Reported by Joseph Santoliquito, CBS Philly
Los Angeles (CBS) — You can’t help but notice the eyes. They come at you with a delightful squint, the kind of welcoming look that’s non-menacing, unless you’re on a pitcher’s mound. That smile, creased perfectly and charming, appears familiar, too. So is the slight chin dimple.
All that’s actually missing are the branded Popeye forearms, those monstrosities that once terrorized National League pitchers and seemed to have a life of their own.
Ryan Garvey laughs at the thought. It’s the one thing he’s been short-changed on when it comes to dad’s genetics. Everything else, it seems, is there — from the No. 6 Ryan wears for Palm Desert (Calif.), to the compact explosive swing, to his intuitive baseball instincts, to the strong possibility Ryan will one day play Major League Baseball just like his dad, former Los Angeles Dodgers great Steve Garvey.
There’s no hyper reverie to Ryan’s actions on the field. No one would ever confuse Ryan for being Lenny Dykstra’s son, for instance. Ryan hits, glides through the outfield, fields and throws in a smooth, controlled rhythmic flow, like his dad (in truth, Ryan runs much better than his father).
Now when crowds of Major League scouts cloister behind backstops of Palm Desert games with their stopwatches, they may talk to Steve, but they’re really there to see and gravitate to Ryan. He’s emerged as one of the best high school power hitters in the country, in a class with Travis Harrison, slugging a season-best nine homers, one away from tying the Palm Desert single-season school record.
There’s no secret the Phillies like drafting California talent (Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins), and they’ve also been inclined to go after California high school players. Mike Lieberthal was the third-overall pick in the 1990 draft chosen by the Phillies out of Westlake High School in California. Hamels and Rollins were also drafted out of California high schools (Hamels going 17th overall in 2002 and Rollins a second-round selection in 1996).
The Phillies, who forfeited their first-round pick (33rd overall) to Texas as compensation for signing Cliff Lee, took Garvey, who had been offered a scholarship to play ball at USC, in the 15th round.
The Phillies may be looking for a right-handed, power-hitting outfielder (something they could use right now), Garvey could be the answer.
Through 28 games, Ryan was hitting .381, leading the team in doubles (12), home runs (nine), runs (32) and RBIs (41). A centerfielder and occasional first baseman, Ryan has already committed to USC on a baseball scholarship, but may not make it there, projected to go anywhere from the late first round to the third round.
Aside from myriad baseball skills, the 6-foot, 190-pound senior already has a built-in advantage over most players his age – the experience and ability to cope with pressure. It came pre-ordered, with the weighty name on the back of his jersey, “G-A-R-V-E-Y.”
He could cower away from it, hunch down and hide.
Instead, Ryan boldly embraces the fact the he’s the son of a former Dodger great, playing in Southern California, wearing dad’s famous No. 6. When he changed his number from 10 to 6 at the outset of his junior year, his mother Candace had some misgivings. Ryan didn’t need that.
So when he went into a mini-slump last season, Candace suggested Ryan change the number. Ryan nixed the thought, saying, “Mom, it’s not the number striking out and struggling at the plate, it’s me.” He kept the number.
He’s been hitting ever since.
Though invariably, it always comes back to the faint chatter Ryan has heard ever since he put on a baseball uniform when the Garveys moved to Palm Desert from Utah. The whispering followed like a vapor trail of “Steve Garvey’s son … that’s Steve Garvey’s son.”
The irony is that Ryan didn’t know much about his father’s exploits until he was around 11. The hints would come in subtle ways. One time, when Ryan was younger, he was running around frantic looking for a glove. It was his first baseball tryout and he didn’t know any better. All he knew was that he didn’t have a glove. There were really plenty of gloves in the house. Game-used, too. They were stuffed in a plastic bin his father kept.
So Ryan reached in and grabbed one. As he was headed out the door …
“I remember that one,” Steve said, nonchalantly. “That was the glove I wore at Dodger Stadium.”
