Ottumwa native Ben Ryder is 6-foot-8 and carries an extreme amount of leadership skills around with him on the Marshalltown Community College campus.
It is because of that - and a few other things - that will allow Ryder to continue his collegiate baseball career. Wednesday, Ryder signed a National Letter of Intent to play Division I baseball at Alabama A&M.
"I visited there two weeks ago and everything just clicked," Ryder said. "It just seemed right to me."
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
Marshalltown Community College sophomore Ben Ryder, center, signed his National Letter of Intent to play baseball at Division I Alabama A&M on Wednesday. Also pictured is MCC baseball coach Rich Grife and Ben’s dad, Wes Ryder.
MCC coach Rich Grife said that the biggest issue for Alabama A&M last year was pitching. The Bulldogs had some pretty good position players but finished 10-37 overall because they may not have had what they wanted on the mound. Grife thinks Ryder can help solve that problem and be a front-line starter.
"I think they got some other JUCO pitchers in this year, but he'll help them," Grife said of his tall pitcher. "He has a big ceiling and a huge future on his hands."
One of things Grife loves about Ryder is his strong leadership skills. Ryder has a 3.79 grade point average at MCC and pretty much "runs the weight room," according to Grife.
"On top of all that, he can really pitch, too," Grife added.
Ryder threw in 18 games last year and totaled 53 2/3 innings. He finished 5-5 with one save and had an earned run average of 7.21. It was his first year in a collegiate baseball uniform after playing one season as a football player at Northern Iowa.
"I had lots of baseball offers out of high school but decided to go with football," Ryder said. "Well, it was hard on my body and I missed baseball too much."
That is where Grife comes in.
The head man at MCC had seen him play in high school and was interested in him then and was glad he decided to give baseball a shot.
"I was pretty much asking him every day if he wanted to give baseball a shot," Grife laughed.
Ryder, who may have to deal with being drafted into the major leagues this offseason, expects to start right away at Alabama A&M.
"I think they are looking at him to be anywhere from a 1-3 starter in the rotation," Grife said.
Ryder added that the program has told him that they are interested in him to be a weekend starter and pitch in conference games.
Ryder, who throws in the low 90s, picked the Bulldogs for several reasons, one of which was the fact that he can concentrate on the sport year round because of good weather and no snow.
"It'll be good to play all year round, that was a big factor," Ryder said. "They are also doing renovations to the field, getting new batting cages and new bullpens, so that was nice.
"I don't think being out of state will be that big of a deal to me. My mom was a little iffy about the distance, but I think it will be OK."
Alabama A&M is located in Normal, Alabama, and the Bulldogs play in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. They went 6-18 in league play last year and will welcome Michael Tompkins as the new head coach this season. Tompkins was an assistant for one year before taking over on an interim basis during the middle of last season. He officially became the head coach during the offseason.