Matt Ryan can throw curve balls, and so can life.
Earlier this spring, life threw Ryan a curve ball that he definitely wasn't expecting.
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Ryan entered his senior year at Carmel expecting to be the baseball team's ace. He won 6 games on the mound last season as a junior with 50 strikeouts and a 1.94 earned run average. He signed to play college ball with St. Louis University over the off-season and he was ready to finish out his prep career with a bang.
At 4-0, which includes a recent win over powerhouse Joliet Catholic, Ryan is certainly on his way. But his storybook swan song comes only after a humbling and delayed start.
Following a shaky outing against Stevenson back in March, Ryan spent the next two weeks coming out of the bullpen, pitching only in relief. Juniors Quinten Sefcik and Dalton Wright were, in the meantime, elevated in the starting rotation, right past Ryan.
Ryan wound up missing the chance to start during the Corsairs' opening weekend of conference play.
"I was kind of mad because I wanted to start that weekend," Ryan said. "I thought I deserved those games."
Head coach Dann Giesey didn't agree at the time, which was a bit of a risk for a first-year coach. Giesey certainly wasn't thrilled with the idea of rocking the boat. But he was convinced that Ryan would be better in the long run with a detour to the bullpen.
"Matt Ryan has been pitching absolutely like an ace lately. He's been light's out," Giesey said. "But early in the year, he was having a tough time. He wasn't locating his stuff. He was struggling with his command and when I moved him to the bullpen, I know he wasn't happy. There's no doubt, as a new coach, you've got people wondering when you do something like that."
"I was just thinking of the end result. My thought was to move Matt into the bullpen for a while so that we could really work with him on a few things. If you're out there in the regular rotation pitching complete games all the time, you're extending yourself there and you aren't able to get as much bullpen work in to really work on yourself. We wanted to get Matt frequent bullpen work so that we could get his command down and he could get back in (the rotation)."
While Ryan was working the kinks out, he managed to pick up 4 crucial saves for the Corsairs, who are 14-3 on the season and an impressive 8-1 in the rugged East Suburban Catholic Conference.
He also gained some valuable perspective.
"Coach (Giesey) told us that the top two guys would start our conference doubleheaders and that first weekend it was going to be Quinten and Dalton, and I really couldn't argue with that because they were both pitching really well," Ryan said. "Even though I was upset, I knew I had some things to work on.
"I think Coach was also trying to get the message across that everything is earned, that it doesn't matter what you did last year or what your reputation is. Nothing is given to you and you have to prove yourself every day."
Keeping his chin up and his attitude positive, Ryan went to work on that right away. He says the bullpen work actually did help his pitching, particularly from a mental standpoint.
"I think my trouble had a lot to do with my approach," Ryan said. "I had to work on my mental preparation. At the beginning of the season, I always have trouble getting things going. This year, I was really having a tough time. I wasn't myself. I needed to get my head right. I wasn't as dialed in or as focused as I needed to be."
So Ryan focused and focused. What he didn't do was pout or complain.
"Another kid might have taken this whole thing in a completely different direction," Giesey said. "But Matt is a special kid. I knew he could handle it. He stayed positive. He stayed a leader of our team. He didn't sulk. He took this and ran with it so that he could do what he needed to do to be our ace again, and he had a great attitude about it."
Ryan, who rolled up 9 strikeouts and hit 95 of 97 spots against St. Viator in one of his first starts back, says he knows no other way. He was taught to let adversity make him tougher.
"I think that's just how I am," Ryan said. "I'm not going to sit around feeling sorry for myself. My dad is always telling me that you can get knocked down, but it's how you respond that really counts.
"I'm trying to be a leader on this team and if I just sulked about that bullpen thing, what would the other kids think? If they were going through tough times and I told them to just be tough, how could they listen to me? That's not the way I want our team to work. That's not who we are."
The Corsairs are, however, extremely competitive, and Ryan certainly appreciates that. He says all the talent on the Carmel roster is keeping him on his toes.
"I've learned a good lesson, that if I let up and don't pitch to my potential, someone could replace me," said Ryan, now back in the ace role for the Corsairs. "That's what's going to happen in college. It will be very competitive. I'll have to earn everything I get and I can't let up.
"It's a good lesson for baseball, and life."