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Getting a fresh start

Ryan Gloger started the 2002 baseball season with a new beginning. He began with a 3-1 record in his first six appearances but has struggled in his last two, giving up seven earned runs in his last three innings of work.

Struggles seem to follow Gloger, a junior in his first season with the Bulls after spending two years at Stanford. In the two years that he was at Stanford, according to Gloger, he was overlooked and held back with less than three innings of work in two seasons.

Even before that, Gloger had to struggle with the decision of whether to take a draft offer from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays after a stellar high school career at Jesuit High School or get an education while enhancing his skills at the collegiate level.

And maybe Gloger’s biggest struggle is of the more heartbreaking kind – the loss of his mother to cancer. Yeah, Gloger has had struggles, but now it will be how he deals with them that will end the story.

High school, the draft and decision making

Gloger’s performance in high school made him a prep sports star of the Tampa area, where at Jesuit he was named by Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball prep All-American and earned the Tony Saladino Award as the Hillsborough County Player of the Year.

“I was fortunate to be successful in high school, and I had the opportunity to go professional if I wanted to,” Gloger said. “But school has always been important to my family.”Gloger was drafted in the eighth round of the June 1999 amateur draft by the Devil Rays; Gloger’s decision to attend college pushed the highly touted pitcher out of the draft’s top rounds.

“Ryan in high school was projected to go in the first round,” USF pitching coach Nelson North said. “His is a situation that everything was on course for exactly what he wanted, and that is where he first tripped.”

But during high school, Gloger suffered a loss that made any on-field struggles meaningless. His mother, Irene, died of cancer, a traumatic loss that Gloger said directed him toward college, stating that he chose college instead of the pros because of his mother, not for her.

“My mom passed away when I was 15,” Gloger said. “One of the things my mom always said to me was to use athletics to get a college scholarship. I know it was important to her for me to go to college. I wouldn’t say it was the main reason I went to college. It was always something that I wanted to do.”

Gloger committed to Stanford with the belief that he would find an education and make an impact in a program that would go on to win the NCAA College World Series in 2000. A trip to Omaha that Gloger’s Cardinal teammates would make without him.

Struggles in the red

According to Gloger, his time at Stanford was tumultuous to say the least. He decided on Stanford instead of LSU because of the recruiting of Stanford’s volunteer pitching coach. But upon his arrival, Gloger said he found coach Tom Dunton gone and his position as an important part of the team in question.

“They had this specific pitching coach who had been there for 25 years and produced all these big leaguers, and when I got out there he wasn’t there anymore,” Gloger said. “(Stanford coach Mark Marquess) flew out in July to make sure that I wasn’t going to sign with the Devil Rays and I said, ‘Are you sure that this pitching coach is going to be there?’ and he said, ‘Yes.'”

Marquess could not be reached for comment.

But Gloger continued at Stanford for two seasons despite not finding a slot in the Cardinal’s pitching rotation. Gloger did see time in the Cape Cod Summer League playing with the Brewster Whitecaps but never found a place at Stanford.

“It was tough,” he said. “My first two years of college, I had a million questions. ‘Do you regret what you did? Do you wish you would have signed out of high school?’ And honestly, I decided I can’t look back and say, ‘I should have signed with the Devil Rays or gone to LSU,’ because you can’t second guess what you’ve done.”

Gloger’s disappointments left him time to reflect on the game and how important it was that he continue playing.

“Being at Stanford and sitting on the sideline reminded me how important the game was to me,” Gloger said. “In high school, when I wasn’t pitching I was playing, so I didn’t have much time to think about the game. But for two years I had a lot of time to sit and think about it.”

So after finishing his second season with the Whitecaps, Gloger decided it was time for him to leave Stanford.

Homeward bound

Gloger found himself returning home to find a place to play. Gloger made the decision to come to South Florida instead of UCF, in part because of North, a left-handed pitching coach.

“For a left hander (having a left-handed coach) is an advantage, because lefties see the world a little differently,” North said. “Communication is such an important thing in coaching. Sometimes a left hander and a left hander on the same page can be an advantage.”

Gloger offered USF something it hasn’t had for a number of years: a left hander in the starting rotation, something USF hasn’t had since Scott Glaser ended his career as USF all-time victory leader in 1999.

“We thought (bringing him in) he could be a definite part of our starting rotation, positively,” USF coach Eddie Cardieri said.Cardieri has made it clear since his arrival that he is not concerned about Gloger’s time at Stanford and said he hasn’t asked what happened.

“I haven’t personally spoken to Ryan about Stanford really at all,” Cardieri said. “This is a new chapter in his life coming here. I know what he did in high school, and I know what he did in the fall. If he just pitched that way now, it would be incredible.”

Gloger’s impact in question

Gloger made an impact in the first half of the season as an intricate part of the Bulls’ successful March campaign. He was 3-1 in his first six starts but has not seen that success in his last two starts. He gave up four runs in two innings in a loss to TCU April 7 and followed that by giving up three runs in one inning against Cincinnati April 14, a game the Bulls would later win. Gloger has lately found himself in trouble early without the ability to calm himself down and get out of it.

“The one thing that we’ve learned is once it happens, there is no way to turn it around in that game,” North said. “I think he’s fighting hard through it, and I think he is as frustrated as we are about it. I know he knows we expected big things from him, and I think he expected big things from himself. I don’t know if that adds to the pressure or if that’s part of the problem.”

Gloger’s first six outings yielded only 12 earned runs in 25 2/3 innings.

“He just hasn’t been good since Louisville,” Cardieri said. “It’s disappointing because we thought after Louisville, he turned the corner and got over all of the psychological problems. Because I think that it is more mental than anything else.”Both Cardieri and North seem at a loss to explain Gloger’s current state.

“I think he can get over it, but I can’t understand why he hasn’t already,” Cardieri said.

The coaches stated that they are not giving up on Gloger but are very frustrated in not being able to find a remedy for his pitching lapse.

“We’re not going to give up on him. We’ve kept starting him,” North said. “We’ve kept giving him the ball.

“Ryan’s greatest asset in high school was not his fastball or change-up or curveball but that he was a real competitor. He was an extremely confident young man. And I think Stanford put some doubts in his head about how good he was,” North said.

But North continued by saying that despite his efforts, whatever struggle is bothering Gloger, it’s something he’ll need to work through to find success at the college level and beyond.

“In simple terms, it’s just something he’s going through,” North said. “Rick Ankiel (of the St. Louis Cardinals organization) is going through it. It happens. He almost freezes up. You can even see it in his motion. He’ll be throwing the ball real well, finishing all his pitches, everything comes through and then the walk or the hit batter. At that point that’s where the problem starts, and there is no coming back.”

What now remains a mystery is what’s bothering Gloger? Is it simply a mental block or a mechanics problem? And if so, what can be done to change it?

“Ryan is a very talented left-handed pitcher that I’m sure one day will get a chance to pitch in the big leagues,” North said. “He’s got a mental block, some type of fear of either failure or success, and I figured that out. It’s much stronger than I thought, and it’s holding him back.”

One thing that seems to be true in this story is that life’s full of struggles – and Ryan Gloger seems to know this well.