His playing career ended three years ago, but former AAABA League star Michael Ryan has advanced through the Pittsburgh Pirates organization at a rapid pace away from the field.
Ryan was named manager of the Pirates’ Class A West Virginia Power in Charleston, W.Va., on Friday. The Pirates added him to the minor league system as a coach with the Altoona Curve last season.
“It’s what I wanted to be whenever I got into coaching. I wanted to become a manager,” Ryan said during a Wednesday telephone interview from Bradenton, Fla., where he’s attending an organizational meeting. “I thought that was going to be a long process. To be able to start out so soon makes me feel so good about what the Pirates think I can accomplish to help the organization.”
Ryan played parts of five seasons in the major leagues – four with the Minnesota Twins and briefly with the Los Angeles Angels – and had a 15-year professional career as both an outfielder and infielder.
He’ll need that experience.
“As a manager you have to know everything about everything whether it’s a bunt play, or a first-to-third defensive play, or where to play a guy when a hitter is at the plate,” Ryan said. “Whatever it is, you have to know it.
“On top of that you have to get your lineup together. You have to know who’s pitching that day, who is lined up in the bullpen. It’s got to be a schedule even during the game. It’s a lot of busy work but if they didn’t think I could handle it I don’t think they would have put me in this position.”
Last season Ryan coached first base coach for then-Curve manager P.J. Forbes. Jeff Johnson, Altoona’s pitching coach a year ago, will rejoin Ryan in West Virginia. Former Bucs standout Orlando Merced is the Power’s hitting coach.
“I’m so excited to be a Pirate,” Ryan said. “2013 is going to be a great year. You can see the belief and the conviction of what they’re saying.
“The people that the Pirates have here in the system, the front office, the owner, all the minor league staff, everything that their belief is, is everything I believe in,” he added. “I’m all in.”
An Indiana High School graduate who stood out in both football and baseball, Ryan made Johnstown his second baseball home during the summer of 1995 and part of 1996.
His strong ties to former AAABA League manager and GM Dee Dee Osborne continue today as Ryan frequently calls and visits Osborne, the Johnstown High coach.
In 1995, Ryan was named the AAABA League’s top rookie position player while starring on Osborne’s Moxham Bank team. The next season, he was off to a spectacular start with Principle Development in Johnstown until signing with the Twins, who selected him in the fifth round of the June 1996 draft.
“Mike was a special player,” Osborne said. “Mike had his sights set for the big leagues as a player, and he did it. He became a coach last season and now he’s managing. I think some day you’ll see him coaching in the big leagues.”
Ryan’s major league career as a player might have been relatively brief in terms of games played, but he made an impression and even became the answer to a trivia question.
In his major league debut on Sept. 19, 2002, Ryan led off the game with a single and later drove in a pair of runs as the Twins batted around in a nine-run first inning against the Detroit Tigers. Ryan also scored twice in the first inning at Comerica Park.
But the historic start to Ryan’s career was washed away when rain postponed the game before the top of the third inning. None of the statistics officially counted, and in one of those cruel baseball twists, Ryan went 0-for-4 in his official MLB debut against the White Sox the next day at Comiskey Park.
“Mike didn’t have an easy road at all,” Osborne said.
Ryan’s major league totals included 149 games, a .258 career batting average, 18 doubles, seven homers and 35 RBIs. In 2003, he batted .393 with five homers and 13 RBIs in 27 games with the Twins.
The former AAABA League slugger also played 1,405 minor league games and had a .270 batting average with 156 homers and 753 RBIs.
Overall, he appeared in 1,554 professional games.
“I’ve been to so many different places, played for so many different people and had relationships with so many players,” Ryan said. “I have a pretty good idea of what I like, what my coaches did, what I didn’t like. I’d ask my teammates what they would prefer when we were playing together. Because I played so long I feel I can use that to my advantage.
“I know what players feel in certain situations. The No. 1 thing is I know how hard the game of baseball is and I think that will take me a long way.”
Ryan’s ability to adapt should serve him well as a manager. He began his career as a third baseman in the Twins organization, later was moved to second base and finally settled in as an outfielder.
“Whatever Mike’s done, he’s done on his own with his own ability and will power,” Osborne said. “He fought the odds.”
After leaving the Twins, Ryan spent time in the Atlanta Braves, Florida Marlins and Pirates systems. In 2010, he signed with the Los Angeles Angels, spending most of the year at Class AAA, but playing in his final 22 major league games when the Angels battled the injury bug.
His resiliency showed in 2008, when Ryan spent part of the season with the independent Somerset (N.J.) Patriots in the Atlantic League. He received encouragement from a former AAABA Tournament alum, Sparky Lyle. As manager of the Patriots, the ex-New York Yankees reliever helped Ryan get his swing back, which eventually led to his signing with the Marlins.
His time with the Curve also has been valuable.
“I learned a ton of stuff,” Ryan said. “I was fortunate to be with a great manager, a great pitching coach and a great hitting coach. I took pieces of what they did and they let me almost come up with my own style. P.J. Forbes was great. He taught me what to do at times and what not to do at times.”