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Fritze heads to the big stage

Ryan Fritze played for Des Moines Area Community College for two years before committing to Valparaiso in May. (Submitted photo) 1 / 2
Ryan Fritze, a 2012 Woodbury High School grad, will play baseball for Valparaiso in the fall. (Bulletin file photo)2 / 2

Ryan Fritze had a decision to make.

He could either attend Mankato State University directly out of high school, or he could go to junior college.

In the end Fritze, a 2012 Woodbury High School grad, chose to attend Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) for one primary reason -- to chase his dream of playing Division I baseball.

That dream became a reality two years later as Fritze committed to Valparaiso University in late May after two years at DMACC.

Fritze chose Valparaiso, a Division I private school in Valparaiso, Ind., after receiving interest from the likes of Kansas State, Indiana State and Dallas Baptist.

“It just felt like a good fit for me,” Fritze said. “It definitely just worked out.”

Fritze didn’t receive any serious attention from top-tier athletic programs out of high school. He said being a three-sport athlete made it difficult to travel for baseball and he wasn’t able to get himself out in front of major college coaches and scouts.

“Being from Minnesota you don’t really get a bunch of schools coming to watch you,” he said.

So he went to DMACC, where Fritze developed both on and off the field.

He said he had to grow up really quickly as he moved into an apartment upon arriving to campus, meaning he had to cook, clean and fend for himself.

The responsibility aided in his maturation process.

“There’s guys that act like they’re freshmen,” DMACC coach Kyle Hanna said. “He’s one of the guys that matured very, very quickly. He understood what it takes as far as the work ethic and responsibility from the standpoint that he had goals of getting to that next level and I felt like he did a very good job of working to achieve those goals.”

One of those goals was to improve on his velocity. Fritze threw his fastball in the mid-to-upper 80s in high school. That’s fast enough blow away most prep hitters, but it won’t do much for you at the collegiate level. Fritze had to throw faster.

That involved getting in the weight room -- a foreign concept to Fritze at Woodbury.

“I didn’t really do the whole lifting thing then,” he said. “I didn’t think it was worth my time. I realized that was a big mistake.”

With the lifting, long toss, shoulder exercises and keeping his body healthy, Fritze was eventually able to pump his velocity up toward 92-93 mph.

That’s fast.

Fritze said it was helpful to play right away at DMACC and felt that experience helped with his development.

“Then you definitely get bigger, faster and stronger,” he said.

Fritze said he had colleges interested in him after his freshman year, but he wasn’t exactly interested in them.

Heading into his sophomore year Hanna and the coaching staff made a decision that changed Fritze’s repertoire.

To that point Fritze threw two breaking balls -- a curveball and a slider.

But as his fastball velocity increased, so to did the speed of the slider, which got up into the low 80s, making it a deadly out pitch.

“The harder you can throw a slider with movement, the harder it’s going to be to hit,” Hanna said.

So the staff had Fritze dump the curveball and focus on three main pitches -- his fastball, his slider and his changeup.

“You’re talking about a guy who can throw three pitches for strikes and be able to locate them,” Hanna said. “That can be pretty hard to hit.”

It was this spring. Fritze went 8-2 on the bump for DMACC. He led the squad in innings pitched (74) and strikeouts (73).

Fritze said pitching with the constant pressure of having to impress college coaches was difficult to deal with, but once he stepped onto the field he focused on helping his team win ballgames.

His on-field performances impressed a vast array of schools. Fritze said he talked to over 40 schools during his recruitment process. In the end he chose Valparaiso it was where he “felt most comfortable.”

Fritze joins Colin Keefe as recent Woodbury High School grads to head to DMACC before making the leap to Division I squads. Keefe, a 2010 Woodbury grad, played two seasons at DMACC before finishing his collegiate career at Penn State. Fritze spoke with Keefe before making the decision to attend DMACC and has been thrilled with the outcome.

Hanna said he thinks Fritze have no issue making the jump to the next level, either. He said Valpo has told Fritze the team expects him to be a weekend starter, a designation reserved for the team’s top three starting pitchers.

“I think he’s going to be really good,” Hanna said. “He has the ability to keep you in a game no matter what the situation.”