Leadership role wears nicely on Barrington's Lidge
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Ryan Lidge is always one to put others before himself.
Last season, when the varsity baseball team got its brand new pullovers, the team planned on wearing them to school shortly thereafter.
But the Barrington senior was insistent that the team not sport the new gear until the freshmen team had received theirs and could also wear them.
That attitude goes a long way in explaining why Lidge thrives at the most thankless and unforgiving position on a baseball field: catcher. Sure, it helps to have a rocket arm, but Lidge is behind the plate because he is about helping others succeed.
"I can't see myself not calling pitches and helping the pitcher control the game," Lidge said. "I feel like my biggest strength as a player is helping the pitcher. I have a good arm and my blocking and framing skills are good, but I love working with my pitcher to help my team win."
And at a position that requires a lot of the dirty work and developing skills that go unnoticed to the casual fan, he is among the very best in the state.
Lidge was one of three players selected from Illinois to play in the prestigious Area Code games last August. With the spring season ready to kick off whenever the weather permits, Lidge has already committed to playing college baseball at Notre Dame.
Standing 6-foot-2, Lidge is a rare talent having been switch-hitting since tee-ball and sporting a big league-caliber pop time of 1.8.
But it's what he's doing behind the scenes for Barrington's baseball program, which is tied for the most division titles in Mid-Suburban League history with 18 but hasn't won one since 2005, that stands out the most.
"He's as good of a kid as he is a baseball player, and that's the truth," said first-year coach Pat Wire. "He wants to be the focal point of our program as a model kid. He's not a typical guy who might be arrogant or egotistical (because of his accolades)."
Lidge has every reason to be, considering he hit .352 with 2 home runs and 22 RBI as a junior and will soon be playing in the ACC, one of the top baseball conferences in the country.
Facing some of the top high school pitchers in the country at the Area Code games held in Long Beach, Calif., Lidge went 4-for-9 with 2 doubles, 3 RBI, 3 walks and a stolen base.
It was there that Lidge played with potential first round picks in the June MLB Draft like Ryan Boldt, Trey Ball and Jon Denny.
"I remember watching batting practice and the way these guys were hitting the ball, I couldn't believe that scouts were comparing me to them," Lidge said. "It was mind-blowing. It was crazy.
"These are the guys that I want to be like, and it's like, I'm almost one of them. It's an absolutely humbling experience."
Playing with the Reds Midwest Scout Team in Florida during the fall, Lidge hit a home run in front of his future college coach, Mik Aoki. But true to his character, he didn't feel the need to boast.
"A typical kid might say, 'Coach, you wouldn't believe this home run I hit,'" Wire said. "I didn't even know anything about it until a couple of scouts told me about it.
"He is so humble."
Lidge comes from a family full of baseball -- his cousin is ex-big league closer Brad Lidge -- and his parents Chris and Peggy have been supportive from the moment he started playing as a youngster.
Baseball is the only sport he's played throughout high school, and he wouldn't have it any other way.
During the summer, Lidge played Monday through Thursday with the legion team and spent the weekends traveling around to tournaments.
Playing baseball every day as a catcher is no easy feat, and Lidge credits his older brother Mike, a strength and conditioning coach in the San Francisco Giants organization, with developing his overall strength and endurance.
"With all of the stuff that's happening, you realize how blessed you are with your family, and how lucky you are to have those people in your life," Lidge said.
With his future brighter than ever, Lidge has his sights set on helping Barrington return to the success the program has experienced under former coaches Kirby Smith and Jim Hawrysko.
And it's the final year he'll get to play on the same team with fraternal twin brother Dylan, who Lidge calls "the hardest worker I'll ever know."
"This season isn't about proving myself or anyone else proving themselves," Lidge said. "It's about putting Barrington back on that 'I don't want to play them anymore' level. When you hear you're playing Barrington at Barrington, you don't want to go because you know you're going to have the hardest game of the year.
"I take pride in that Barrington has such a rich history."
Part of that history includes Dan Wilson, who played catcher in the major leagues for 14 seasons.
Recently, Wilson was the keynote speaker at a Barrington fundraiser. Naturally, Lidge was eager to pick Wilson's brain.
And someday, it's not inconceivable to see Lidge in that same role as Wilson.
"It's that legacy that he wants to leave," Wire said. "Who knows? Maybe 10 or 15 years from now, he is a guy who comes back as our keynote speaker."
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