To say that baseball chose Ryan Haug might not be an exaggeration. Aware or not, he’s played the game since before his birth. Ryan Haug’s mother, Michelle Haug, grinned proudly and recalled the first time she knew her son was going to become a major league athlete.
“Why do I think he likes baseball? Because when I was pregnant with him I was at a Giants game and I got hit in the stomach with a foul ball,” Mrs. Haug said. “It was just a soft ricochet, but I should have gotten a tattoo.”
With that kind of resume it seemed perfect that the Pittsburgh Pirates would draft the Rohnert Park local as their newest catcher. Ryan got his first taste of the game at age 2 when his father, Ron Haug, handed him a foam bat and ball.
“My buddy was over one time and we’re like, ‘Yeah, you can play in the house. No big deal,” Mr. Haug said, shaking his head slightly at the memory. “And then Ryan goes and smacks a line drive and hits a picture off the wall. After that we’re like, ‘Yeah, you should probably play outside.”
When he hit 4, Ryan joined pee wee baseball. He got his start playing in the Historic A Section of Rohnert Park on the soccer fields. The team set up some plastic cones and made a grass diamond and then they’d go out and play some ball. From an early age, Ryan showed great enthusiasm for the sport.
“You couldn’t get him to come inside. It was just baseball 24-7,” Mr. Haug said. “When I took him to his first major league game not only did the kid want to sit through all nine innings — the game went thirteen, I couldn’t get him out of the park.”
Ryan started with Cal-Ripken as soon as he was old enough. Despite his athletic childhood, he spent his youth small, not quite hitting his stride physically until his junior year of high school. But for such a small boy he had big dreams.
“Growing up people told me I was crazy,” Ryan said, “I remember when I went to school they would always ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’d say a major league baseball player. They’d be all like, ‘Yeah, but be realistic,’ and I’d look at them and say, ‘I am.”
That determination carried Ryan through. Baseball was his true north, his guiding star and while he certainly succeeded at his other studies, it was always to baseball that he returned. After graduating from Rancho Cotate High School, Ryan went to Santa Rosa Junior College and to this day he claims it was the best decision he’s ever made.
“If I never went to the J.C. then I never would have gone to the University of Arizona,” Ryan said.
It was at the University of Arizona while getting his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice that Ryan fell under the tutelage of his coach, Jay Johnson. Johnson guided Ryan through his college years, molding him into the professional player that he would eventually become.
In the end all of the work that Ryan, his coaches and his family put in, came down to one moment: the draft. Ryan spent that day alone and the coach, desperately trying to avoid thinking about what was happening hundreds of miles away.
“I asked myself when it was getting halfway through the draft, “Man, what am I gonna do if this doesn’t work out?” I couldn’t answer that question,” Ryan said. “I threw on some video games to take my mind off things. I got a text from the Pirates asking if I was ready to go. I swear, it felt like I was looking at my phone for a lifetime. Then, when I saw my name pop up it was like a big weight just lifted off my shoulders.”
Ryan is gone now from Rohnert Park, starting his new life with the Pirates in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. He hopes someday to look down at his hand and see a big, World Series Ring on his finger, but for right now, is content with this opportunity for professional and personal growth.