Winning continues for Curve
Michael Ryan earned his 300th victory as a minor league manager Friday night with the Curve, and the 39-year-old has enjoyed a great deal of success in his young managerial career.
While all the winning has been fun, there was one season of losing — a lot of losing — that taught Ryan his most valuable lessons so far as a coach.
“This game will humble you very quickly if you think that you’re better than what you are,” Ryan said after the Curve’s 7-1 win over New Hampshire on Friday night before 4,007 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
Altoona has won three straight and continues to have the best home record in all of pro ball at 11-2. The Curve are now a season-high eight games over .500 and have the Eastern League’s best record.
All of this winning is nothing new to Ryan.
In his first season as a manager in 2013, he led low-A West Virginia to an 82-58 record and playoff appearance in the South Atlantic League.
The following year, however, produced a disastrous 54-81 record with the same club. That gave Ryan some new perspective.
“I try to get better each day,” he said. “I want to learn about the game, I want to learn about players, I try to do different things each day to help me succeed. I was, I guess, satisfied after my first year in West Virginia, and I didn’t get any better. So that was the biggest lesson for me.”
He blamed himself for the 2014 struggles, saying, “Every one of those losses was my fault, I would say. I didn’t do something right, and I knew that I had to get better.”
So he did.
Tasting the humble pie gave Ryan a new focus, and he went to high-A Bradenton two years ago and enjoyed a solid season, going 74-64.
Last year, Ryan led Bradenton to the Florida State League title.
Winning and losing in baseball isn’t usually about the manager, especially in the minor leagues. But having a good, prepared manager who understands how to deal with his players and how to get the most out of them every day can certainly help.
“He’s a great motivator, he lets us be us, and he demands from us,” said Curve third baseman Chase Simpson, who’s in his second season playing for Ryan. “We respond well to it, so I think that goes a long way.”
Simpson’s efforts went a long way to helping the Curve win Friday as he went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a run. Altoona gave up a run in the first inning, grabbed a 2-1 lead in the fourth and blew it open with five runs in the seventh.
Yeudy Garcia (2-2) overcame a slow start to pick up the win, giving up one run on five hits in five innings. Buddy Borden and Jared Lakind each tossed two scoreless innings to keep the Fisher Cats stuck on one run.
Francisco Rios (3-4) allowed two runs in four innings to take the loss for New Hampshire, which has the EL’s worst record at 11-23.
A few years back, the Curve struggled through some lean seasons as the Pirates just didn’t have a lot of talent at the Double-A level. That hasn’t been the case the past two years as the club reached the playoffs, and this year’s team made up of proven champions should be a major factor in the EL all season.
Ryan not only gets to work with a lot of good ballplayers every day, he works in an organization that makes no secret of the fact that it wants to win in the minor leagues.
“Our job is we’re trying to develop championship players that will help the Pittsburgh Pirates win a World Series championship,” Ryan said. “To know that we’re going to go out every night to try to win a game, I think that’s a blessing from an organization. There’s other organizations out there where winning takes a back seat.”
Managers in those organizations simply have to get used to the fact that winning is not a big priority.
Ryan, on the other hand, has the best of all worlds. He wants to win, and he’s in the right organization to do so, with a bunch of talented players who can make it happen.
“Right when I walk through those doors I appreciate where I’m at,” Ryan said. “I’m lucky to be the manager for this club, for this organization and honored for those guys, the way that they are.
“It’s a blessed team. They do everything that I ask. I believe that they would run through a wall for me, and I think as a manager that’s one of the best compliments you can have. “
Key player: 3B Chase Simpson went 2-for-4 with two RBIs for the Curve.
Key play: Altoona scored five runs in the seventh inning to pull away from a 2-1 lead.
Key stat: The Curve have the best record in baseball at home (11-2) and the EL’s best overall record (20-12).
How they scored
Top 1st: Alford hit by pitch, scored on McBroom single (0-1).
Bottom 2nd: Joe doubled, scored on Escobar sacrifice fly (1-1).
Bottom 4th: Simpson doubled, scored on Williams single (2-1).
Bottom 7th: Luplow walked, scored on Reyes single (3-1); Williams scored on Villegas wild pitch (4-1); Escobar walked, scored on Joe bases-loaded walk (5-1); Kramer intentionally walked, scored along with Reyes on Simpson single (7-1).