14, Cederlind notched his second win of the season with a 1 1/3 innings relief outing that saw him allow only one hit while striking out one and walking one. Cederlind, 23, lowered his ERA to 1.40.
THE ROSTER MOVES/INJURY UPDATE
Here are the latest roster moves:
6/12: LHP Elvis Escobar assigned to Altoona and placed on 7-day IL.
6/13: OF Logan Hill promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis. INF Robbie Glendinning assigned to Altoona.
It will be a historic week of baseball for Altoona as the Curve will go through the first transition between halves of a season in the franchise's 21-year history.
The first half of the season will end against first-half winner Harrisburg on Tuesday before the second half picks up against the same Senators Wednesday.
Despite not winning the first half crown, the Curve will enter the second half of the season on a tear, winning 11 of their past 14 games entering play on Monday. Following the three-game set against Harrisburg, Altoona will head to Hartford to take on the Yard Goats.
ALTOONA FUN THING
Father's Day weekend got kicked off a little early with the appearance of Pittsburgh Dad Thursday night as the Curve wore their alternate Allegheny Yinzers jerseys to celebrate the occasion.
— WTAJ News (@WTAJnews) June 14, 2019
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