COLUMBIA, SC (TheBigSpur.com) - South Carolina added a sweet-swinging, slick-fielding first baseman to the class of 2012 on Sunday afternoon. Ryan Ripken (Baltimore, Md./Gilman) is much more than a player with a famous last name.
Ripken, who is ranked as the No. 304 player in the country by Perfect Game, committed to the Gamecocks over Wake Forest, Coastal Carolina, and Maryland. He visited campus last week and took a couple of days to stew over his decision. On Sunday, he called recruiting coordinator Chad Holbrook and gave him the news.
"I wasn't really even looking at South Carolina until coach Holbrook reached out to me by email last spring," Ripken said. "A relationship developed, the summer went on, and I came down to look at the school. One thing led to another and that's kind of how it went."
Last week was Ryan and his father, Cal Ripken Jr's, second time on campus. The two visited over the summer to see the program. Ryan narrowed his college choices to South Carolina, Coastal Carolina, Wake Forest, and Maryland in recent weeks and decided it was time to pledge to the Gamecocks.
Ripken cited the coaching staff and the campus, which "is a lot different from what I'm used to," as a couple of the biggest factors in his decision.
"It was a family decision," Ripken said. "My parents have my best interest at heart. It was my ultimate decision and there wasn't any pressure. They said I could go anywhere that would give me an opportunity. We narrowed it down to four schools and it could have been any of those."
A 6-foot-5, 195-pounder, Ripken had his best performance of the year in Jupiter, Fla. a couple of weekends ago at the Perfect Game World Championships. He was 3-for-3 with a pair of doubles in a pool-clinching victory over the Diamond Devils, a team that the Gamecocks heavily recruit.
It was a great time for Ripken to put on a show as Holbrook had the chance to see him in person for the first time at the tournament.
"It wasn't until after Jupiter where he said, ‘Hey, you can come here,'" Ripken said. "I was glad to hear those words. It was a tough decision towards the end but I believe my family and I made the right one."
While it felt good to put on a show on the diamond, it was also a relief. Ripken had mononucleosis, a viral infection that causes generally causes the body to feel weak, beginning in February and it took him a while to recover.
Over the course of five months, he dropped 25 pounds and had a high school and summer season he'd like to forget.
"I kind of want to disregard last year," Ripken said. "The first time I really felt good was down in Jupiter a couple of weeks ago. I had the mono out of my system and I've just been working out hard preparing for that tournament. I got into a little bit of a groove, I hit the ball well, and played well defensively."
Ripken did hit .353 as a junior at Gilman High School and was named a preseason all-state member. However, he had what he termed a "really tough year" from an individual and a team results standpoint.
That tough year didn't keep him out of the national spotlight though. He was invited to play in the Under Armour All-America game and competed alongside class of 2012 commitments Curt Britt and Jamie Callahan.
The trio chatted a little bit about South Carolina but it was still early in the recruiting process for Ripken.
"It was great to get out there and play against some of the best guys in the country," Ripken said. "Just having the opportunity to go down there and compete against those guys, it's just a lot of fun to test yourself. To be able to play with a group of guys like that is very humbling."
At the Perfect Game National Showcase in mid-June, Ripken was described as, "Long slender build, strength waiting to catch up to growth spurt. Big target at first base, soft hands, good balance. Left handed hitter, similar hitting mechanics to his father's, should develop more power as he continues to add strength, stays inside and sprays the ball to the opposite field, finds barrel, will improve with added strength. Good student."
Perfect Game ranks him No. 304 nationally but the top player in the state of Maryland and the 10th best at his position in the country.
"I still have to grow back into my body and get stronger," Ripken said. "The first thing I learned playing baseball was to take pride in your defense. Hitting, you're supposed to fail seven out of 10 times. Defense has to be the most consistent part of your game. I'd like to think of myself as a pretty good defensive first baseman.
"As for hitting, I think I still have to grow into my power. I feel pretty good swinging the bat. Overall, the reason I want to go to South Carolina is develop and become a better player. Baseball is a game where you can always get better."
With his pedigree, it's no wonder that a feel for the game and a high baseball I.Q. comes easily.
"Overall, my thought process and things like that, comes from my dad," Ripken said. "We play completely different positions but baseball I.Q. and learning things, which is the most important part, he's taught me how to play the game."
Ripken joins Britt at the first base position in the 2012 class. He's the 15th commitment of the class and one of four left-handed hitters. Ripken is also a standout basketball player, but he told schools that were interested in recruiting him that his passion was on the baseball field.
"The opportunity to come in and work for a spot and be a part of the team, that was kind of what made my decision," Ripken said. "I look forward to working hard and getting the opportunity to prove myself at a great baseball program with great baseball guys."