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Baseball: UL pitchers love playing for former MLB All-Star Ryan

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Feb. 21, 2020

wo-time Major League Baseball All-Star. Eleven MLB seasons, 3.37 all-time ERA, 117 career saves. More than 530 innings pitched in the majors.

The resume speaks for itself.

So when new UL pitching coach B.J. Ryan talks, Ragin’ Cajuns listen.

“There’s not a single player on the team – hitter or pitcher – that doesn’t like him and respect him. He obviously knows the game,” Cajuns senior reliever Caleb Armstrong said. “You know, they don’t hand out All-Star selections in the big leagues. And he’s got two of them. So it’s great. We love him.”

“I love B.J. There’s so much to learn from that guy,” added UL’s Brandon Talley, who doubles as a relief pitcher and first baseman. “You couldn’t ask for a better coach.”

Related: Former All-Star to be named Cajuns’ new pitching coach

Ragin' Cajuns pitching coach B.J. Ryan, a former MLB All-Star, signals in a call from the dugout during UL's 9-6 loss to Tulane on Wednesday night at The Tigue.Buy Photo

Ragin’ Cajuns pitching coach B.J. Ryan, a former MLB All-Star, signals in a call from the dugout during UL’s 9-6 loss to Tulane on Wednesday night at The Tigue. (Photo: James Mays/Special to the Advertiser)

Ryan, an Airline High product born in Bossier City, transferred from Centenary College in Shreveport to UL, where in 1997 he too both pitched in relief and played first base.

As a senior in 1998, playing on a Cajuns NCAA Regional team for a second straight year, the lefty went 6-1 with a 2.28 ERA and six saves while also making 51 starts at first, hitting .370 with 11 homers and 36 RBI and earning Most Outstanding Player honors at the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.


Selected by Cincinnati as a pitcher in the 17th round of the ’98 MLB Draft, 500th overall, he appeared in just one game for the Reds, making his debut with 2.0 innings of relief work in 1999.

Traded a few days later to Baltimore, Ryan went on to spend seven seasons with the Orioles.

The set-up man and closer was selected to his first American League All-Star team during a 36-save season in 2005, his last season in Baltimore, and to his second one in 2006, his first of four seasons with Toronto after signing a five-year, $47 million free agent contract with the Blue Jays.

More: Stacked UL pitching staff looks the part going into 2020


Out of the majors since his last year in 2009, Ryan – who had a career-high 38 saves and a career-best 1.37 ERA during his first season in Toronto – joined the staff of new UL coach Matt Deggs last summer on a volunteer basis.

He came on board shortly after Deggs – a former UL assistant coach who was Sam Houston State’s head coach from 2015-19 – was named as the successor to Tony Robichaux, the longtime Cajuns coach who died last July, 10 days after a heart attack.

Robichaux – UL’s head coach the past 25 seasons, and its primary pitching coach as well – was Ryan’s coach during the major-leaguer’s time with the Cajuns.

Also working closely with Cajun pitchers in recent years was Daniel Freeman, who – like Ryan is now – was a volunteer coach.

Freeman had been planning to leave UL even before Robichaux died, leaving Deggs and the Cajuns in the market for someone to work with pitchers.

Deggs heard Ryan was interested shortly after his own hiring, and the decision was a no-brainer.

More: Cajuns win their first in the Matt Deggs coaching era

Related: Ragin’ Cajuns unveil Robichaux statue ‘just too soon’

UL pitching coach B.J. Ryan spent his final four MLB seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays.

UL pitching coach B.J. Ryan spent his final four MLB seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays. (Photo: Associated Press file photo)

Robichaux’s successor sensed right away that Ryan – who according to a UL spokesman has turned down all interview requests since joining the Cajun staff, including one for this story – was a perfect match.

“He’s a veteran guy that’s been to the highest levels, played the game at the highest levels, has been around the best players in the world,”  said Deggs, whose 1-4 Cajuns – coming off Wednesday night’s 9-6 loss to Tulane – open a three-game non-conference weekend series against Virginia Tech Friday night on M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field at Russo Park.

