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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Matt Ridings: The Difficulties in Chasing a Dream

The Kansas City Royals were expected to do great things in 2013 thanks to a revamped roster that saw them make a number of substantial trades and free-agent signings last offseason. Unfortunately, they are in danger of chalking up their 18th losing season in 19 years, and still have holes to fill if they want to compete in the future. One of their minor leaguers who had hoped to one day nab a place on their roster was pitcher Matt Ridings, who had persevered during his young career despite nothing coming to him easily. Unfortunately, it appears that dream has ended.

The 25-year-old right-hander was a big fish in a small pond at Western Kentucky University. He was a sparkling 34-9 with a 4.14 ERA and 354 strikeouts in 384 career innings. Taken in the 25th round of the 2009 draft by the Washington Nationals, he decided to return to school to complete his college career.

Ridings finished his senior year on top, going 9-1 with a 3.01 ERA, but his final home game saw him tear the UCL in his throwing elbow. Although the injury scared many teams away, the Royals decided to make an investment and drafted him in the 41st round in 2010.

Following Tommy John surgery, Ridings debuted professionally in 2011 and pitched extremely well. His best season came last year, splitting time between Single-A and High-A, as he went 10-5 with a 2.63 ERA in 36 games (10 starts).

He converted to relief full-time in 2013, and was relatively effective for Double-A Northwest Arkansas; posting a 1-1 record and 3.98 ERA in 15 games. Unfortunately, the Royals decided to part ways with him, and he was released in mid-June.

During his three minor league seasons, he was 14-10 with a 3.23 ERA in 65 games (24 starts). He struck out 168 batters in 189.2 innings, while walking just 39 batters.

Prior to his release, Ridings was nice enough to answer some questions about his career. Here’s hoping he is able to get back in the game if that is something he would like to do.

Matt Ridings interview:

Who was your favorite player and team when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite team was definitely the Braves. Both my grandpas and my dad were big Braves fans and so was I! I always had a few favorite players. I was a big Smoltz, Maddux and Glavine fan. I also really like Chipper. I respect all of them for what they accomplished in Atlanta.

How did you end up attending Western Kentucky?: Even though I only lived about an hour away I had never really heard of WKU until I heard from their baseball coach and took a visit up there. It was the best decision I ever made. The coaches were awesome and the friendships and experiences I had there were life changing. 

What led to you passing on signing with the Nationals when they drafted you in the 25th round in 2009?: It was definitely one of the hardest decisions of my life.  I had dreamed since the day I started playing baseball to play professionally. To turn down that opportunity was an incredibly tough decision, but having the opportunity to graduate and do some special things my senior year at WKU helped me in my decision. I made the right decision and have no regrets!

What was your 2010 draft day like?: It was a roller coaster of emotion. I was still recovering from my Tommy John surgery and I was still trying to figure out exactly why things were happening like they were.  I wasn’t even sure that I would get drafted. Thanks to the Kansas City Royals and my scout Jason Bryans, the Royals took a chance on me and drafted me in the 41st round. I got a phone call from Jason and he told me to stay on the line and listen for my name.  I was so thrilled and so blessed and I can’t really put into words the feeling when you get drafted, it is very special!

Where do you think you would have been drafted in 2010 if you hadn't suffered the elbow injury?: This is a tough one because so much goes on during draft day that can change so much. Based on what I heard from some scouts and coaches, I had reason to believe I would be drafted around the 10th round. Again, I’m not really sure, and it would have been nice to find out but everything happens for a reason and it all worked out!

Which pitches do you throw; which is your best; and which do you believe needs the most work?: I throw a four-seam and two-seam fastball, a curveball, and a changeup. My best is definitely my fastball. I have always been a fastball pitcher, relying on location. I would say that my changeup could use the most work. Some games it is very good, others it isn’t. Hoping to get it more consistent.

Which coach or manager in the Royals system has had the greatest influence on you?: So far it would have to be Vance Wilson, my manager with the Wilmington Blue Rocks.  He is a great coach and really knows how to get the best out of his players.  I honestly haven’t ran into a coach in the Royals system that hasn’t done all they can to help me out with my career!

How stressed were you starting your pro career, competing against other top players and coming off a major injury?: I had a very unique situation. I was drafted and flew to Arizona and went straight into rehab for an entire year.  It was very tough knowing I was getting a late start to my career but I was blessed that the Royals believed in me and I was so excited when I finally got a chance to prove what kind of pitcher I am. I was definitely more excited and anxious than anything else.

What do you like to do that's not baseball related?: Well, I just got married in September, so lately I have really been enjoying the time I have been spending with my wife! We have been away from each other a lot because of baseball so it is great to be together!

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  1. I was a neighbor of Ridings' family while Matt was developing his "fastball." His Dad was the catcher, and frequently I would hear the "pow" as Matt and his dad practiced.

    Occasionally, I would be mowing my lawn and run over a baseball from those practices. I would just toss the damaged ball back into their yard and smile.

    Good luck, Matt.
    Gene Warrenfells