Harwood Heights’ Jack Ryan prepares for national baseball showcase – Chicago Tribune
Playing baseball at the national level as both a 12- and 13-year-old has opened Jack Ryan’s eyes.
“I’ve learned that you have to be a lot more focused. It takes a lot to stay focused on every pitch but it’s important,” he said. “Self-confidence is also very important, and playing at that level has made me realize what I actually can do.”
One year after playing for USA Baseball’s 12U National Team that won a gold medal at the World Cup in Taiwan, the Harwood Heights resident has been invited to play in the 2016 Ripken Futures Game in Aberdeen, Md.
The 24-player roster was selected by a committee that includes personnel from Ripken Baseball and USA Baseball. The game will be broadcast live on MLB.com at 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 6, and Bill Ripken, the former Major League Baseball player and younger brother of Cal Ripken Jr., will provide commentary.
“It’s just pretty cool to be recognized,” Ryan said.
During last year’s U12 Baseball World Cup tournament, Ryan batted .545 and led all players at the 12-nation tournament with three home runs and a 1.091 slugging percentage. He also hit a game-tying RBI double and a home run to help the U.S. beat Chinese Taipei 7-2 in the final.
Ryan’s father, Mike, is the owner-operator of Fastball USA baseball academy in Schaumburg. Mike Ryan sees clear benefits to the upcoming Ripken Futures game, where Jack Ryan will play against some of the best players in the country.
“The biggest thing is that the experience motivates him,” Mike Ryan said. “He realized last year that he could play at that level and he saw the things that he needed to work on. He’s definitely not satisfied.
“He’s happy to be recognized as one of the best young players but he wants to keep working hard towards being recognized as one of the best 17- or 18-year-old players in the country.”
Jack Ryan could have played U13 summer baseball this year but opted instead to play against older children at the U14 level. Some of the players he played with and against were nearly 15 years old, which pushed him to play his best in order to compete.
“Hitting a 15-year-old’s curveball is tough,” Jack Ryan said. “It’s thrown harder, it’s harder to pick up, and it breaks more. But it’s good practice.”
Field dimensions also change from 13U to 14U baseball, which plays on a larger, high school-sized field.
“Those little league home runs aren’t leaving the park at the 14U level,” Mike Ryan said. “So Jack will have a couple years of playing on a high school-sized diamond before he gets to high school, which will help him.”
Playing and training with older players since he was very young has also helped instill a strong work ethic in Jack Ryan, but what Mike Ryan said he appreciates most in his son is the way he carries himself.
Mike Ryan and his staff at Fastball USA stress the importance of being a good teammate, always hustling and having a good attitude.
“Part of it is picking people up, because it’s not about yourself,” Jack Ryan said. “It’s a team thing. And even the best players fail and make mistakes, so I try not to get down about mistakes when they happen.”
Intangibles like attitude and approach played a role in Ripken Baseball’s selection of Jack Ryan and Plainfield’s Michael Ascencio as the only players chosen from Illinois.
“We selected Michael and Jack based on more than just skill,” said John Bramlette, executive vice president of amateur baseball and growth for Ripken Baseball. “We looked at their behavior on and off of the field, including their sportsmanship and how they carry themselves as a teammate.”
Gary Larsen is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.