Due to COVID-19, Ken Ryan was forced to close his baseball-related business at the worst possible time. Traditionally, March represents the busiest month on the calendar for KR Baseball Academy, located at 100 Higginson Ave. in Lincoln.
Alas, Ryan proved to be the norm rather than the exception when it came to falling victim to the Great Sports Blackout of 2020. Instead of the chatter of pitching lessons and the pinging sound emanating from the batting cages, the facility went silent. The owner was left to wonder when he would be able to reopen.
A Pawtucket native who went on to pitch for both the PawSox and Red Sox, Ryan is happy to report the doors at KR Baseball Academy are now back open. How he weathered the pandemic was one of several topics that were covered with him during a recent Q&A session:
Brendan McGair: What went racing through your mind upon learning you had to stop giving in-person lessons?
Ken Ryan: Our last day of business was Friday, March 13. We were closed for 75 days. March, April, and even May … we still would have a lot of people coming in. It wasn’t a good time to close, but we did what we had to do. We’re just like everyone else. We’re feeling the effects of it. From a baseball standpoint, specifically at the youth level in different towns, it’s been horrible. We need to get kids back out there and playing, hopefully by July.
BM: In the absence of in-person instruction, did you seek out alternative options in an effort to to keep engaging with youngsters?
KR: It’s tough to do virtual pitching lessons, but I did create some videos that were put on our website (www.krbaseball.com). It was generic stuff to keep our name out there. To do a virtual lesson with someone, it’s difficult and hard. I guess I could have, but we grinned and bared it with the hope people will want to come back and play baseball.
BM: How has it been since the doors to KR Baseball Academy were officially reopened this past Monday, which marked the start of Phase 2 of Rhode Island’s plan to get the economy back on track?
KR: [Beginning on Monday, June 8], we’re going to start running group classes at the facility that follow all the rules of social distancing. I had some classes that started back in February that have to be made up. I had almost 90 kids that I had to stop classes for. My first order business is to get those kids back in here. I had 15 kids to a class plus four instructors. Now, I can’t have that many people in the building. What was eight classes now becomes 20 classes. It’s more time-consuming, but it’s better for the kids in the sense that it’s smaller groups. I’ll have to wear a mask and do everything from a distance, but we’ll do the best we can in an effort to put our product out there.
BM: In your opinion, does baseball at the youth level have the best shot to pick up the pieces and reintegrate itself considering the players for the most part aren’t on top of each other?
KR: Absolutely. You’ve got the distance on the diamond. They may come up with some rules just for this season. Maybe no stealing or leading off a base. The umpire might be calling balls and strikes from behind the mound. Kids probably won’t be allowed in the dugout. I don’t care what they do so long as the kids can get out and play baseball. That’s how I look at it. It might not be what we’re used to, but we’ve lost so much time already. We’re using June as a practice month but we still have July through October to play. We need to get everything up and going and sooner rather than later.
BM: You attended PawSox games at McCoy Stadium as a youngster and saw a lot of great players … Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens, Cal Ripken Jr. and Daryl Strawberry. You took the mound at McCoy with a “P” on your cap for parts of four seasons (1991-93, 1995). Since retiring, you’ve been back to McCoy as a broadcaster on numerous occasions. For you personally, how tough is it knowing the PawSox may have already played their last game in Pawtucket before relocating to Worcester?
KR: McCoy is a landmark. For close to 50 years, it’s a place where baseball has been played at a high level. It’s still a beautiful stadium. I work for Gateway Health Care, which is right behind McCoy. I see it every single day. It’s very depressing. There’s no way they should have left. I’m not even going to say, ‘Just Pawtucket.’ I totally get if they wanted to build something in Providence, but there’s no way they should have left Rhode Island. That’s an absolute shame. The PawSox have been part of Rhode Island for a long time and something to be proud of. I’m not going to point fingers at anyone, but everyone has a portion of the blame except the kids and the fans. Those are the groups who are getting left in the lurch. It hurts because it’s like watching a loved one pass away.
BM: Do you realize that it’s been over 21 years since you last threw a pitch in the major leagues? (Note: Ryan was 30 on May 15, 1999 when he logged his final inning in an MLB setting for the Philadelphia Phillies.)
KR: You know what happened on my last pitch in the big leagues? It was to [New York Mets catcher and future Hall of Famer] Mike Piazza and I got him to hit into a triple play. He hit a line drive to the shortstop, who caught the ball and doubled up the runner who was at second base. They had a double steal going so the shortstop threw to first base to complete the triple play. I came off the field and got sent to the minors that same night. There’s not that many players who ended their career on a triple play.
KR Baseball’s 16th annual summer camp will run July 20-23 and August 3-6. Both sessions will take place at Kevin Hurley Middle School, located on 50 Water Lane in Seekonk, Mass. To register, visit www.krbaseball.com. For additional questions, call (401) 724-7555.