Ryan Perez is a pitching coach’s dream prospect.
He throws a cutter, curveball, change-up and a fastball that tops out above 80 mph, and he is entering his sophomore year of high school at Westminster Christian in Elgin.
But what separates him from the other 15-year-old pitchers in the Continental Amateur Baseball Association World Series is his ability to throw those pitches with either arm, a rare switch-pitcher.
His development as an ambidextrous pitcher was fostered by his father, Juan Perez, who dreamed of teaching one of his sons to throw as a southpaw. Juan, 56, pitched one year at Elgin Community College and played semi-professional baseball in the 1970s.
But after Ryan, the youngest of his four sons, turned out to be right-handed, Juan decided to develop his left arm as well.
“In the back of my mind because I hadn’t done it before…I thought maybe I better allow him to train his normal way just in case,” Juan said.
From the day Ryan could pick up any object, Juan encouraged him to throw with his left arm. When Ryan was a toddler, Juan would give rocks to Ryan in his left hand to throw into the family’s backyard pond.
By the time Ryan was seven, he and Juan were putting in many hours developing both arms in all facets of the game.
“Instead of one hour of practicing each thing, it’s two hours, because I have to throw both ways and for hitting and infield and fly balls,” said Ryan, who plays for the McHenry County Hurricanes 15-year-old team.
After all the practice, Ryan said throwing with either arm feels natural. When he pitches, he uses a six-fingered mitt, allowing him to switch arms without having to change gloves.
It’s against the rules for Ryan two switch arms between pitches, but he can alternate between batters and innings. Ryan said he often gets funny comments from opposing teams and fans when he switches arms during a game.
“If I’ve gone out there left-handed for the first four innings and I go out in the fifth inning right-handed, [opponents] will be like ‘new pitcher, new pitcher’. But in my mind, I’ll be saying ‘nope, it’s just the same guy,’ and smile.”
Ryan’s versatility also extends beyond the mound.
“He’s my starting shortstop, because he’s just as good of a shortstop as he is a pitcher,” said McHenry County Hurricanes coach Russ Corpolongo. “He can play pretty much anywhere. He’s just an all-around good ballplayer.”
In addition to shortstop, Ryan takes some time as a third baseman and at first base. He’ll throw right-handed when he plays shortstop or third and play as a lefty when he’s fielding at first.
Although Ryan has the ability to throw from either side, he predominately pitches as a left-hander.
“There’s always a shortage of lefties on whatever team you’re playing on,” Juan said. “The left side is also where all the interest is at for scouts.”
By pitching mainly with his left arm and playing as a right-handed shortstop, Ryan avoids a lot of the wear that youth pitchers often endure when playing multiple positions during the season.
Later on if Ryan is used exclusively as a pitcher, he’ll be able to take advantage of the matchup problems that a switch-pitcher can create.
Ryan, who has aspirations to play in college and at the professional level, said he’d be prepared to give up pitching with either arm if a coach wanted to use him exclusively one way.
As for Juan, he’s content finally seeing one of his sons emulate the way that he played the game.
“If I had to do it again, all four of [my sons] would be left-handed pitchers,” Juan said.
Zeroes Across: Pat Murphy pitched seven innings of shutout baseball to help the McHenry County Hurricanes beat the Cincinnati CAUSE, 6-0.
The Hurricanes, who got a first-inning solo home run from Nick Kiefer, advanced to the second round of the 15-year-old gold bracket and will face the Seattle Stars on Thursday. The game will take place at 11:00 a.m. at Trout Park in Elgin.
One up, One Down: The 15U Huntley Red Raiders split a double-header on Wednesday, dropping their first game, 9-1, to the New England Ruffnecks.
The Red Raiders slipped by the Illinois Barons, 11-10, in their second matchup and remain alive in the CABA World Series gold bracket.
They will face the loser of the today’s game between the Lids Indiana Bulls and Puerto Rico Bandits.