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Welcome to the Big Leagues Dusty Ryan

Dusty Ryan

Most of you are probably familiar with the many “exclusive interviews” I conduct from time to time, you know, the ones where I pretend to be important enough on the sports writing circuit to actually talk with the players I write about.

Well this is not one of those faux interviews. As Bud Selig would say: This time… it counts.

(Bracing for your tomatoes… it was a terrible joke, and I apologize. Let’s move on.)

(Dude! No throwing scotch bottles! That could have shredded an eyeball. Geez.)

Back when I was but a young kid with a handful of dreams and a composite baseball bat — which cost way more than I ever could have afforded without my Granddad — at Golden Valley High School, in Merced, CA, I had the pleasure of playing ball with two guys who would eventually play in the Major Leagues: Doug Fister, a starting pitcher for the Seattle Mariners and the star of this blog, Dusty Ryan, an up and coming catcher for the Detroit Tigers.

Fister actually beat me out for the first base job my senior year, a feat which killed me then, but one which I am more than ok with now. Sure I stunk. I know it, everyone then knew it, but now that I can say a Big Leaguer beat me out, no one else has to know it. Well, except all of you now.

(Crap.)

The funny thing was, while Fister was very talented and had an understanding for the fundamentals of pitching and the typical sweet swing left handers are for some reason blessed with, most of us didn’t have a clue he’d end up being a big league prospect. Sure he was 6-foot-8, but he was lanky and didn’t throw particularly hard. Apparently he didn’t let that stop him though, he’s had loads of success since his call-up in early August.

But Dusty Ryan was different. A mammoth, freak of a human being. The biggest catcher I had ever seen. You know that “it” people always talk about it? Well he had it.

He had a canon right arm and natural power. A great combination for a young catcher.

The question with Dusty wasn’t ever whether he had the talent to play at the highest level, like many talented prep stars, it was whether or not he would hone his game enough to realize that limitless potential. And he did.

After a short stint with the Merced College Blue Devils (another school I attended before moving onto the beautiful PLNU campus in San Diego) Dusty was drafted in the 48th round by the Detroit Tigers, in the 2003 draft.

He then spent the next four and a half years escalating through the Tigers minor league system – with a short detour in between for knee surgery – realizing his dream to play in the show, when Detroit called him up in September of 2008. He played in 15 games, hitting .318 with an OPS of .880.

Still, the Tigers still optioned him back to Triple-A Toledo at the start of this past season, with another call-up in June to back up the newly acquired Gerald Laird. Ryan didn’t find consistent playing time and was sent back in early August, to spend the month getting more at-bats before rosters expanded in September.

Lucky for me, my former teammate was nice enough to agree to an e-mail swap, answering a few questions for this feature. He then granted me a follow-up interview using Facebook instant messenger as our vehicle of communication. You’ve gotta love this new era of technology. Websites like Facebook and Twitter allow sports writers to talk to sources with the ultimate level of laziness.

Isn’t it great?

Anyway, here is the transcript from our conversations:

BB: Dusty, thanks again for agreeing to answer a few questions so we can write a feature on you. Explain what it what like the day you were drafted out of Merced Community College. Which moment was bigger for you; finding out the Tigers picked you, or actually putting pen to paper and signing your first professional contract?

DR: In 2003 my family was listening to the draft on the internet, when we heard my name in the 48th round, two rounds later than the previous year. I received a couple of phone calls. One from my college coach (Chris Pedretti) to say congrats. I think actually signing the contract was the biggest moment because it made it all seem real.

BB: You have been up with the big club twice now and appear to be a prime candidate for a September call-up; what is your favorite perk playing in the majors brings, that minor league baseball doesn’t offer?

Dusty Ryan won't be upset if he doesn't see Toledo ever again. Not that there's anything wrong with it.

Dusty Ryan won't be upset if he never has to see Toledo again, not that there's anything wrong with it.

DR: To name a few, traveling on a private jet, playing in all the amazing stadiums, the hotels are always five-star and of course, the paychecks are better.

BB: Of all the pitchers you have caught, in your opinion, who has the filthiest stuff? Who throws the hardest to hit pitch in the big leagues?

DR: As far as being the nastiest pitcher I have caught, it’s pretty close between Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson, but I have to give the edge to Verlander. The toughest pitcher I have faced as a hitter would have to be Fausto Carmona.”

