WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Ryan Sawyers can’t wait to get up in the morning.
He’s always loved baseball, and he’s always lived it, too. Now, he’s loving it and living it at Purdue University as the pitching coach of the Boilermakers, runners-up in the Big 10 regular season and tournament a year ago.
“I couldn’t be more happy. Everyday I wake up I can’t wait to get to work,” he said. “I’m a full-time baseball coach. That’s what I’ve always wanted to be.”
Sawyers, a 1996 graduate of Fort Hill, has already left his mark on a number of programs as a player, coach and manager.
Over the summer he managed the Springfield (Ill.) Sliders, a first-year team in the Central Illinois Collegiate League, to the league championship. The Sliders, who won the first-half regular-season with a 20-4 record, beat Danville in a best-of-three championship series.
“Not a whole lot was expected,’’ Sawyers said of the Sliders. “No one was really sure. On the field we raised expectations by winning the first half, and we averaged 1,200 to 1,300 fans per game.”
Sawyers said the players he was able to acquire, many through networking with other coaches, came to Springfield on a mission.
“I don’t think you travel to Springfield to not win,’’ said Sawyers, who knew the team owners and got the shot when the original manager had resigned in March. “We had one set of uniforms, and other teams had three or four. For many, it was an unknown stadium, crowd and town. The goal was to play hard and have fun. If you do those two things you’re going to win and succeed.
“Did I think we’d play .800 baseball the first half? No. But we played extremely hard and, I think, harder than any other team.”
Working hard is something Sawyers isn’t afraid of. A volunteer assistant coach at Purdue (2003-2004), he most recently had been the pitching coach at Garden City (Kan.) Community College.
“Here, there’s more work in a lot of ways. At the same time, you’re dealing with better athletes and better players,’’ he said of the Division I level. “The pitchers are much more refined by the time they get to me.
“Here, we have more tools, do a lot of videotaping, and strength and conditioning,’’ he said in comparing the step up from junior college to NCAA Division I. “Finances, of course, are a big difference.”
Purdue, which lost to Michigan 3-2 in the Big 10 Tournament final, was 32-26 last year.
Sawyers was the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Association Pitcher of the Year in 1999 while at West Virginia Wesleyan, and helped pitch Allegany College to the JUCO World Series in 1997.
He has also had coaching stops at Shepherd University and Allegany College, Front Royal in the Shenandoah Valley League, and Chillicothe, Ohio, in the Frontier League, where he also pitched professionally in 2000, going 4-2.
Sawyers seems to have much the same philosophy as former Orioles and Pirates coach Ray Miller, who preached, “work fast, change speeds, throw strikes.”
“You have to be able to throw your first two pitches for strikes at any count, and you have to start the batter off with a strike,’’ he said.
“First-pitch strikes. I’ve been hammering that. Eighty-seven percent of walks come with a first-pitch ball. Now, there’s no guarantee you’re not going to win the at-bats if the first pitch is a strike, but if the first pitch is a ball, the chances of losing that batter grows exponentially.
“You need to get ahead, and be ready to get the batter as quickly as you can. That keeps the defense ready and on its toes, too.”
Those are words he’s probably heard as a player from a number of past coaches who have helped him get to where he is today.
“My dad, seeing him coach youth baseball for 23 years, I don’t know I would have ever gotten this bug for coaching if not for him. He’s had a big impact on me.
“I’ve always considered myself a protege of J.R. Perdew. I had been a thrower until J.R. started working with me from about my Hot Stove League days.
“And, obviously, getting to play for a Hall of Fame coach like Steve Bazarnic was a big, big plus.”
Sawyers won’t be managing at Springfield next summer because time won’t allow it now that he is at Purdue. But ultimately, he added, he would like to be a head coach.
“I’m very happy right now, and I want to sit here and learn from coach (Doug) Schreiber. “He’s been on the staffs at Arizona State (national championship, 1998) and Notre Dame, so he’s got it figured out.”
Ryan is the son of Michael and Sandy Sawyers, Rawlings.
Mike Mathews is a Cumberland Times-News sportswriter. Contact Mike Mathews at email@example.com.