When Matt Ryan first came to the United States from a small town on the ocean in Australia, he came to a whole new world.
Coming from Geelong, Victoria, on the Coria Bay where fishing and horse racing are part of the culture, Ryan came stateside to pursue his dream after signing with the Angels in 2004.
Luckily, the Angels already had a few Aussies in the mix and Ryan quickly made friends to introduce him to the cultural differences.
“When I got there I thought I was on another planet,” Ryan admitted. “I was fortunate to have a couple of Australians within the organization that helped me out.”
Not only was he playing thousands of miles from home, he was also playing a relatively new position.
After a 10-month recovery from a torn labrum, Ryan was just beginning to pitch again but had not regained his velocity. On days when he was not on the mound he would take the field and play first base.
“The transition to hitting was all a bit weird.” – Matt Ryan
“The transition to hitting was all a bit weird,” Ryan admitted. “I signed in 2004 after coming off 10 months of shoulder rehab from a torn labrum in my throwing shoulder and I was playing in a national tournament in Australia. I wasn’t fully recovered as a pitcher and only pitched five innings through two outings for the tournament – my velocity wasn't back to where it had been before the injury and I didn’t think I would sign after the tournament due to the lack of velocity. In my days off from pitching I played first base, and hit nearly .400 for the tournament, and not at any time during the tournament did I even think I would be offered to sign as a first basemen."
But the Angels have always been a bit unconventional and saw something that sparked their interest in him as a position player. They saw an athlete who would excel anywhere on the field and a player who had the dedication it takes to succeed.
Ryan is now playing every day and enjoying every minute of it.
“I really enjoy hitting now; it’s just awesome,” he said. “I’m hoping that my swing will take me to where I thought id get to as a pitcher!”
In his first pro season the 6-foot-4, 205-pound converted pitcher hit .261 with three homers, 12 doubles and 22 RBI’s in 45 games. He was hitting .280 midway through August but tailed off late in the year.
At 19 (he turns 20 on April 4), the left-handed hitter has room to grow. And he is hoping that the projected power numbers follow.
“I’m working hard with my swing and as I grow and learn my swing better I think my production numbers will rise quite a bit,” added Ryan. “There’s a lot of things I need to work on and I think that the power numbers will come as a result of the things I’m working on at the moment.”
Ryan is taking on one difficulty at a time. After overcoming the culture shock of playing in the states, honing his swing is next. If he does it with the same ease as rising atop the pressure playing here he will propel himself up the prospect charts and realize the dream of playing in the major leagues.