Interview: Pro Pitcher Ryan Shaver

From time to time, Shaver Fit will be interviewing personnel and players associated with the program.  Today’s “Shaver Fit Interview” is  Ryan Shaver, Fairbanks resident and professional baseball veteran of the San Francisco Giants organization.

If you would like to have your kids train with Coach Shaver during the upcoming camp, you can register online HERE.


ShaverFit (SF): Ryan, thank you for taking the time to provide our readers with some information on your baseball background. Where did you get your start in baseball?

Ryan Shaver (RS): I learned almost everything in baseball from my dad, brother, grandpa Glenn, mother, and even my sister in Little League. We attended Ken Rankin’s batting practice almost every Sunday.

SF: When did you start playing?

RS: I played Tee-Ball for a few years with my bro and sis, but first played organized baseball in minor league Tee Ball when I was 6.

SF: Do you recall how that season went?

RS: I remember that I sucked. Ha. My dad said I was ready to play with the big boys even though I was pretty young. The real baseball started when I was 8 in Little League. I was an All-Star at 11 and 12 years old and I remember we lost both times in the championship game to decide who would go to state.

SF: Where did you go after that?

RS: When I was 13 I played for the Junior League. At 14 I was teammates with my older brother Steve in Senior League. When I was 15 I played for the Fairbanks Little League All-Stars against Juneau, and we beat them to win the state title. We went 2-2 in the tournament and I won both games I pitched at the Western Regionals against Montana and Oregon. When I was 16, we made it back to the state tournament in Juneau, but that time we lost to them. I had 21 strikeouts in 9 innings pitched in a no decision, losing in the 10th inning.

SF: You mentioned being coached by your dad and playing with your brother Steve.  How was your mom such a big influence?

RS: My mom actually helped coach while we were at the state tournament and I love her to death for it. She was a boss as a coach. She also handled the score book. Like always, she’s good with numbers.

SF: I know that you didn’t take the typical route of playing for the Fairbanks American Legion club. How did that come about?

RS: After playing only 10 games or so for Legion, I quit because it seemed like the level of competition just wasn’t there. So I played in the Fairbanks men’s league with the Red Sox. I teamed up with my brother Steve again, and played with Rick Campbell and lots of guys who played hard. I always wanted to play with older guys who were better because I figured that’s how you get better and learn more. As it turned out, playing with the older guys was the best thing that could have happened because I was scouted by college coach Rob Hippi while pitching against the Goldpanners in the 2003 All-Star Game.

SF: Rob Hippi has a great reputation in the coaching world. What did he say after seeing you pitch?

RS: That really was my moment, because he came to me after I pitched and asked me where I played college ball. I told him, “nowhere”, and that I planned on playing basketball in San Diego. He said that he might want me to pitch at Lower Colombia College, and said he would follow up with me later that summer. A few weeks later, when I was working construction with my friend Dale Braumberger, local coach Billy Smith called me and said Rob Hippi was at the ballpark to watch me throw a bullpen. I ran out of work and rushed over to the field with no baseball gear at all. I was wearing boots and work gear and threw a pen for him. He told me to walk on the Goldpanners and the rest is history.

SF: The history there is that you received an invitation to play for Lower Columbia College off of what he saw in that bullpen session. Pretty impressive. How did you perform at college?

RS: I showed up to the campus at Lower Columbia that fall and decided that was where I wanted to be. Coach Hippi kept me around after I touched 92 mph in my first live game when they put me in as the closer. Following the season I was named to the All-NWAACC First Team, and also the Western Division First Team as a reliever. We ended up playing for the championship that year also.

SF: You must have attracted the attention of a few pro scouts as well.

RS: Actually, I was drafted with the 29th pick by the San Francisco Giants, but decided not to sign. Back then they had draft-and-follow as a rule, so the Giants still had my rights going into my second year. That summer I played for the Goldpanners, but started out on the bench because the head coach thought I was a bum local guy. That was Ed Cheff from Lewis Clark State. He gave me three weeks to watch, and it wasn’t until Sean Timmons put the word in for me that he gave me a chance to throw in middle relief. Once I touched 94 on my hometown mound, which was the hardest pitch I had ever thrown in my life. After that he decided to let me try out as the closer. I stuck with it and had an awesome season with the Panners even though we didn’t make it to regionals. It was an awesome experience being a Goldpanner and one of my favorite summers of baseball ever.

