MARION — A lot has happened since Ryan Bird pitched for Armstrong-Potomac back in 2003.
After graduating Bird attended Saint Louis University. He broke records at both schools, but the biggest recognition he got came in the last few months, nearly a decade after his playing career was over.
Bird was inducted into the Frontier League Hall of Fame. Bird pitched for the Southern Illinois Miners in the Frontier League from 2008-2010.
In his first year with the Miners, Bird took home Frontier League Pitcher of the Year, going 13-3 with a 2.48 ERA in 21 games (20 starts), striking out 152 and walking only 45 while allowing just 97 hits and four homers in 123 1/3 innings.
For his Frontier League career, Bird had a 2.96 ERA along with 308 strikeouts in 289 1/3 innings.
Even with all the success he had Bird never thought he would be a hall of famer.
“It is such an honor to be recognized alongside the other elite members of the Frontier League Hall of Fame. I played against many of them, and to be in the same class as these not only great quality players, but also quality guys, it’s something quite special,” Bird said. “Now that I’ve been away from the game nearly a decade, to think that my name will always be remembered as a Hall of Fame member, it’s unbelievable.”
Playing not too far from home was a special time for Bird. And Bird said he couldn’t have played for a better organization.
“The Southern Illinois Miners organization is the top minor league organization in all of baseball,” Bird said. “From the top down, playing for the Miners is a first-class experience. The community in southern Illinois was fantastic, and their support night in and night out was great to be able to play in front of.”
A first-class organization starts at the top, and Miners coach Mike Pinto is just that, first class, Bird said.
“My manager, Mike Pinto, was a major part of my success as a player as well as the entire success of the organization,” Bird said. “He built a culture that demanded excellence not only on the field, but also off the field. I will forever be grateful to Mike and his mentorship, leadership and establishing the great Miner Way. As he and we all say, ‘#MinersWay #AlwaysAMiner.’”
Pinto had just as high of praise for Bird as Bird did for him.
“Ryan getting inducted into the hall of fame had just as much to do with who he was off the field as who he was on the field. Ryan was a exactly what we want out of our players when we talk about setting an example for the community,” Pinto said.
Pinto said Bird was a fierce competitor and was absolutely dominant on the field.
“Every time Ryan got the ball I knew we had a great chance to win,” Pinto said.
But Bird may not have gotten the chance to play for Pinto if it wasn’t for his high school coaches.
“Bill Mulvaney and Darren Loschen, my two high school coaches, had a major impact on me as a teenager and helped me grow my knowledge and skills of the game,” Bird said. “Their mentorship helped me land a scholarship to Saint Louis University, which then took my game to the next level.”
Loschen, who coached Bird in junior high and parts of high school, including Bird’s senior season, said he always wanted to be great.
“He was a great student athlete,” Loschen said. “He always wanted to do his best in the classroom, and always wanted to do his best on the field. He helped make those around him better. He wanted the team to be successful not just him.”
Baseball started in the backyard for Bird.
“The two most important people who were always cheering me on were my parents, Bill and Susie Bird,” Ryan Bird said. “As a kid, both my parents spent countless hours with me in the backyard playing catch, hitting ground balls and pitching to me. I would have never gone as far in the game without them standing behind me and cheering me on.”
Bird lives in Geneva with his wife, Taylor, and daughter, Tayleigh. Bird is a vice president of commercial banking for Byline Bank.
You can contact Ryan Birch at Rbirch@Rantoulpress.com or on twitter @RyanBirchRP