Now I am sure many are aware that the University of Louisiana at Lafayette has produced its decent share of football players who went pro, but many of you probably do not know much about players from here who have gone pro in other sports.
While the university offers a variety of sports to all those who come, I will today be focusing on those who take to the diamond for their sport. Louisiana has produced a good number of players from our baseball program.
One of those is pitcher Robert Victor “B.J.” Ryan Jr. who was drafted into the MLB by the Cincinnati Reds in the 1998 Draft. Now I will not be diving right into his career in the MLB, though that will come later. Instead I want to start with his roots, and then a little bit of his time in college.
Ryan was born and raised in a city along the I-20 corridor and across the Red River from Shreveport in Bossier City, Louisiana. After getting to high school he would attend Airline High School where he would, of course, play for the baseball team.
Now he was not good enough to be drafted into the MLB right after high school, so instead he chose to attend the local Centenary College of Louisiana in Shreveport, which is actually the oldest college in Louisiana.
He would spend two years at Centenary where he would play as a two way player, including pitching three complete games. In his sophomore season he threw for 100.2 innings with many of those coming in seven complete games.
Following his sophomore year season he would transfer to UL Lafayette, then known as the University of Southwestern Louisiana, arriving on campus in the fall of 1996.
Coming into his first season, Louisiana used Ryan as a relief pitcher and a spot starter, along with seeing play time as both an outfielder and first baseman. He eventually proved to be such a valuable hitter though that the team moved him to starting first baseman halfway through the season.
Ryan would then have his best season of baseball his senior year at UL Lafayette. Making two starts he would end the season with a 6–1 record on the mound. He would pitch a 2.28 earned run average or ERA which helped him with his six saves.
He would make additional starts at first base where he would have a great batting average of .370. His batting would also account for 11 home runs and 36 RBI.
Ryan would be named Second Team All–Sun Belt Conference before going into the Sun Belt Tournament. At the end of the tournament the boy from north Louisiana would be named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
Following that really good season he would once again enter the MLB draft, where this time he would be selected in the 17th round as the 500th overall pick. The team that he was lucky enough to be drafted by was the Cincinnati Reds.
He would spend his first full year as a pro in the minor leagues, starting with the Billings Mustangs. From there he would be promoted to the Charleston Alley Cats and promoted once again to the Chattanooga Lookouts.
Ending the year with the Lookouts he would finish with a 2.06 ERA after playing 33 games with 10 saves.
With the start of the 1999 season Ryan would find himself still a member of the Lookouts, shortly into the season though he would once again be promoted to the Indianapolis Indians. That would be his last stop before being added to the Reds roster on July 28th, 1999.
The Reds would add him to their bullpen where they would quickly put him to use, the same day in fact. In his first outing to an MLB mound he would pitch two innings in which he would allow four hits and walk one, but not give up any runs.
Life moves quickly in the world of professional baseball as not even a week later Ryan was traded to the Baltimore Orioles on July 31, 1999.
His first few years were pretty normal for a relieving pitcher. From 1999, when he joined the Orioles, to 2004 he recorded six saves and some ERAs that were fine, but not typically great.
The peak of Ryan’s career would start in 2005 when he would have an incredible season as the closer for the Orioles. He would, by season’s end, record 36 saves along with an ERA of 2.43. Of the 290 batters that would step up to the plate, only 19 would ever make it back to home and only four would hit it out of the park.
Such a performance earned him a sport in the All-Star Game, the first time in his career. At season’s end though he hit the free agent market where he was a hot commodity.
Despite a deal offered by the Orioles, he would end up signing with the Toronto Blue Jays. Ryan was signed to a five-year, $47 million deal that was, at the time, the largest contract ever given to a relief pitcher in MLB history.
That money would pay off in the first season though as Ryan would see a season with many career records. In 65 games, he would record a high of 38 saves, and an ERA of 1.37, the best in his career. This was once again awarded with another appearance in the All-Star Game.
That success would not be sustained though as the next year Ryan would be forced to undergo Tommy John surgery in his left elbow. This injury most likely bound to come with his three-quarters, slingshot like style of pitching.
He would be back in less than a year though as he was brought off the disabled list and pitched his first game on April 13, 2008 where he would also pick up his first save since before his surgery.
Ryan would begin to see decline due to injury as the velocity in his pitches began to rapidly drop at the beginning of the 2009 season.
He would be placed on the 15 day disabled list before being brought back as a middle relief pitcher, losing his job as the teams closer.
This would end in him being released from the Blue Jays on July 8, 2009 despite the two years left on his contract the Blue Jays would have to still pay for.
He would be picked up days later on July 16 by the Chicago Cubs. He would be moved to the teams AAA affiliate team, the Iowa Cubs, after doing some workouts at the Chicago Cubs spring training facility.
Ryan came to the conclusion that he could not regain his former velocity and decided to ask for his unconditional leave from the team, which was granted. His career would come to an end upon his release on August 5, 2009, about a decade and a few days from his MLB debut.