It’s the way Steve and Candace wanted it. In his own time, Ryan would find out who his dad was. In his own time, Ryan would carve out who he would become.
“My dad played his career down to me, and I think it was for my own good,” said Ryan, who carries a 3.5 GPA. “When was I younger, I saw pictures of him in uniform, and remember all these grownups coming up to him and asking for his autograph. I’d ask why and he’d say it was because of his baseball career. I was young, just getting into baseball and the history of the game. I really didn’t know.
“Then when I got a little older, I’d click on great Dodger moments, and there’s my father hitting a homer against the Cubs to left-center field, or blasting a bullet to right-center, and I’d always be like, ‘Dad, what are you doing in these pictures?’ He has all of this great memorabilia and all his awards in this room. He wasn’t going to tell me about it. My father is a humble man; it’s the way he was raised. It’s the way my parents raised me. He wasn’t going to beat his chest and ever say he was great. I had to find out for myself. I started looking stuff up that he did, then I’d joke with him and say, ‘Appreciate that, thanks for telling me.'”
Though there is a caveat with carrying a big name.
“I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say there isn’t pressure being Steve Garvey’s son,” Ryan said. “I deal with it. I think I might have pressed a little too much when I was younger, trying to live up to something, but I learned that I control my own destiny, and it’s in God’s hands. I think that’s it’s OK to fail. Baseball is a game when you fail seven out of 10 times and you’re still a success. It’s how you learn from it. Besides, I put more pressure on myself than anyone else could. I’m trying to make it happen for me.”
Steve wanted to keep things simple for Ryan, and that meant with everything. Ryan grew up around Dodger Stadium and the greats of the game. But it wasn’t until Ryan was around 13 when he turned to his father one day and said, “Dad, you were pretty good, weren’t you?”
“I tried to keep things simple for Ryan, on and off the field, because my philosophy has always been you can’t give someone too much information too soon,” Steve said. “I wanted to separate me as Ryan’s father from my playing days. I’m Ryan’s father first; I’m dad. And if he wanted to pursue baseball, that was fine. If he didn’t, Candace and I were OK with that, too. But if he was going to pursue baseball, I didn’t want the magnitude of what I did as a player to take him over. I wanted to keep things simple. Gradually, we spoke more and more about my career, and I incorporate that into what it takes to be a good player. First and foremost, there is responsibility with being a good teammate and the honor it is to wear a Major League uniform.
“I want Ryan to be better than I was, any father would. We talk about having a pro game, and that doesn’t mean always going 4-for-4, it means hitting behind a runner to move him up, and making your teammates better. It means building your game. We talk about measuring his success by the success of the team, because everything is measured by winning. Ryan’s senior year has been dedicated to that. That’s the ultimate satisfaction. It’s winning another CIF Division IV championship.”
They speak about the pressures of the Garvey name, and how expectations will be placed on Ryan. Steve has turned it into a positive.
“Baseball fans like the extension of seeing sons in any sport succeed because of the experiences they had watching the fathers,” Steve said. “They want the son to be able to do what the father did, especially in professional sports. The Dodger family wants to see Ryan succeed; Tommy Lasorda wants him to succeed. Candace and I have always stressed hard work, dedication and knowledge, and always about being the best player on the field. Don’t try to be ‘Steve Garvey’s son’ every time up, because I tell him he can only put expectations on himself, be Ryan Garvey.”
* * *
How good is Ryan?
Palm Desert coach Darol Salazar grew up a Dodgers fan. He watched Steve Garvey play. When he saw Ryan as a freshman during his first practice, Salazar quickly picked up some things about Ryan. He had many of the same mannerisms as his father.
“I had to find out,” Salazar said. “I asked Steve after Ryan was done hitting, ‘He looks just like you when he steps in there, does he watch a lot of video of you?’ Steve laughed, and said no, that’s all natural genetics. Ryan hits the ball harder than anyone I ever had. Our problem with Ryan is we didn’t really know where to play him, center field or first base, because he’s so proficient in both.”
