Infielder Brendan Ryan wants to prove that the Mariners were right in trading for him this past offseason.
Brendan Ryan is a piece of work — a defensive whiz of the highest order on the field, and a bundle of frenetic energy off it.
No question the effervescent Ryan has added spice to the Mariner clubhouse. He stands to fill a valuable role as a space-holder for Dustin Ackley at second base and an insurance policy for Jack Wilson at shortstop.
Ryan says he’s oozing with motivation: to show that his strong 2009 season with the Cardinals was not a fluke after a struggle-filled 2010, and to prove that the Mariners were wise in acquiring him in December for minor-league pitcher Maikel Cleto.
“I’m trying to make Mr. Zduriencik look like a genius and make that look like a horrible trade (for the Cardinals),” Ryan said Monday. “I’m excited every day when I wake up. Not initially, because it’s so early. I’m not really a morning guy.”
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Harnessing that enthusiasm has not always been a smooth proposition for Ryan, who turns 29 later this month. Throughout the parts of four seasons he spent with the Cardinals, there were occasional media hints that he sometimes rubbed teammates the wrong way. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote that “his scattershot focus has made him prone to tardiness and gaffes in protocol.”
Those issues came to the surface recently when former Cardinal teammate Ryan Franklin went on St. Louis radio last month and said Ryan’s lack of punctuality had become an issue.
“We liked him, but you know what, things he (did), he did it too many times,” Franklin told KFNS 590 AM in St. Louis. “If you’re tardy once, don’t be tardy again. But it just kept happening. Veteran guys, we see a two-or-three-year guy do that, that doesn’t sit well, it just doesn’t. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be done.”
Ryan admits that Franklin’s comments, and other insinuations coming out of St. Louis that he was a distraction in the clubhouse, bothered him.
“Tremendously,” he said, adding that he called up Franklin to ask about the interview. “First of all, when I talked to him, he felt horrible about it. And I talked to one of the reporters over there in St. Louis that listened to the whole thing, and he said (Franklin) was complimenting me the entire time. It was like one or two sentences (of criticism), and that’s what the article (rehashing the interview) was.”
Ryan has an upbeat personality and is known for great impersonations of the likes of Robert DeNiro and Harry Caray, and for dazzling behind-the-back or between-the-legs throws at the end of infield practice. He seems to have fit in smoothly with the Mariners, and points out that his struggles last year (after undergoing wrist surgery six weeks before Opening Day) may have amplified the negative reactions. His average dropped from .292 in ’09 to .223 last year, and the Cardinals missed the playoffs.
“I was the same exact guy in ’09 as I was in 2010,” he said. “That’s what really hurt. You feel like you’re kind of being beaten while you’re down. Some guys are more sensitive than others, and all that. I think the tougher things got, the harder I was trying to prove that, hey, I’m still that guy. I’m still that guy that can help us win. Not just defensively. And the harder I tried, the harder things got, and it seemed like the more uphill that battle became.”
In a 2008 article in the Post-Dispatch, it was revealed that Ryan was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder in grade school. The article said “he does not take medication for the condition because it makes him uncomfortable, even causing him violent stomach pains in the past.”
Ryan is reluctant to discuss the ADD, saying only, “As a child, I had some problems focusing. I was probably thinking more about recess than I was about science class or whatever. I think a lot of us are that way. I’ve got a lot of energy and that’s a good thing, I just have to continue to use that correctly, and harness it. That’s something that (hitting coach) Chris Chambliss is talking to me about, because I can leak into getting jumpy at the plate.”
Ryan added, emphatically, “I’m in complete control. I think if you care, if it matters to you, then you don’t have problems focusing. I’m definitely not a space cadet. I think because I goof off, and I have fun on camera, and all that stuff, automatically you assume the guy’s a clown. I’m as intense, if not more intense, than anyone out there. I pride myself in being one of the most intelligent players on the field. That’s from my heart.”
Indeed, former teammate Skip Shumaker once said of Ryan, “His baseball instincts are really off the charts.”
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa has been largely praiseful of Ryan over the years, saying his range at shortstop is among the best he has seen in his long career.
Two years ago, La Russa said of Ryan in the Post-Dispatch, “He cares. So when he does his Robert DeNiro impersonation, everybody laughs. If he was not respected, not trusted and not a productive player, then all he would be is a clown. That’s not the case.”
The caring can sometimes be his worst enemy, Ryan admitted.
“I just have a problem letting go at times,” he said. “It means so much to me and it matters so much and I care so much, I take it home. I can get frustrated and just dwell on it.
“I think that’s what some of these guys that have been playing the game a long time have done so well. They’re able to leave it at the field and let go. For me, I take it hard at times. I’m learning.”
He’s also learning, Ryan said, to tone things down a bit. Ryan said of La Russa, “He saw my intensity, he saw how hard I played, and he appreciated that. At the same time, some of these things Mr. Wedge (manager Eric Wedge) and Mr. Chambliss are sharing with me are being more relaxed. That energy is good. It’s better to back off than have to build up. That’s something I’ll figure it out. I’ve gotten better and better at it.”
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org