By Janee Law
With the Haverford College baseball leading in the bottom of the fifth inning, they sent pitcher Stephen Ridings to the mound to face the John Hopkins University. Ridings, a St. Anthony’s High School grad, was called for a balk, tying the score at 2-2. Standing at 6-foot-8, 205 pounds, he pled his case to the umpire, but was sent away.
At that moment, Ridings developed a look in his eye, according to his father, Tom.
“You could just tell that the next pitch was going to be something different,” he added. “Who knew if it was going to come in 10 feet high, or 20 feet wide, but you knew it was coming with everything he got.”
Ridings dialed back and threw a perfect strike right down the middle with a “pop in the glove you could hear a half a mile away,” his father said.
Two members of the Haverford team who were handling the radar gun shot up from behind home plate, running through the stands, pointing the radar gun in the air and shouting, “Oh my God. 98.”
Ridings said the pair came into the dugout and showed him the radar gun. He was thrilled.
“That was a big accomplishment for me,” the Commack native said.
And it's being viewed as such by Major League Baseball scouts.
Ridings, 20, is being pursued as in the weeks leading up to the June 9 MLB draft. He’s scheduled to attend several pre-draft workouts, including those with the New York Yankees, Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs.
Ridings, who is a junior at Haverford, has pitched in 10 games this season, amounting to a 6-2 record, while posting a 2.91 ERA and recording 76 strikeouts. He’s been throwing fastballs that average between 92 miles per hour and 96 miles per hour.
Prior to the season’s start, however, not many major league teams had ever heard his name, according his Ridings’ longtime pitching instructor, Rob Steinert.
“Stephen has worked diligently for many years on the foundation of his mechanics to improve his delivery and make it more efficient and repetitive,” said Steinert, who is also the founder of, and a coach for, CGI Baseball in Huntington Station. “I always believed in my heart that one day Stephen could very well be the best pitching prospect I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.”
The journey hasn’t been easy for Ridings. Playing baseball since he was seven years old, he joined up with both the Commack South Little League and the CGI Braves.
When it came time for eighth grade tryouts at Commack Middle School, he didn’t make the team. Then, a few years later after a string out rough outings a junior at St. Anthony’s High School, Ridings said he heard his coach had made a statement that he would never pitch again.
This wasn’t discouraging to Ridings, though. It was motivation.
“It made me want to work harder, get better and prove to everyone that I was better all along,” Ridings said.
Ridings has also battled his stature. He said being tall and lanky, as an athlete, can be both a blessing and a curse.
“As a tall guy, you get a lot of off days because your body is a little harder to control, but once you start working at it you develop the muscle memory and you get a little stronger and put on a little weight,” Ridings said. “Even when things start to come together even a tiny bit, the results are tremendous.”
But Ridings is “nowhere near a finished product;” he knows that, and he wants to grow more in order to tap into his full potential.
Ridings is hopeful he’ll do just that before his scheduled pre-draft workouts -- the first of which is slated for May 25 with the Yankees. The opportunity to work out for a major league team has shown Ridings that his hard work is starting to pay off, he said.
“It’s not an experience a lot of people get to have,” he said adding that over 20 major league teams have come to see him play. “I would love to take it as far as I can and make it to the majors. That’s really the end goal... I don’t know why anyone would want to give up on something like this. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime.”
His coach, Steinert, who is also a scout for the Cubs, added, “I have worked with Stephen individually for many years at CGI, and to see a young man like Stephen strive to excel both in the classroom and on the mound as he chases his dream of getting drafted this June, and working toward one day pitching in the big leagues, is really special and inspiring.”
The journey has also been special for Ridings’ family.
“Both his mother and I are extremely proud of him and very excited about the opportunity,” his father said. “I know he’s doing everything he can to prepare for those pre-draft workouts and I know there’s nobody that will be more prepared that day than him because he’s dedicated and determined.
“This is what he wants and he’s not going to let anybody get in his way.”
Prior to the pre-draft workouts, Ridings will continue with Haverford as the Black Squirrels compete in the Mid-Atlantic region of the NCAA DIII Baseball Championships. On Wednesday after deadline, they were expected to face the University of Massachusetts Boston at PNC Field in Moosic, Pennsylvania -- home of the Scranton Wilkes Barre, the triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees.
Editor's note: Stephen Ridings said he heard that his varsity baseball coach at St. Anthony’s High School had made a statement to a parent that Ridings would never pitch again. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the statement was made directly to Ridings.