But Ryan didn’t really take off until the second half of his junior year. Sure, there were sporadic flashes of brilliance here and there, though nothing consistent. Ryan was on the lean, gangling side when he first got to Palm Desert.
“All elbows and knees, like a baby deer tripping over himself,” laughed Salazar. “But you can always tell Ryan can hit. There was that athleticism you noticed. The other thing is Ryan hasn’t played as much baseball as other kids his age. He’s from cold country and you can say he’s relatively new, in comparison to the other kids. But last year showed what he could do. Ryan’s best baseball is way ahead of him. There’s no doubt in my mind he’ll be a big leaguer.”
The gaping difference between this season and last is that Ryan was streaky at times. Those times he struggled, Salazar said, had more to do with the inexperience factor. Now those hot streaks last longer, much longer. There is a consistency to his game where a pitcher can’t get a ball by him. That also has to do with a work ethic where Ryan will hit in his backyard cage until blisters begin forming on his hands. He’s meticulous. Ryan and Steve break down film of each at-bat after every game, trouble-shooting nuances like when he opens his hips, the arc of his swing.
Mike Spiers, who coaches Ryan for the ABD Academy Bulldogs, says Ryan’s raw power reminds him of Josh Vitters, a 2007 first-round pick by the Cubs who’s with their Class AA affiliate in Tennessee. Spiers has watched Ryan evolve from the young man who was extremely hard on himself to the player he’s become, someone who accepts failure as part of the game and can analyze what he did wrong.
“Dealing with failure is the hardest thing for any young player,” Spiers said. “Ryan had a tough time with that at first. He tried I think too hard to live up to expectations to his dad. He’s turned himself into a pro prospect. We didn’t take it easy on Ryan. He’s earned everything, and that’s the way Steve wanted it. He’s allowed his son to play in this program with no interference. He wants Ryan to grow into the game. When Ryan was young, you would hear the ‘Steve Garvey’s son’ thing. Now, a lot of guys with potential to go in the draft, they don’t look at him as Steve Garvey’s son. They look at him as Ryan Garvey. He’s created his own identity.”
To Candace Garvey, Ryan will always be her “baby boy.” Above his ability to smash a baseball, or run down a fly in the gap, to Candace, it’s Ryan’s humility and the values she and Steve instilled in him that count the most.
There could be a reason why Ryan didn’t take off until the middle of his junior year, a deep, emotional motive that weighed more heavily on him than carrying an important surname.
Ryan was taking care of his dying grandfather, Joe Garvey, who was battling cancer last year. Ryan would regularly visit the hospice where Joe was being cared for, holding his hand, shaving him. When Joe passed away, Ryan climbed into bed with him. He didn’t want to let him go. Salazar wanted to ease him back into the lineup, giving him three games to gather himself. Ryan wanted to return sooner, approaching Salazar and saying, “I think my grandfather would want me playing.”
“That’s Ryan,” recounted Candace, pausing for a second, a trickle of emotion in her voice. “Ryan believes in God, above everything, and he believes in doing the right thing. He’s accountable the times he does something wrong, and he is a normal teenager. We don’t expect perfection from him. He does make mistakes. But Ryan does have the perfect temperament for baseball, because it is a game of failure. Ryan is able to let the failures go. The beauty of our situation is that Steve had a wonderful career. We tell Ryan your dad had his career; he doesn’t have to live through you. Ryan has to do his own thing. Ryan has to do it because he loves it, and we’ll always be there to support him. Ryan knows he doesn’t have to go back out there for our approval.”
There is one thing missing Steve hasn’t passed down to his son.
“Those forearms, those things just don’t come overnight,” Ryan said, laughing. “I’m getting there. I just have to work on it every day and live up to those forearms. I’m always asking my father ‘How did you get them that big and freakish?’ They’re unmanly. I don’t even know how to describe them. They’re still lingering around here. It’s like they have their own brain, they’re another living being. Who knows what those things are?”
One thing is certain: More and more people are finding out who Ryan Garvey is, sans the forearms.