He might not be the biggest player, but Ryan Ludwig has been making his presence felt on baseball fields across North America for a few years now.
His efforts have been rewarded, as the 5-foot-7, 150-pound catcher is getting himself ready for the fall and his expected debut with Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey.
The Edmonton native made his commitment announcement back in November, amidst similar revelations from teammates and friends across the province.
It’s been five years since the NAX Baseball Academy product decided to focus solely on baseball as he was also playing hockey at a high level. It’s a transition that the 17-year-old has no regrets about, and something he hopes will make him stronger as he heads to the Division-1 Northeast.
“Ryan is the type of player that every team needs,” NAX coach and 5-Tool Fieldhouse owner Mike Johnson said. “A guy that can and will play anywhere on the field, not look out of place, and contribute.”
Johnson pitched in 81 games over five MLB seasons with the Baltimore Orioles and Montreal Expos. He also played in his home province with the Medicine Hat Blue Jays in 1994-1995 as well as the Edmonton Trappers, CrackerCats and Capitals between 2004 and 2010.
“Ryan’s a gamer and the one guy that will be the dirtiest after every game,” Johnson added. “It has been a pleasure watching him grow, not only into a good baseball player, but into a well-rounded young man.”
We caught up with Ludwig for Episode #117 of Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast. Here’s what he had to say about his commitment, his career and what the game means to him.
Q: Talk us through the process, from your standpoint, of making that commitment announcement and what made you want to become a Knight.
A: Yeah, Fairleigh Dickenson in New Jersey. It all kind of came up one day in class, actually. I was sitting in science or biology in the morning and we weren’t doing anything in class. So I said I was going to email some coaches and I think I sent emails to three different schools. I wasn’t even expecting a response, but then later that day at about 1:30, I got a text from Coach (Ethan) Newton at FDU and he asked if we could talk. Yeah, of course we could talk. Then it just went from there, as we kept in touch for a couple of weeks. Then on October 30th, Coach Rob Ditoma offered me the spot and I accepted it on November 1st. Yeah, I haven’t really looked back.
Q: Was it tough waiting as long as you did to get that offer or were you fully-prepared to play the patient game?
A: There was a little bit of panic setting in. I kept on seeing guys my age and some of my buddies who were getting offers from schools down there. I had no luck, no emails from coaches, no texts, nothing. There was a little bit of panic that set in but I think being in high school and being from Canada, we can’t really be worried about being committed super-early in our careers. We have to let our game speak for itself and let the coaches see how things go.
Q: Did you have it in your mind that you wanted to go Division-1 or were you willing to go JUCO? What was your mindset going into trying to find the perfect match?
A: Yeah, I think the biggest thing for me was finding a school that wanted me and that I wanted to go to. I didn’t want some coach trying to lead me on and then getting there while not getting to play. I think the biggest thing for me, Coach Rob at FDU said that I would play. Regarding going JUCO, it was never out of my mind and I probably would have gone that route had this option not come up, just because so many guys from Alberta end up going that route then going to bigger programs.
At the time this popped up, it was really my only luck with Division-1. The program has struggled for the last couple of years, but they have a new coach and I think everything is looking up for this program. So I’m really excited to know they might not be a powerhouse in Division-1 but they’re definitely trending in the right direction and have the potential to be right in the mix soon. I think it was just knowing they have the new staff coming in and that was probably the biggest thing for me. Just knowing that everything was looking up for a program that hasn’t been too amazing over the past decade and a half, kind of thing.
Q: How excited are you to get this opportunity to go somewhere where it’s not that the program has already been built, but you get to be a part of something being rebuilt?
A: Yeah, I think knowing that in a couple of years our team will be in the mix. I’m always looking to get better and I think everyone on the roster will be looking for the same thing. Going to a powerhouse school, you get the media coming in and the pressure from everyone. But going to a school that’s a little smaller both in student size and the athletic side of things, it opens up some freedom where you don’t have to rely on your play on the field to be ten-out-of-ten every night, even though that’s what you’re striving for. But if you do have an off-night, you won’t have 20 reporters coming after you wondering what happened out there. It’s just one step at a time kind of thing and it will be a long journey to get to the top, but I think the journey to get there is 100% worth it in the end.
Q: You mentioned some of your buddies and teammates earlier. What’s it like to hear all of those and to be a part of a group that is doing so well here in this province?
A: It’s really cool. I mean, my goal one day is to play against them either professionally or at the collegiate level. I haven’t really been able to play against them a tonne within the province because I haven’t played much ABA. But I think once we get down to the States, options open up and leagues open up. The biggest thing I’m excited for is going down there and playing fellow Canadians and fellow Albertans. I know it’s a predominantly American league, I think it’s cool when you hear that the starting pitchers for two teams are two Canadians or that kind of thing. The biggest thing with that is that I’m more excited for my buddies who are going down there. Like Jonah (Arseneau) with Minot State, that’s huge. I played with that kid at Ripken when we were 16. I’m super-excited for him, along with all of the guys who have gone stateside over the last year or so.
Q: Let’s talk about your roots here in Alberta. Do you remember when you first stepped foot on a field and when you first fell in love with the game?