(*Note: Britton had a great anecdote when I gave him this answer, replying, “Apparently the entire American League would disagree.”)

BB: I’m sure you have heard about Doug Fister’s success in Seattle, have you had a chance to watch him or talk to him since his call-up?

DR: Yeah, I was able to watch his debut.

BB: He appeared to find a way to calm his nerves enough to make his way through six shut-out innings. As someone who homered in your second Big League at-bat, how were you able to relate to his poise?

DR: He was probably pretty nervous that first inning, but once you get into it, you calm down. I was able to get a pinch-hit in before my (first) start and by the third pitch I saw, it all hit me and my legs were shaking, but when I started that game in Minnesota everything was fine.

BB: Ok, after sharing your Gerald Laird, “the prankster” story with our staff, I can’t let it go without asking you this: How in the world does lighting someone’s shoe on fire, not make Sportscenter?

(*Note: Dusty had previously told me that Laird pre-wrapped pitcher, Armando Galarraga’s shoe — with his foot still inside — and lit it on fire. In the dugout. During a game. Fan-freaking-tastic.)

DR: (Laughing) I guess there wasn’t enough smoke, so the cameras didn’t notice.

BB: What other Tigers have great senses of humor?

DR: Inge is the biggest clown on the team, he’s awesome. Bobby Seay keeps it pretty loose in the bullpen.

BB: Let’s go back to Inge, we always hear about his intangibles and his spark, what does he bring to the table that seems to drive the wagon so well?

DR: He’s a great leader in the clubhouse and on the field. He’s willing to help out the younger guys. I feel like if I have a question or need something, he will help out anyway he can.

BB: What about Gerald Laird, what is your dynamic with him? As a talented up-and-comer, does he shy away from you all, or is he a viable resource as well?

DR: He doesn’t shy away at all, we’re all there for one thing and that’s to win. So if pointing something out to me is going to help the team, he will do it.

Dusty may not be able to say Miguel Cabrera is the most important Tiger, but we will. Miguel Cabrera is the most important Tiger. Unless it's Justin Verlander. Hmmm...

Dusty may not be able to say Miguel Cabrera is the most important Tiger, but we will. Miguel Cabrera is the most important Tiger. Unless it's Justin Verlander. Hmmm...

BB: Good stuff. Just a couple more Q’s and I’ll let you go Dusty, you have better things to do than celebrate your call-up by talking to a sports writer. With the Sox completing a selling spree and 7.5 back, the Central seems to be between you and Minnesota. If you could identify the single most important Tiger, whose production will help hold off the Twins, who would that be?

DR: I don’t think it comes down to one person, I think if our pitchers keep pitchin the way they have, the offense will score enough to win games.

BB: Ha, that is such a Nuke LaLoosh answer. C’mon Dusty, break it down, who’s more important to the win column, Verlander, Inge or Miguel Cabrera?

DR: (Laughing) I don’t know.

BB: Ok, ok, let’s say this: It’s October 4th, you are playing the Sox, it’s tied in the bottom of the ninth, first and second…

DR: Polanco.

BB: Wow. Really? I did not expect that answer. Why Polanco with the season on the line?

DR: He is the best clutch hitter I have ever seen.

BB: Alrighty Dusty, on last question and I’ll let you get rid of me. Other than you of course, who is the best player in baseball no one has ever heard of?

DR: Hmm… that’s tough.

BB: That’s good. It means I’m doing my job. Who do you think I am? John Kruk?

DR: Ever heard of?

BB: Let’s just say the average baseball junky doesn’t know him. Who should the baseball world have their eyes on over the next couple of years?

DR: I think I’m going to have to go with Matt LaPorta from the Indians. He can hit a little bit.

BB: Well I’ll spread the word. I’ll let them know Dusty Ryan can hit a bit too.

DR: Sounds good.

So there you have it. Detroit’s Dusty Ryan. Give him a hand everybody!

Hopefully our real interviews are as good as our fake ones. Send Dusty your love and get Matt LaPorta on your fantasy team next year. Or face the wrath of a 6-foot-4, 220-pound catcher in full garb.

And sooner rather than later, you may be adding Dusty Ryan himself onto your fantasy team. Don’t bet against him. He’s already made it this far.

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