2011-07-21 / News

Former NKHS standout making the most of position change

By Geoff Campbell

Ryan Morris, a former North Kingstown High School shortstop who won the 2009 Gatorade Player of the Year, has excelled in his new position as closer for the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League. Ryan Morris, a former North Kingstown High School shortstop who won the 2009 Gatorade Player of the Year, has excelled in his new position as closer for the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League. Ryan Morris, Rhode Island’s 2009 Gatorade Player of the Year, made a habit of cleanly fielding bad hops and regularly hitting over .400 when he played at North Kingstown High School.

Now he’s done something that few collegiate baseball players ever do successfully: He’s moved from the infield to the pitcher’s mound. The Presbyterian College junior began pitching occasional middle inning relief for the Division I Blue Hose this past season.

In high school Morris was a two-year captain and a four-year varsity infielder with perennial baseball powerhouse North Kingstown.

He described the transition. “It’s a lot different,” he said. “I hadn’t done it since freshman year in high school. I always had a pretty good arm, it’s just something where I was asked to try it out and I was pretty successful with it. It’s a whole different part of the game; when you are on the mound you control the game, you control what’s happening.”

He added, “It’s a lot of fun. I have come to like it and, especially this summer, I’ve become very comfortable with it.”

Comfortable indeed. This summer Morris is the closer for the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks, one of four teams playing in the inaugural year of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League.

The Sharks are 9-2 in the 11 games in which Morris has appeared. He’s gone 1-1 with six saves in 11 trips to the rubber through July 16.

Presbyterian College head coach Elton Pollock reacted to Morris’ summer success. “I am pleased at Ryan’s continued success on the mound this summer with the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks. He only saw limited action on the mound for us last season [while] making the transition to the mound from third base. Ryan is a very good athlete and has learned to make the necessary adjustments to achieve success this summer.”

Among the season highlights for Morris so far was the first home game of the season. Surrounded by 2,500 fans, Morris said that it was fun playing with his team for the first time and watching youngsters running from player to player and collecting autographs. His relief work helped the Sharks win against the Seacoast Mavericks.

He described the closing role as a “rush,” noting that the tension and high drama of a close game is often the backdrop for his appearance on the mound. Morris said that he is happy with his success this summer and pleased with the confidence that the manager has shown in him.

Pollock is also pleased as well: “His numbers speak for themselves and I am extremely happy about his progress.”

A hard-throwing righthander, Morris has struck out 15 of the 57 batters that he has faced. He has only walked four and currently posts a 1.98 ERA.

Morris described summer league baseball in Martha’s Vineyard as a “college kid’s dream.” He admitted that most days are consumed by baseball: a morning workout, arrival to the field by 2 p.m.,anda5p.m.gamethatfinishes at dusk. That’s the home game schedule. Travel can mean an early morning ferry and a half-day on the bus. But he added that a day off means beach time and hanging out in a place that he said reminds him of Jamestown.

Besides the undeniable perks of summer life in a beach town, Morris appreciates the summer league for the opportunity that it gives him to focus on his craft and to get the experience of facing batters who are using wooden bats, which he added, is what occurs at the next level.

“Summer ball,” Morris said, “just gives you the option to play and to get better, to improve your skills and just go out and play every day.”

Morris noted that the summer league also gives scouts an opportunity to see how college players manage the differences in the game, including the faster-paced schedule, the increase travel and wooden bats.

Five games back at 13-13, the Sharks are a founding franchise in a growing league that “drafts” players who are “currently enrolled in a NCAA or NAIA sanctioned college or university, in good academic standing, have completed one year of athletic eligibility and have at least one year of eligibility remaining.”

Currently the teams are located in Nashua, N.H., Rochester, N.H., Edgartown, Mass., and Torrington, Conn. Morris said that the distance between stadiums, complicated by ferry travel to and from Martha’s Vineyard, makes for some late nights. He said that although his club hasn’t yet added lights to its stadium, other teams often play at night so a late-night return home can be tough on the host families who are putting up these “boys of summer” for the 44 games that are played during the two-month long season.

Missed ferries are not unheard of, Morris added, saying that there have been occasions where the next ferry was the 6 a.m. ferry of the next day requiring an overnight wait at Woods Hole.

Morris has a southern gentleman’s drawl which along with his position change seems to put more than two years between his high school and college playing days. He reflected on his high school days saying, “I played with kids who were my best friends all four years. Even as a freshman there was always just a good chemistry and a good group of friends.”

He said that he continues to enjoy the camaraderie that the game offers and that he is enjoying the experience of watching a team of collegiate ball players who didn’t know each other come together as a team. He rattled off the home states of the players including Georgia, California, Florida and Texas. “You meet a bunch of great guys and you get to play with them,” he said.

The Blue Hose, who went 24-32 (9-18 Big South) in 2011, have not yet achieved the kind of success that the Skippers saw during Morris’ four years at North Kingstown.

The Skippers made it to the fi- nals falling to Cranston West at the end of Morris’ freshman season. In each of the next two years the Skippers earned playoff spots but were eliminated in the quarterfinal rounds.

During his senior year, Morris and fellow standouts Dave D’Errico and Cody Norman led the Skippers to an 18-2 regular season. That season, Morris, who played shortstop, hit .443 with 34 RBIs and 30 runs scored. He was was on base nearly six out of every 10 at bats and had a remarkable slugging percentage of .885.

Unfortunately the Skippers lost to Hendricken 5-0 in the state championship game. It may be the only goal to elude North Kingstown’s first Gatorade Player of the Year during his remarkable high school career.

In looking ahead to fall ball at Presbyterian, Morris explained that his “ultimate goal is to be a closer or a setup guy, someone late in the game. I’ll be a reliever and my main goal is to help the team any way that I can, but if that role is closing, that is something that I’d like to do.”

A Jamestowner since he was 4 years old, Morris attended both Melrose and Lawn avenue schools, and played baseball on the middle school team. He said that Jamestown is a great place to grow up but he does not miss the long baseballless winters. The baseball season in Clinton, S.C., begins in February when most baseball fields are still snow covered in Rhode Island.

As for the next steps, Morris said that playing professionally is “every kid’s dream. That’s defi- nitely something that I am working at and would love to do, given any opportunity I would definitely take that chance.”

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