A: Yeah, the first time I ever stepped foot on a baseball field was t-ball and I did not want to be there. I hated baseball. I did not want to be there. Hockey was the only thing I wanted to do. I went there and I hated it. I didn’t like it so I took a year off, even though I was only 6 or 7. Then I saw it again on TV and said I wanted to try it again. Ever since then, baseball was always my summer sport. I was a big hockey guy in the winter, then come mid-March, once Spring Training was wrapping up for the big leaguers, that’s all I was thinking about was baseball season.
The biggest decision of my life, baseball-wise, was after seventh grade. I had a really good year in hockey that year. I ended up going to the Alberta Winter Games with a bunch of guys who are now in the WHL and we had a really good tournament. That same year, Steve Lloyd from Cal Ripken asked me to play for his team in Baltimore for Team Canada and I took that opportunity right away. After the season, I realized that hockey wasn’t my thing anymore and I decided to play baseball. Ever since then, 2016, I have not looked back. I miss hockey, but I think baseball is where I wanted to be since my second year. That’s where it all changed and I love it. I do not regret my decision at all.
Q: Is it still weird though in a sense, that at the time, you’re going against the grain by pursuing baseball instead of hockey?
A: Absolutely. There are days when I wonder if I could be there with those guys. But then there are other days where I see them out there on the road for a couple of weeks at a time, away from family and friends, and it’s a little easier. I’m happy to still be at home, playing baseball and going against the grain, like you said. Yeah, it’s definitely weird and I definitely think about it. But like I said, I do not at all regret my decision. It’s one of the best I’ve ever made.
Q: I was doing a little research on you before we started this and you’ve been a captain at a number of levels of baseball. What does it mean to you to have been thought of as a leader in the clubhouse?
A: That’s definitely a big thing I take with my game both on the field and off. Just be the best person you can be. On the field, you can only do so much. And I think if you have a positive attitude, you’re cheering on your teammates when you’re losing a big game or a meaningless game but you’re getting blown out.
The biggest thing is always being on the top step and always cheer on your teammates, no matter what the outcome of the game is or the outcome of your at bat or if you make an error on the field. Who cares? Make the next play. Don’t dwell on something you can’t change. I think being such a leader on many teams over the years, I’ve just learned that if you have a negative attitude, the coach sees it, your teammates see it, and it makes you look bad. In some cases, it can make you look cocky because you go out there and ask a kid why they didn’t make a play then you miss the same ball. Who are you to say why you missed it? It can come across as cocky sometimes, so you always have to be level-headed on the field.
Off the field, just being the best person you can to other teams, other families, other teams’ families, and just the community you’re in when you’re on the road. I think the biggest thing that the couple of times that we’ve been on big road trips like in Easley, South Carolina for the 2018 Senior League World Series as Team Canada, we represented Canada like they should. We were proud and happy to be there, but we knew we were up for a good fight and we were probably the most sportsmanlike team off the field. We were always helping, doing the Field of Dreams event, always being there when no one’s really looking is kind of what I was thinking is important. That’s what we did and it makes me really proud to say that being a leader on a team, I know my team is going to be strong on and off the field.
Q: Where does that mindset come from?
A: I think it comes from my dad. He’s an owner of a business, he knows the ways. He played hockey growing up and he was a leader on his team. Even in mens’ league, he was still the unofficial captain. He just knows how to run a business, a very successful one, and he’s taught me over the years that you can’t get upset over nothing. Eventually, it will come back and bite you, making you look like the bad guy. I think he’s the biggest influence on me being the leader I am today.
Q: Any coaches you’d like to single out as far as maybe paving the way for where your baseball career has come?
A: Yeah, I mentioned Steve Lloyd before. He was definitely the one that kind of made the decision for me to play baseball for the rest of high school and junior high. Mike Johnson with NAX Baseball Academy up here in Edmonton has been the biggest influence and mentor that I’ve had on the baseball side of things. He’s taught me what it will be like in college, what his experiences were in pro ball. Those are two guys who have always been there for me and will remain there for me throughout my career and then obviously my life after baseball, too.
Q: I know a lot of athletes who head stateside for the season come home during the winter and maybe do some coaching or offer up advice for younger athletes who are hoping to follow in their footsteps. Have you thought about the kinds of things you’d like to say to them and what would you say to them?
A: I think when I come back, I’m obviously going to be so thankful for what was given to me. The biggest thing I would say is don’t be satisfied and don’t get worried. If you’re not having luck finding a team, that’s fine. It’ll come. I think the biggest thing that I want kids to know when I come back is that anyone can do it. I’m not a big guy, I’m not tall, I’m not very big, I’m not anything. But if I can play baseball at the highest level possible, I think anyone who has the right mindset and the right dream can play baseball or any sport for that matter, at the highest level possible.
Q: Finally, what does the game of baseball mean to you?
A: Baseball is my life. I mean, I’ve listened to your podcasts and heard the answers, but baseball is my life. There’s nothing in the world that I would change. I love it and I’m so excited to see what my future has, for me, in the game of baseball. I love it.