This is no ‘Bull’: Monterey’s Ryan, Smith bring leadership

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 31, 2003

MONTEREY, La. &045; You remember what happened in &uot;Bull Durham&uot; when Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh repeatedly shook off catcher Crash Davis to announce his presence with authority by throwing a fastball instead of the curve Davis called, right?

Davis stomps out to the mound in disbelief that the rookie is brushing him off, an argument ensues with LaLoosh prevailing … sort of.

Davis informs the batter what pitch the lanky yearling is prepared to throw and the hitter proceeds to knock one out of the park.

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Well, no one is ever going to confuse Monterey’s No. 1 battery of Phillip Ryan and A.J. Smith of actors Kevin Costner (Davis) or Tim Robbins (LaLoosh), but the two had a bullish moment last season against Kilbourne.

&uot;I called a curve, but he wanted to throw his fastball, which he did,&uot; Smith recalled with a devilish grin. &uot;It got jacked out of the park for the game-winning home run. I never told the batter anything. All I told (Ryan) was that I was right. ‘I told you so.’&uot;

It’s been a lifetime of baseball and having fun for Smith and Ryan, who have played their same positions on every team sans one since the two were in little league with the Colvin’s Pharmacy Colts in Ferriday.

Who needs crystal balls and psychics when the chemistry these two neighbors have built could predict the future for the other one?

&uot;I trust (Smith) back there more than anybody else,&uot; said Ryan, who is a perfect 11-0 with a 2.37 earned-run-average this season. &uot;I’m never worried when I throw a bad pitch because I know he’s there. He always knows what I want to throw.&uot;

Their friendship and uncanny awareness of being one step ahead of every other player on the diamond &045; Wolf or non-Wolf &045; is just one reason why Ryan and Smith were named co-captains before the season began.

The choices were strikes as Monterey (13-5) won another district 3-B title under head coach Hank Zizzi and is set to enter the playoffs this week as one of the Class B favorites to win it all.

&uot;I put more trust in them (Smith and Ryan) than any kids I’ve ever had,&uot; Zizzi said. &uot;When it gets down to the nitty-gritty, I can ask questions and get answers from them that make sense.

&uot;It makes it more fun for me. Instead of doing a lot of hollering and screaming at the kids who are loafing around, (Ryan and Smith) pick up the slack for me.&uot;

But they also know how to have a good time. At a game at Forest, Zizzi, whose diabetes causes his feet to ache, asked Smith to run up a hill to the team bus to retrieve a scorebook.

Smith jabbed back, &uot;Coach I’d rather watch you wobble up that hill and get it.&uot; Wobble stuck and the players affectionately shout the name out when they call for Zizzi.

Both Smith and Ryan began playing for Zizzi in the seventh grade and a couple years ago talked the dugout veteran into staying on as head coach.

&uot;I was going to retire, but they asked me to stay on until they finished high school,&uot; Zizzi said. &uot;That meant the world to me that they asked me to stay.&uot;

Zizzi never calls the pitches when Smith is behind the plate and Ryan is on the mound.

Smith, who has hit seven home runs this year and batted .690 in district play, said when the count is 0-2 he knows to set up inside on the plate because Ryan will automatically bust hitters in on their hands.

When asked what makes Ryan so dangerous, the catcher never hesitated.

&uot;Location and his split-finger (fastball). His ability to put the ball where he wants to with every pitch,&uot; said Smith, who hit better than .450 his last three years. &uot;Plus you don’t see too many split-fingers at this level very often.&uot;

The two yearn to continue their Gemini course through baseball, but are currently busy enjoying the luxuries of small town fame.

A game doesn’t go by without either one signing autographs &045; Ryan flashes a grin and add, &uot;mine more than his (Smith’s)&uot; &045; for Monterey youngsters, who want to be just like the pair in due time.

Still, like their coach, Smith and Ryan are in constant fights to steal the spotlight away from bigger schools, namely a 24-0 Class 2A school also in Concordia Parish

&uot;I never have a problem with competing with Vidalia,&uot; Ryan said. &uot;Vidalia wouldn’t play us this year because they were scared of us. If we had I believe we could have given them a pretty good game.&uot;

Maybe Ryan has a little Nuke LaLoosh in him after all.