By Rick Assad
Maybe it’s the quiet but confident countenance or the steely-eyed look of being self-assured, but Ryan King has the attitude and presence of a committed baseball player.
A four-year varsity starter on the Burbank High team, King was someone to watch early, whether playing shortstop, his main position or as a pitcher.
“I always try to find a way to contribute to the team. If I’m having a bad day at the plate, I make sure that I make every possible play in the field,” said King, who stands six-feet and weighs 160 pounds. “If I’m making errors in the field, I make sure when I come up to bat with a man at third, I get him in. Everyone has bad days. The important thing is still finding a way to help the team.”
King, who batted .238 with three runs batted in and two runs scored across seven games and went 1-1 in four appearances on the hill with two saves and an 0.00 earned-run average as a junior, doesn’t take anything for granted.
“Every game is important to me, so my approach is the same for everyone. I go into every game thinking it’s the most important game I’ve ever played,” he noted. “I play every game like it’s my last and leave everything out on the field.”
There is a difference playing in the field and being on the mound. For starters, it’s easier to show the way as a position player.
“While playing shortstop I always try to lead the team,” said King, who was the defensive player of the year as a sophomore and a team captain as a senior and junior. “I communicate to my guys constantly. While pitching, I tend to focus more on myself. I realize that while I’m pitching, I have to trust my defense behind me. All I can do is make my pitches.”
King added: “I like playing shortstop more because I like helping lead the team and do more for the team than just make plays,” he said.
The baseball season is still in doubt because of the coronavirus, but King is hopeful.
“COVID-19 has definitely had a major impact on the bond we have as a team. Going to practice for two or three hours every day of the week helps form the bond we have as a team,” he said. “Having that bond is extremely important during the season because we all work together and care for each other. Last year our team was made up of a lot of seniors that have left so we need to form a completely new bond between us. Not being able to get on the field as a team has led to us not being able to form that special bond that we need.”
If the season gets underway, King expects the Bulldogs to be in the Pacific League hunt.
“I have very high expectations for us during the season. We have the talent to be a very good team. We just need to work together and form that bond when we are finally able to start practicing,” he said.
Being good at baseball doesn’t require being tall like basketball or unusually strong like football. There are ways to make an impact.
“I think my best traits are my baseball instincts and my mental game,” said King, who finished with a .233 batting average along with 16 runs tallied and three RBIs over 23 games and one save in eight appearances on the mound as a sophomore. “I am always watching the game, figuring out who has the best arms on the field, which batters can’t hit outside pitches, things like that so I can communicate it to my guys and help put them in the best positions possible.”
King’s coach has been Bob Hart and the longtime mentor gushed with praise about the young man.
“Ryan King is an amazing player and person,” he noted. “He is our leader by far and his work ethic in my 15 years has never been matched. He’s the real deal. I feel as though he’s a Division I prospect in a world that may not allow for visibility and exposure at this point.”
Hart continued his assessment: “But his best baseball is in front of him,” he said. “He’s a kid that could play professional baseball, in my opinion.”
King’s father, Brett, played pro baseball after being selected by the New York Yankees in the 36th round in 1990 out of Apopka High in central Florida.
Three years later, King was picked in the second round by the San Francisco Giants out of the University of South Florida.
King, a middle infielder, never quite reached the major leagues, but did toil for eight seasons in the minors including two years at Triple A.
King finished his career with 38 homers, 238 RBIs and a .222 batting average in 755 games.
Not surprisingly, King’s father was in his corner from the beginning.
“My dad played professionally for a couple years so naturally he stuck me in T-ball when I was four years old,” he said. “I love the game of baseball because it’s as much an individual game as it is a team game. I also love the mental part of the game, reading the count at the plate to figure out what pitch the pitcher is likely to throw. Baseball is one of the only sports where it doesn’t matter how big or strong you are, you can be great in so many different ways.”
Making sure that everyone on the Burbank team is included is something King, who posted a .214 batting average with four runs and four RBIs in 13 games and collected one save and delivered an 0.62 ERA in five appearances as a freshman, believes is necessary.
“I feel good that I can help the team in more ways than just playing. I try to help my team in any way that I can and a lot of time it’s being vocal and helping my teammates out,” he said. “I never let one of my teammates feel bad about something that has happened in the game. It’s in the past. I always make sure to pick my guys up and let them know they’re good.”
Being thoughtful and grateful also matter to King, who has designs on playing baseball at Glendale Community College before heading off to a four-year college.
“Playing baseball at BHS has taught me the importance of high school baseball and giving back to the community that supports the program,” he explained. “The Operation Gratitude we do to give back to those serving for the United States and volunteer breakfasts we do has really taught me how to be a good person and give back to the community that has helped you. Also, giving back to the younger players. I love helping out at the camps we hold over summer and sharing my love of the game to the younger generation.”
King’s gratitude to play for Hart and his program is also evident.
“That’s been a dream of mine ever since I started playing,” he said of making the professional ranks. “I have worked extremely hard over the years to try to achieve that and I’m extremely honored that Coach Hart believes I can.”
Only time will tell if Hart’s belief is warranted, but one thing is certain and it’s that King is certainly moving in the right direction.