Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University where he pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeyes from 1971 through 1974. He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league umpire for seven seasons, working for the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA). He has written for numerous websites, and for the past fourteen years has served as columnist and photo editor for The Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press, in Lincoln Nebraska. His interests include history, support for amateur baseball, the outdoors, and he has a music degree from Ohio State University.

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The second baseman of the UD Flyers is unhappy about his team’s season, his season, concerned over improvement for 2017. As a result, he’s playing in Chillicothe this summer to get better and hedge any negative carryover.

Chillicothe – Nick Ryan could not have been more surprised.

“Seriously,” he said when I walked up to the locker room door of Chillicothe’s Veteran’s Memorial Stadium last week. “You came here to see me?”

Well, I was to explain, there’s a reason. The second baseman of the University of Dayton Flyers had impressed me during this past season as a player, and a player deeply concerned over the mounting losses and the dwindling prospects for the 2016 Flyers’ baseball campaign, their second such in as many years.

The Flyers won but 19 games against 36 losses, a near-repeat of their 2015 record.

As a team they hit .242, a modest improvement over 2015. As a team, they pitched with a 4.20 earned run average, about a run better than the year before.

They lost games in every conceivable fashion. When the starting pitching was good they didn’t hit. When they hit they didn’t pitch. When pitching and hitting were both good they committed costly errors on defense. The Flyers had 91 errors in 2016. Ryan, personally, had 19. He led the team…by one, over fellow infielder Robbie Doring (18).

And the bullpen collapsed in a few games. Overall, it was scene searching for a fix.

To wit, Nick Ryan has set out this summer to be part of the fix; to fix his own game as an impetus to a collective turnaround for the 2017 season, his final as a Flyer. He’s playing in the collegiate Prospect League for the Chillicothe Paints currently, doing a lot of personal inventory on his game, dedicated to improvement.

A returning senior in 2017, Ryan hopes to turn around successive losing seasons at Dayton.

A returning senior in 2017, Ryan hopes to turn around successive losing seasons at Dayton.  (Press Pros Photo by Sonny Fulks)

On a team filled with talented players from across the country, he’s playing regularly, getting lots of work, and lots of time…time away from the park, and time on the field, to assess what went wrong in the spring and what he can do to address it.

“No one was happy with the way our season went at Dayton this year,” he shared, honestly. “It was tough when you start out the way we started out. I think we battled back decently in the second half of the season, but there were a lot of rough patches…and too much negativity in the dugout among the guys.

“I know next year Robbie (Doring), myself, and “Goose” (Mitch Coughlin), can hopefully turn the team mentality around a little bit. Baseball’s supposed to be a fun game, and no one had much fun this year.”

After a horrendous start at the plate that saw him hit beneath .200 in February and March, he turned things around during the last month of the season to finish with the fifth-highest batting average on the team (.259)…stats that included 10 doubles, three triples, a home run and 22 RBIs. His OBP (on base percentage) for the last month was a commendable .384. He hoped to carry that momentum into Chillicothe.

“At Dayton I don’t think enough guys bought into what Coach “Cyp” (Ryan Cypret) was teaching at first. He’s a great coach, but by the time we did it was too late in the season. I think guys were pressing too much, afraid that if you didn’t hit you wouldn’t play. You get to where you think too much at the plate, instead of just seeing the ball and hitting it.

“My numbers here aren’t where I want them (.214), but I’m still in a good frame of mind,” he said before Friday night’s game with the West Virginia Miners. “I haven’t lost confidence. I’ve hit some balls hard and right at people, and this is a situation where there’s a lot of position players so you might not play every day. They try to get everyone as much playing time as possible.

Defensively, he’s more than pleased with the progress he’s made. In 25 games he’s committed just two errors in 135 chances, a .985% percentage.

After a slow start, Ryan hit .259 for the Flyers in 2016, fifth best on the team.

After a slow start, Ryan hit .259 for the Flyers in 2016, fifth best on the team.

“Personally, I wanted to become more fundamentally sound. I had 19 errors at Dayton in like 190 chances, so I think I’ve done what I came to do.”

But in a formative sense, there’s more that Nick Ryan, from Napierville, Illinois, will pack with his glove and spikes when he closes his summer campaign with the Paints come August and heads back to Dayton.

“I really think I need to be more vocal next year, take more of a leadership role on the field, because I know that’s what Coach Vittorio expects from me. I know that I’ll have the help of Robbie and Mitch in getting more guys headed in the right direction.

He’s buoyed by the fact of an impressive infusion of youth at UD, young players who burst on the scene and made an immediate impact…Connor Echols (Sidney), Austin Cline (Ben Logan), and Tyler Henry (Middletown Madison).

“Cline and Henry are great young pitchers and great kids off the field, as well. Connor Echols has a good head on his shoulders. He’ll have a good career at Dayton. Those guys were impressive this spring and I’m glad I’ll be their teammate for one more year.”

JulieCarter@brunsrealty.comAnd to that end he’s dedicating his summer towards going back in the fall with a focus on change. A business major at Dayton, he still dreams of an opportunity to sign, to play professional baseball.

If not, a business degree from Dayton is a powerful tool for success in life. But first…..

“It would be an absolute blessing to get drafted, and it never hurts to dream big. I’m not the biggest guy, but I’ve always dealt with that. But if not it would mean the world to me if I could go back and have an influence, to get a bunch of guys to be a positive influence on our season next year. I couldn’t ask for more in my senior year.”

And on cue…Nick Ryan was an influence Friday night, going 2 for 6 at the plate and igniting a Chillicothe comeback with a two-run triple in the fifth inning, a game that the Paints eventually won in 4 hours and 12 minutes, and 15 innings, 5-4. He played flawless defense, turning the double play and ranging left and right to run down balls from second base. By his energy, his very presence, he stood out.

He makes the point. Summer baseball with the Paints is not just about something to do in a differenty community with a different bunch of guys.

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“It is a great place,” he says of the town and the people of Chillicothe. “Great people and it’s a great place to play. I really appreciate the coaches at Dayton getting me in here.”

No, it’s about one last chance, his senior year. That one last hurrah in Division I college baseball that only a select few can experience. Nick Ryan dreams big. Yeah, he wants to play, get drafted, and live the dream.

And if that doesn’t work out he wants to leave Dayton with a better legacy than 19-36. Enough with the negative. He wants to be part of the fix, the turnaround…with Robbie, “Goose”, and the others.

The last hurrah means more than anyone will ever know.

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“It would mean the world to me to go back (to Dayton) and have an influence on our senior year.  I couldn’t ask for more.”

United Building Materials is proud to sponsor coverage of  OSU baseball on Press Pros Magazine. com.

United Building Materials is proud to sponsor coverage of OSU baseball on Press Pros Magazine. com.

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