For a pitching prospect, one question always looms: Sure, minor league hitters are going down swinging, but can the guy on the mound get big leaguers out?
It’s a question Ryan Long ’21 answered emphatically in the World Baseball Classic in March when he struck out three-time American League MVP Mike Trout while playing for Great Britain on the international stage.
Long, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound former Pomona-Pitzer pitcher, has moved two rungs up the minor league ladder since then. Promoted to the Baltimore Orioles’ High-A team in Aberdeen, Maryland, to start the season, Long’s strong first half earned him another move up on July 14, when the Orioles assigned him to the Double-A Bowie Baysox, also in Maryland.
“I’m excited to throw at this new level,” Long says. “I think it’s going to be a good step up, a good challenge. From what I’ve heard, there’s definitely a jump from High-A to Double-A. It’s where it starts to get a little more—I don’t know the right word to say, but real, maybe. You’re that much closer to the major leagues so it adds a level of importance and expectations. So yeah, I’m really excited.”
Facing MLB All-Stars
Life in the minors can be grueling, although less so now than in the past (more on that later). But back in March, Long was on the mound for Great Britain against Team USA in front of nearly 40,000 fans in the World Baseball Classic in Phoenix when Trout came to the plate.
Long, drafted 497th overall by the Baltimore Orioles in 2021 after missing his entire senior season to the pandemic shutdown, was facing Trout, the 11-time All-Star.
And down went Trout after Long struck him out with a 94-mph fastball.
“It was just a really surreal experience. Something that I’ll definitely hold onto forever,” Long says of playing in the World Baseball Classic.
Eligible to play for Great Britain’s national team because his mother, Liz, was born in England, Long contacted the British Baseball Federation in the run-up to the WBC after asking Frank Pericolosi, the Pomona-Pitzer head coach and a professor of physical education, if he had any connections. Pericolosi put Long in touch with alumni who did, and only months later, Long was pitching in Chase Field in Great Britain’s opening game against Team USA.
He gave up a home run, “one that I’m not too upset about because it’s a major league All-Star,” he says of the blast by Kyle Schwarber, who led the National League in homers last season. The next inning, Trout came to the plate. “First of all, he’s obviously an amazing hitter but their whole lineup was filled with All-Stars and future Hall of Famers,” says Long.
He got Trout to a 3-2 count and decided to stay with his best pitch, his fastball.
“He fouled the first two off,” Long says. “He didn’t seem like he was seeing it as well as he might normally be and I decided to throw it again and it got past him. That was a very, very exhilarating feeling.”
The big crowds disappeared after the WBC, but the experience stayed with Long.
“It definitely helped my confidence levels and my ability to trust myself and my pitches,” he says. “I think just seeing that I could pitch against pretty experienced major league hitters, and in some cases get them out, set me in the right frame of mind to be able to know that, OK, I don’t have to try and do more than what I already do to be able to have some level of success.”
Moving Up in the Minors
Making the step from Low-A ball to High-A this season, Long took his growing confidence with him and put together a 2.52 earned-run average while striking out 71 and walking just 18 in 60 2/3 innings for Aberdeen before the four-day All-Star break.
“I was driving down to North Carolina to see my girlfriend for the break, and the coach called me about two hours into that and told me I’d be moving up. That was a cool moment,” says Long, who was going to visit Hannah Black ’20, a student at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine who is on clinical rotations in Wilmington, N.C.
Back in Maryland on a new team, Long took care of business in his Double-A debut on July 15, pitching 2 1/3 scoreless innings to earn the win in relief while allowing one hit and striking out three.
A philosophy, politics and economics major at Pomona, Long was headed to graduate school at Georgetown University before he was drafted. But with time on his hands during his rookie ball season with the Orioles’ organization, he prepared for the LSAT, took the test and eventually plans to go to law school.
Bargaining for Player Rights
Long’s interest in law was only fueled last offseason when he was among the players who took on an informal role representing minor league players’ interests in collective bargaining after minor leaguers voted to unionize last September.
“It was a really big offseason for that because it was the first time the minor leaguers had ever unionized, and we negotiated with the very pivotal help of the MLBPA—the Major League Baseball Players Association—a new collective bargaining agreement that really helped change the lives and the pay for all minor leaguers,” Long says.
“It increased the pay by about double for most people. Money got better, you got more security on transportation, on housing, on food. The lifestyle has gotten a lot better and I think this offseason was a huge part of that.”
Long and other players were “middlemen between the players and the lawyers doing the bargaining,” he says. “We were trying to give them a feel for what the players wanted and what the priorities were.”
As part of his role, Long traveled to Arizona to meet with MLBPA lawyers and leaders, and to New York, where he sat in on a bargaining session with lawyers representing Major League Baseball.
“I have had and I still do have the aspiration to make it up and play major league baseball,” Long says. “I have some other aspirations in life. I want to eventually go to law school and do well in that.”
That LSAT score is valid for five years, but Long’s in no hurry to use it.
“I figure I’ll either use it within the five years—or if I have to take it again it means it’s going pretty well in baseball, so I won’t be too upset about that.”