You would be hard-pressed to find someone who loves baseball as much as Ryan Rijo. It would also be tough to locate a player his age with the talent level the Barrie native possesses.
Hard work and consistent results at the junior college level led to Rijo being selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 37th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball draft.
“It still feels surreal to me,” said Rijo, whose named popped up on the MLB website shortly before 7 p.m. on the final day of the draft. “Being a prospect like this, it’s crazy. It’s something you dream of as a little kid. You work hard at it and it’s like reaching any other goal. It was a goal of mine, and I can say that I’ve reached it.”
Rijo was occupied at the moment he was selected with some very important business.
“I was in my basement, playing video games and trying to get my mind off of the draft,” Rijo said. “I was sitting down there, with my buddy. We were sitting down there all day, waiting for my name to get called and then it finally happened. We freaked out and it was awesome.”
“I called my mom, and she was working,” he added, with a laugh. “She said, ‘I need to get home right now!’ It was kind of funny.”
In Barrie, Rijo had played elite ball with the Blue Jays and was also a key member of the St. Joseph’s Jaguars boys baseball teams, helping to lead them to within a victory of the OFSAA final four. When the slugger left for New Mexico Junior College, he looked to take his game from elite ball star to professional prospect, and that meant taking care of himself first.
“The biggest thing for me was my body,” he said. “I could always hit, that’s the one tool I’ve always known I had, but the body was what was holding me back. I went to school and went on a diet, shed some weight, put on some muscle and that helped.”
Rijo also sought the advice of two coaches, one of whom was a new addition, the other someone he’d had around him all of his life.
“I had my grandpa (Rafael) down there a lot, and he would come down and stay for a while,” said Rijo of his grandfather, who has been his long-time personal hitting coach. “Having my coaches, like Lauro Felix, was big, too. I was working every day, getting my hitting better, and my defence too, especially with catching and playing first base. Instead of just being a one-dimensional player, I was broadening all of my skills.”
Rijo, who crushed 20 homers in just 52 games in the junior college season, was named to the Western Junior College Athletic Conference All-Conference Team for the second year in a row. It was enough to get him on Philadelphia’s radar, and after being scouted all season, Rijo now has the option to sign with the Phillies.
That being said, Rijo had already committed to Abilene Christian University in Texas last fall, and now, will have to make the decision as to whether he will stay in college or go straight to the professional ranks.
“I’m committed to Abilene Christian, but the head coach there has resigned, so they’ve offered me the opportunity to opt out of my scholarship if I choose to do so,” he said. “I still want to meet the new coach and we’ll go from there. I’ve got a lot of thinking to do as to whether I go to school or go play pro ball, and it’s a big decision. I’ve got to talk it over with my family and decide not only what the best choice for me is, but also the best choice for my family.”
No matter which way the powerful righty decides to go, one thing has now been set in stone: Ryan Rijo has been drafted by an MLB team.
“It’s something that no one can ever take away from me,” he said. “I can honestly say that it stems from a lot more than just myself. It takes a village. I obviously have my close friends and my family are my number one supporters throughout. (Being drafted) does cement something in my head, that I can always say that it’s happened.”
Brian Backland photo – Ryan Rijo was in his second season with his hometown Baycats when he was drafted by Philadelphia.