Altoona Curve manager Michael Ryan already knows how he’ll have his team ready for “Big Boy Baseball.”
“One thing that I can guarantee is this. We are going to work hard every single night.” new Altoona Curve manager Michael Ryan told me. “I can’t control the schedule, and the wins and losses will take care of themselves, but we will be working.”
Though his name may be an obscure one to some portion of the Pittsburgh Pirates fan base, it should not be. Ryan has steadily risen through the Pirates’ minor league managerial ranks. Following a successful two-year stint with Single-A West Virginia Power, Ryan managed the High-A Bradenton Marauders for the past two seasons, culminating in a Florida State League Championship in 2016.
Prior to that experience, Ryan played parts of five major league seasons, and 14 years of professional baseball in total. Ryan is an Indiana, PA native, and he is excited to be a bit closer to home.
“It will be nice to see some supportive faces throughout the summer.” Ryan pointed out. “To be able to wake up in the morning and see my wife and son, that is truly amazing in this game.”
Of course, being close to home is not the only adjustment that Ryan will have to make.
“The hardest jump for any player to make is the jump from High-A to Double-A.” Ryan told me. “I like to call it ‘Big Boy Baseball.’ It’s double switches. It’s the National League brand of baseball. I’m going to remind our guys – you’ll be playing against men in the game. People who have families to take care of, and who have seen a lot.”
“It’s a different style of baseball.”
Lessons Gathered Along the Way
Ryan is big on perspective, and he will draw from his own journey to ensure that his charges understand its value. He’ll use his time as a player to drill his point home.
“Thinking as a player gives you an advantage; there are definitely some stories…some things I can tell these guys that I don’t think they’ve gone through yet.” Ryan explained. “I can use some things back from my playing days that have helped me.”
But, I can tell them that there are some experiences that I went through may not help you. Different players have different journeys….the one thing I want them to do is enjoy it; sit back and realize that not every one will make it. ”
It was then that Ryan’s tone turned wistful.
“Just…enjoy the minor league process, I guess. There was so much I missed because my only goal was to get to the major leagues; I didn’t think about the good times or the good seasons.”
The Journey is Meant to Be Enjoyed
Indeed, enjoying the journey is a subject that came up frequently in our talk. When I asked Ryan how his first batch of Altoona Curve players can relieve stress, he had some concrete ideas.
“I tell me players….whatever city you’re in, go out and explore. Find that restaurant, or that amusement park, or whatever it is. There is a huge chance for a burnout if all you are focusing on is that night’s game.”
“That burnout comes sooner if you are constantly thinking about last night’s game.”
Ryan’s message of perspective dovetails in nicely with another tenet of his baseball philosophy. The 2016 Bradenton Marauders were a fun group to watch. According to Ryan, their march to the FSL championship was fueled entirely by their secret weapon.
“The one thing I’ll remember about that team…and I tell everyone this – a team’s secret weapon is how close-knit they are.” Ryan told me. “[That team] was so close-knit. They cared for each other, they fought for each other and they just never quit. I’ll never forget their work ethic, and how they never believed they were out of any game.”
High Praise for Newman and Keller
Ryan is going to be in a pretty sweet spot with the Altoona Curve in terms of talent. Kevin Newman will presumably start the year in Altoona – though the length of his stay may be very short – and it is also expected that Mitch Keller will see time at Double-A at some point this year as well.
The good thing for Ryan is that he has experience in managing both, and I asked him for a his quick thoughts on each.
“He knows exactly what he wants to do before he steps to the plate,” Ryan began when asked what made Newman’s adjustment to the Double-A level seem effortless. “He has trust in his approach and his physical tools; he never shies away from it. The thing that’s special about him is that he dictates each at-bat; he knows what he wants to do and he goes out and does it.”
Ryan succinctly summed up his praise with Newman before moving onto another highly-routed youngster.
“His mechanics are so pure and simple, it’s hard for him to screw them up.”
Keller’s near-meteoric rise in the prospect ranks has many wondering how he has progressed so quickly, but his climb is no surprise to Ryan.
“With everything you hear bout him, it’s still surprising how good he is; how good he is going to be; he is one of the best young arms I’ve ever seen. You see him in person and you understand.”
“The hype is real. Sometimes it’s a little shocking, but it [Keller’s stuff and work ethic] is different than others…and that’s special.”
The Full Interview
The Altoona Curve may have found themselves a quality manager. Ryan’s enthusiasm for the game and those in his charge shone through every bit of our conversation.
Listen to the full conversation below, and don’t forget to subscribe to the Pirates Breakdown Radio feed to hear interviews such as these first before they hit our pages. iPhone users can subscribe by clicking here. Android users can find us on Stitcher and many other podcast apps.
Featured Image Credit – Altoona Curve