Brendan Ryan: Leading from the middle

This article first appeared in the August 2011 of The Grand Salami.

Brendan Ryan is one of the best defensive shortstops playing today

By Mike Citron

The Mariners acquired shortstop Brendan Ryan from the St. Louis Cardinals in an off-season trade last December. The 29-year-old has been a great addition, solidifying the team’s defense up the middle while contributing important hits on a regular basis. The fiery Ryan has a lot of energy and he’s been one of the leaders of the Mariners’ improvement in 2011. Manager Eric Wedge told The Seattle Times in June, “Ryan’s been great. His energy level and enthusiasm have been infectious, and a lot of the guys are feeding off that.” Always willing to talk, Brendan sat down for an interview with The Grand Sa­lami right before the All-Star break.

GRAND SALAMI: People have said that your play at shortstop has been one of the big reasons for the Mariners’ resurgence this season. Can you talk about how this season has been going?

BRENDAN RYAN: Everything starts with leadership. The team needed a new manager and they brought in Eric Wedge, who in my opinion has been the right guy for the job. He’s been outstanding. Then you look at what our starting pitchers have been able to accomplish. They’ve been able to keep us in games every single day. They’ve been pretty unbelievable, one through five. Beyond that, we’ve got a handful of guys who are trying prove ourselves or get back on track. And along with those things, we’re motivated, we’ve got good energy, and we want to win.

GS: Did it make things easier for you that you were a new player coming into a situation where the manager was also new?

RYAN: I thought from day one coming in that this was a good situation for me, seeing the Wedgie eyes, the conviction and non-phoniness he has about him. He stands by what he says and he means it. He’s a great manager and I enjoy playing for him. He’s given me an opportunity to play every day and I’m trying to keep my job, trying to contribute as much as I can. I just think that he has this thing going in the right direction and it’s our job to go out every day and try to make him look good.

GS: How does Wedge compare with Tony LaRussa, who you played for in St. Louis?

RYAN: They’re similar in some respects and different in others. They have the same intensity and desire to win. The way they approach things might be different. Wedgie’s a little looser, while Tony doesn’t really let loose too often, especially in the hours before and during the game. He’s very intense during those hours, focusing on making every right decision and being as prepared as anyone and then some. They’re both great managers and they’re both winners.

GS: You got off to a slow start with the bat in April, but have hit well since. Was it a big adjustment for you moving to a new league this year?

RYAN: April was tough. There were some adjustments that I had to make. But some things went right in May and now I’m just trying to keep it going. You’re never totally satisfied. My job is to get on base, move guys over, try to drive in a run here or there, play small ball. That’s my game, trying to do those kinds of things, trying to do the best I can. I know I can get better, we all can.

GS: It’s your first season with the team, but you’ve quickly become one of the leaders of this Seattle team.

RYAN: I don’t necessarily consider myself a leader, but you look at the position players and the team in general and we have a lot of young guys, guys beginning their careers. I’m kind of in the middle, not a veteran quite yet, but a few years from a rookie. I’m still learning guys in this league and trying to find my way. I’m having a blast and I think the team appreciates the energy I try to bring to the park. Not to be corny, but this is my dream and I’m trying to hang on to it.

GS: Can you talk about what Dustin Ackley has added to the team since coming up from the minors just a few weeks ago?

RYAN: He’s special, obviously. He’s got some kind of stroke, he just finds the barrel and his defense has been great since he’s come up. He’s a fun guy with a sense of humor and that always sits well with me. He’s contributing pretty much every day. We’re certainly glad to have him here. I know the team didn’t want to rush him, but he certainly doesn’t look overmatched.

GS: You and Justin Smoak seem to have developed a close relationship this year. Is he your BFF?

RYAN: I think we should all be BFFs (laughs). I can’t believe we just said that. We got a teammate thing, we try to take care of each other. I gotta take care of Smoaky—he’s over there pickin’ all those terrible throws I make. He’s a great guy with a good sense of humor. He wants to learn, but I don’t know why he asks me questions! I look to AK (Adam Kennedy) and some of the other guys that have been around a long time. We’ve got a good group and we’re all having fun. After the games we’re all competing against each other in video games. Smoaky happens to be my partner and we usually play against Cust and Halman and some of the other guys.

GS: I’m sure you don’t have a ton of time to see the city when you’re away from the ballpark, but how do you like Seattle so far?

RYAN: Seattle’s awesome! I wish we got to see more of it. Most of the time we’re flying out on our off days. I’m a guy that sleeps in; I’m not one of those guys that you’ll find running the dog around the city in the morning. I’ll probably stay an extra month here after the season is over, just kind of lay back and enjoy the city, probably do some fishing. It’ll be fun to get the chance to take advantage of the opportunities that are out there that we don’t have time for during the season. One of the first things that I noticed about Seattle is that it’s very clean. Everything is so clean and green. I’ve really enjoyed being here. The trade to the Mariners has been a blessing for me.

GS: You played with Albert Pujols when you were with the Cardinals. He’ll be a free agent at the end of the season. If you were a GM, what would you do?

RYAN: If I’m a GM anywhere, I want him. That guy wants to play every day and he wants to be the best. He’s one of the best hitters of all time. My feeling is that the Cardinals will find a way to keep him there. He’s too loved in the city and too good a player to let go. I don’t know if it’ll be a lifetime deal, but I know he wants to stay there and I’m sure they’ll find a way.

GS: I understand that you do impressions to keep things loose in the clubhouse. Are you good at it?

RYAN: As far as I’m concerned, I’m terrible. I let other people say stuff and they seem to like it. Going back to high school, I’ve always liked being the center of attention. In my opinion, people don’t laugh enough in life. Humor is a wonderful thing, so if you’re able to provide it or enjoy it, embrace it. I always loved watching Saturday Night Live and all the impersonations they would do and used to wish I could do it too. And I just started doing them—not to mention that I was on Saturday Night Live as a kindergartner.

GS: So who do you do impressions of?

RYAN: I always used to mimic batting stances when I was a kid and then I started doing an impersonation of Harry Caray, started doing (Robert) DeNiro and random characters from movies. I’ve always had a good time doing that and I figure if I get a good response, then it probably went over well. I fed off of that.

GS: You mentioned being on Saturday Night Live. How did that happen?

RYAN: One of the kids in my kindergarten had an uncle or an aunt that worked on SNL and they were doing a sketch where little kids would be very adult-like. They had all of us four-year olds and we were supposed to be mobsters. They took out our voices and dubbed in the cast members’ voices. Phil Hartman did the voice for my character. They basically just told us what to do and we acted it out. I was wearing a white tuxedo and I had the big punch line. It was pretty funny.