SF: Proving yourself to a Hall of Famer like Cheff really says a lot. That’s a big moment for Fairbanks baseball. Did his early skepticism bother you?

RS: No. I love the guy and his hard-nosed personality. I actually signed a letter of intent to go to Lewis Clark State College after my sophomore year was completed but decided to sign with the Giants instead.

SF: So how did your season go at Lower Columbia, knowing that the Giants still held your rights until the next draft?

RS: My sophomore year was great. I was a starter and we won the NWAACC championship. I was named MVP of the championship tournament, and was also named as a first team All-NWAACC starter and to the Western Division First Team.

SF: And then you signed with the Giants. Tell us about your professional career.

RS: My professional career was more of the same. I won the Arizona League title with the Giants the same year I won the NWAACC title with Lower Columbia. After that I was promoted to the Augusta Green Jackets in the South Atlantic League.  I had a great season pitching over 130 innings, which was a huge load, but ended up winning 11 games. We made it to the championship that year against a Phillies minor league team. It was the first time I pitched in front of over 10,000 fans.

SF: You had 20 starts that year. That was a big load, for sure. How about your other appearances when you didn’t start. What was your role then?

RS: I was a starter turned reliever by end of year, and the Giants kept me in the relief role from then on. In 2007, I had a lot of success in middle relief. That year I appeared in 36 games in relief and posted the lowest ERA of my career.

SF: You were promoted after that year, but your stats show only eight appearances in 2008. What happened there?

RS: 2008 was the turning point of my career. I had just been promoted to the San Jose Giants in the A Advanced California League, and had only pitched 12 innings when I tore my UCL. (SF: Ulnar Collateral Ligament) After that, I had to get Tommy John surgery, which is still a big setback for a pitcher. I spent 12-16 months rehabilitating my arm before I was able to come back and pitch again for the San Jose Giants in the second half of the 2009 season. We ended  up winning the California League championship.

SF: You averaged a strikeout an inning after your return. Did you feel like you were back in form?

RS: I pitched very well. My only appearance in a pro all-star game was the season after that when I played for Sioux Falls. I was either 5-0 or 6-0 at the all-star break. We even went on to the championship again that year, but ended up losing. I decided to retire after that season and move back home to Alaska. The years and injuries took a toll, especially having to undergo Tommy John.  Before my sophomore year of high school, I broke my arm, but ended up pitching in the state tournament and getting an all tournament award after recovery. It all just adds up.

SF: What did you do after moving back to Alaska?

RS: I came back in 2011 and coached at Lathrop High School, and also in American Legion ball with Tyler Hollister, Dave Hall, and Dave Soderlund. It was great to be around my friends and family again. I coached Tee-Ball for two years, with one year in Fairbanks and one year in Washington State. Last year, I coached 7-8 year old kids in Pony League, and that was a lot of fun.

Coaching has been very rewarding for me, especially after retiring. Since moving back to Fairbanks I’ve worked with at-risk youth as a mentor, youth counselor, and case manager with many different cultures of kids in our city. I love working with youth and mentoring them to help them find their own paths and create bridges. One of my favorite quotes is by Galileo, “You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him to find it within himself. “

SF: So what are you doing these days in addition to coaching?

RS: I am working toward a bachelors degree in business, arts, and communications, and am pursing a new career opportunity as a coach, trainer, and business owner. I’m always looking for new partners to team up with. One of my main goals in Fairbanks is to create a fall/winter baseball development program which includes an education program to help our players work year-round so they can more easily catch up to the rest of the country.

SF: Ryan, congratulations on all your great success. Thank you for taking the time for this interview, and I hope many kids in Fairbanks are able to take advantage of your experience at the Shaver Fitness camps.

RS: I look forward to it. They’re right where I was when I started. Maybe one of them can carry the torch for the next generation.