A dream come true: Ryan Fritze continues his baseball journey with the Arizona Diamondbacks
A simple phone call changed Ryan Fritze's life.
On Friday, March 8, Fritze was with his fiancée when his phone rang. He answered and put it on speaker phone.
On the other end were staff of the Arizona Diamondbacks. They wanted to tell Fritze that they wanted to purchase his contract and have him come down for the rest of spring training.
It was a moment of big smiles for Fritze and his fiancée, but also a moment of relief. After a couple years of independent league baseball, and many years of high school and college games, Fritze's dream of being signed by an MLB team finally came true.
"It was an unbelievable moment being on the phone with the Arizona Diamondbacks," Fritze said. "You dream of this as a kid, and being able to see it as a reality is a moment I'll never forget."
Fritze was also relieved because he didn't have to pay for a flight to Florida anymore. Before that phone call, Fritze was planning on heading to Fort Myers to work out with the Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox.
He was planning on buying the ticket later that Friday night, but those plans changed and a trip to Scottsdale, Ariz. was the new plan.
On Monday, March 11, Fritze signed his deal and went to Twitter to officially announce he's a Diamondback. Throughout this past week, Fritze has thought about his journey through baseball and the different paths he took to get to this point.
His journey started in Woodbury, where he first fell in love with the sport. He played in youth associations and attended Woodbury Middle School from seventh to ninth grade because East Ridge High School hadn't been built yet. That meant he didn't have much opportunity to play on the high school team during his freshman year.
The summer before his sophomore year, Woodbury head baseball coach Kevin McDermott saw the potential in Fritze and had him play a few games with the VFW team.
"Once I saw him play with the VFW team, I knew he was going to grow into a great player," McDermott said. "He was pulled up to varsity during his 10th-grade year."
During Fritze's sophomore year, he played many different positions. He started in right field, but also played shortstop, which was his primary spot growing up. He also learned how to pitch, and became one of the Royals top pitchers that year.
Along with defense, Fritze was a strong batter and could hit the ball well. McDermott used him everywhere, and Fritze was happy to learn the different positions.
Baseball wasn't the only thing he did during high school though. He was active in a few different sports.
"I played football in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring," Fritze said. "It was fun to be with all three teams because I learned so much from every coach each season."
After a sophomore year moving all around the diamond, Fritze went back to shortstop for his junior and senior years. He pitched a little bit during the two seasons, but his main focus was behind the pitcher and covering the left side of the field.
McDermott said it's been fun watching Fritze's journey because he can see the growth in his preparations before games and his love for the game. In high school, Fritze's fastball was in the middle to high 80s. Now, he is touching 95, 96 and 97 m.p.h.
"He's worked hard on his skills, and it's showing with his velocity," McDermott said. "Not only his velocity, but his ability to spot his ball in different locations of the plate. All while he leaves a smile on his face. It's been an incredible journey for him and we're so proud of him to reach this point."
Fritze is the first baseball player in the Woodbury program to sign with a professional baseball team. Fritze said he won't be the last because of how the coaches teach the game of baseball.
Fritze said there are plenty of players from Woodbury that are in college and have a strong chance of reaching an MLB team. Along with them, Fritze knows McDermott is building more players into college and, possibly, professional players.
"It's fun to see different players in college representing Woodbury," Fritze said. "These players, just like me, learned this game the right way and have loved going to the diamond every day."
Fritze fell in love with every aspect of baseball, and that passion continued throughout all three years with the Woodbury program. He said the Woodbury coaches helped him understand his ability, and he started focusing on baseball as a college opportunity.
After graduating from Woodbury, Fritze went to Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) in Boone, Iowa, to play a couple years of junior college baseball. At DMACC, he was the No. 1 starting pitcher and was able to develop his skills at a high level.
"While I was at DMACC, we were nationally ranked and played against competitive teams every game," Fritze said. "That helped us, as players, prepare ourselves to the best of our abilities because each game was important and against a highly-ranked team."
Fritze said that JUCO schools don't receive as much credit as they deserve because his experience helped him reach the point of playing independent league baseball and eventually signing with the Diamondbacks.
Those two years at DMACC went by fast, but Fritze was fortunate enough to finish his college career at Valparaiso (Ind.) University, a Division I school that allowed Fritze to develop more as a pitcher and even allowed him to become a graduate assistant with the program after his two years of eligibility. Fritze also his Master's in sports and administration in May of 2018.
"It was a new experience for me turning in the cleats and being on the other side of the baseball team as a graduate assistant," Fritze said. "It was fun to learn that side of baseball, but I always knew I wanted to put back the cleats on and play again."
That mindset allowed him to play independent baseball for a couple of seasons. He started with the Gary SouthShore RailCats where he was a starting pitcher.
The one thing he realized with independent baseball is that a contract with a team is only a day long. These teams have the ability to release a player due to performance or injuries on a daily basis.
Fritze faced these obstacles in his first year with independent ball. He was cut twice throughout the season, but Fritze feels it helped him with fighting through adversity to achieve his ultimate dream.
"It made me realize how to focus on each day, and not the future," Fritze said. "You can't control the future, so it's good to use each day to better yourself as a player and a person."
He was first cut due to his performance as he started his season on the wrong foot. After working on his craft, he came back to the team and played strong until an injury occurred.
Fritze was cut later on in the season because of a strained lat. It wasn't what he was expecting, but he rolled with the punches and built himself back up so he could be signed by another team.
That team was the Sioux Falls Canaries, and they picked up Fritze quickly. He started his time in the bullpen as the seventh- or eighth-inning pitcher and worked one inning instead of multiple.
It was a transition for him after being a starter all his life, but he was ready for the new position. Fritze said becoming a one-inning type pitcher allowed him to pitch with more emotion. He could throw hard from the very beginning because he knew it was only going to be one inning.
"He was a strong pitcher and always wanted to learn from his coaches and teammates," said Sioux Falls general manager Duell Higbe. "He continued to grow each day and it was fun to see. We will miss him this upcoming season, but we want to send our congratulations to him for signing this contract and having an opportunity to play with the Arizona Diamondbacks."
Fritze went down to Arizona to throw for the Diamondbacks in February. After the session, they said there wasn't any room, so Fritze went to Vadnais Heights to throw at a pro day.
The next step for him was to fly out to Fort Myers.
Now, Fritze is finishing up spring training with the Diamondbacks as opening day looms Thursday, March 28, in Los Angeles against the Dodgers.
As of now, Fritze will start his season in extended spring training. Since he arrived later than most players, he will play some extra games in hopes of going to a team that's part of Arizona's farm system.
He could start in High-A or Double A to start the season and will work his way through the system in hopes of reaching the ultimate dream and playing for the Diamondbacks MLB team.
Right now, his main focus is to finish up spring training with strong outings. Along with staying focused, Fritze said he wants to learn from the experienced coaches and veteran players.
"There are so many things to learn at spring training, and it's been a great couple of weeks continuing to develop as a pitcher," Fritze said.
Fritze knows this journey wouldn't have been possible without the support from the coaches that helped develop his skills, and the Woodbury community that he spent his childhood growing up in.
After announcing his signing, he received a large amount of support from Twitter, Facebook and text messages. He even received messages about Woodbury graduates offering places to live in Scottsdale.
"I haven't seen or talked to these people since graduating from Woodbury and they're welcoming me with open arms," Fritze said. "That just shows how great the Woodbury community is and how it develops throughout the country. I really do appreciate everyone's love and support on my journey."
Fritze is honored to have baseball still be part of his life. The opportunity to walk over and sweep the dirt off the pitching rubber and know he's part of a professional baseball team franchise is what he dreamt of as a kid.