“He’s a guy you can lean on. He’s a guy that has been there, done that. And the best part about ‘Beej’ is he played here and he’s got the connection to Coach Robe.”


UL assistant coach Jeremy Talbot said Ryan “really wanted to come in and (was) motivated to coach because of what Coach Robe did (for) him.”

“He’s got a ton of knowledge that he acquired through 11 years of being a Major League Baseball player,” Talbot said, “and has just such a good heart.”

He also is an apparent balance to the intense Deggs, who called Ryan “super humble.”

“You’d never know he played a day in the big leagues,” the Cajuns coach said. “And (he) just has a very steady presence.”

More: Alcohol cost Ragin’ Cajuns baseball coach Matt Deggs, but Tony Robichaux saved him

Related: Opening Night, UL season about winning for Robichaux

Deggs said Ryan also is intense, but, “To me (he) is kind of a voice of reason.”

When time comes for visits to the mound, however, Deggs’ voice is the one Cajun pitchers have been hearing the loudest so far this season.

It may stay that way the rest of the season, or perhaps at some point the duty of trips to the bump will be divvied.

“I’m a hitter at heart that takes a lot of mound visits,” Deggs said. “I think (it’s) because I can give a hitter’s perspective a lot of times.

“I push the hitters extremely hard, and I love on the pitchers. There’s been a lot of times that I can take mound visits, calm them down … let them know what the offense is trying to do right here.

“You can see me make a pitching change. You can see B.J. do it,” Deggs added. “It’s just a feel thing. But I do like to make mound visits. I like to ‘pitcher whisper’ them, if I can, and get them back on track.’ ”

More: Deggs’ 2020 Cajuns loaded with ‘interchangeable parts’


When it comes to how Robichaux handled and now Ryan handles pitchers between games, there are – as reliever Armstrong sees it – both similarities and differences.  

“Robe was big on competing,” Armstrong said, “and that’s really all B.J.’s mindset is, and that’s his philosophy.”

But …

“Robe’s system was a lot more intricate,” Armstrong said. “A lot of that went off the hitter’s body language in the previous pitch.

“We don’t really get into a lot of that anymore. It’s more of just getting up there, executing pitches and then just competing.”

The book of Robe was preached to young Cajun pitchers in a classroom for hours upon hours during months long before they ever worked their first game for UL.

Related: Deggs, Robichaux as similar as they are opposite

More: Cajuns coach Robichaux toiled ‘to turn boys into men’

Since the change, Ryan has taken fireside chats closer to the field.

The entire pitching staff meets in the bullpen every day before we get going,” Armstrong said during the preseason, “and he’ll just commend us on (something) or tell us we need to get better on (something), depending on yesterday’s practice.”

Like so many Cajun pitcher anxious to hear what the two-time All-Star has to say, Armstrong – a side-winder who worked 2.1 scoreless innings in relief against Tulane on Wednesday – is all ears.

“It’s fantastic,” he said of being coached by a longtime major-leaguer. “I didn’t know B.J. at all before this season.

“The only time I had ever talked to him before actually meeting him in person was just a brief phone call that we had where he called and just kind of introduced himself. This was after the passing of Robe, of course.

“And we just talked about baseball for a few minutes and just said we’re ready to go, and then we got here, and, man, it’s been great.

“He brings (fire) to the table, for sure, as a coach,” Armstrong added. “He’s a competitor. He’s done it at the highest level possible for this game. And he demands it out of us every day.”

More: Rough start costs Ragin’ Cajuns in 9-6 loss to Tulane


UL (1-4) vs. Virginia Tech (1-2)

WHEN: 6 p.m. Friday

WHAT: First game in a three-game non-conference weekend series with the ACC’s Hokies

WHERE: M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field at Russo Park

STREAMING: Ragincajuns.com


PITCHING: RHP Conor Angel (0-1, 1.59 ERA) is expected to start for UL

CAJUN LEADERS: C Sebastian  Toro (.400), CF Alex Hanie (.286), SS Hayden Cantrelle (1 HR, 1 double)

More: UL shortstop Cantrelle tuning out hot MLB Draft talk