By Jim Lane
CURVE, Pa. – Few players – actually none – have ever had a major league debut as good as Curve manager Michael Ryan. Unfortunately, it didn’t go into the record books, so few people know about it.
Ryan, however, recalls it — like it happened yesterday.
It was 2002 and Ryan was a September callup by the Minnesota Twins, he recounted recently at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
“We had just won the Triple-A championship and the Twins had clinched their division too, so a lot of us got to play right away,” he said.
“My first game was in Detroit, I was playing left field and batting leadoff,” he said. “We scored 9 runs in the first inning. I had 2 hits, scored twice and had 2 RBIs. I also singled in the third, so I had 3 hits, scored 3 runs and had 3 RBIs in my first 3 at-bats.
“No one has ever done that in their first 3 major league at-bats.”
The Twins were leading 12-0 in the fourth inning when it began to rain and the game was rained out before completion. Because it was the Twins last trip to Detroit, the game was not continued and the statistics did not count.
“Just like it never happened. I tell everyone it killed the back of my baseball card,” Ryan added, with a chuckle.
A native of Indiana, Pa., Ryan was drafted in the fifth round by the Minnesota Twins in 1996. A three-sport standout in high school, he originally was going to play football (receiver) and baseball at Auburn, but signed with the Twins instead.
Ryan played pro baseball 15 seasons, including five in the majors. He spent four seasons with the Twins (2002-2005) and played one (2010) with the Los Angeles Angels. He played in the 2003 ALDS with the Twins, going 0-for-1.
“I was a pinch-hitter against Roger Clemens,” he said of the playoff at-bat. “I struck out on three pitches, but it was exciting.”
Another memorable big-league experience came against the Angels.
“We were losing 13-5 and I was a triple away from hitting for the cycle,” he recalled. “Everybody stayed for my last at-bat and I lined out to the second baseman. He made a leaping catch that might have gone into the gap and rolled on the turf in the Metrodome, but it didn’t. Even though we were losing 13-5, I got a standing ovation when I ran off the field, and I really didn’t know how to acknowledge it.
“My manager, Ron Gardenhire, told me to tip my cap, and I did.”
Ryan enjoyed his time in the Twins organization and remembers Gardenhire as a guy who always told his players the truth.
“He told you when you were good and he told you when you were not very good,” Ryan said. “That’s what I really respected about him.
“He was special, as was (Angels manager) Mike Sciosia.”
Following his playing days, Ryan’s first coaching job, ironically, was with the Curve in 2012 under manager P.J. Forbes.
“I was like an assistant,” Ryan said. “He had some back issues and I got to do some coaching on the bases. I learned a lot from P.J.”
Ryan began his managerial career in 2013 with the West Virginia Power, leading the Pirates’ Class A club to an 82-58 record and second-half championship of the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division while setting the franchise record for wins.
He was back in Charleston with the Power in 2014 before being promoted to Bradenton in 2015 to guide the Bucs’ advanced-A team. He led the Marauders to the Florida State League title in 2016 and earned another promotion to Altoona and the Class AA Eastern League Curve this year. He’s never had a losing season as a manager and is 280-269 in four years.
Ryan also said he’s learned a lot from former Curve manager and current Pirate bench coach Tom Prince.
“I’ve picked his brain a lot,” Ryan noted. “His baseball mind is ridiculous and he’s really impacted me.”
Ryan has his own managerial style.
“I want to be a guy who can develop relationships with his players,” he said. “I believe if you show these guys you care for them you’ll get the best out of them. It’s all about the players.”
Obviously, Ryan hopes to make the majors as a manager or coach.
“That’s why I’m here doing it,” he said.
“Would I enjoy being the Altoona Curve manager the rest of my time? Absolutely, but you’ve got to push for something (higher).
“I love Altoona, though. It’s like home.”
Ryan currently lives in the Monroeville area with his wife, Alicia, and their two sons, Brennan (8) and Blake (6).