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St. Louis' Brendan Ryan is a man of character

The former class clown has graduated to become a standout shortstop for the Cardinals.

October 10, 2009|Ben Bolch

ST. LOUIS — Brendan Ryan kept asking silly questions, so his teacher countered with an inquiry of his own: What does any of this have to do with freshman English?

After a few weeks, Ryan had become such a distraction that the teacher at Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High assigned one of Ryan's classmates to screen his questions.

"When he raised his hand," teacher Tom Dill said of Ryan, "I wouldn't even look at him. He'd ask the person next to him and I'd see the other kid shaking his head no."

The juvenile antics came as no surprise to those who had seen Ryan imitate movie scenes involving actor Chris Farley or address his friends in Robert De Niro's voice. On the baseball team's bus, Ryan would dance in the aisle before games.

"He's a character," former teammate Alec Moss said.

All of which makes Ryan's current role all the more remarkable. He is Mr. Dependable for the St. Louis Cardinals, an unlikely answer to the team's needs at shortstop this season after Khalil Greene was sidelined by a social anxiety disorder.

"This kid played great," St. Louis Manager Tony La Russa said of Ryan, who will try to help the Cardinals bounce back from a two-games-to-none deficit in Game 3 of the National League division series today at Busch Stadium.

"Hit .290. Great wheels, competed like a maniac. It's been fun to watch him start to understand. Now he likes it. He likes what he's doing and I think he'll make the commitment to be that the rest of his career."

Baseball has never been a laughing matter for Ryan. When he was 3, his older brother, Paul, found him watching a Dodgers game on television and repeating the pitcher's windup until he could mimic every motion.

Ryan the infielder bore little resemblance to Ryan the student. Just ask Dill, who also coached Ryan on the varsity baseball team at Notre Dame.

"You would think a guy with that kind of personality or inability to focus off the field would be someone who was missing signs or didn't know what to do," Dill said. "He never missed a sign when I had him. I used to ask him why he could do that out here and not in class."

Ryan honed his hitting stroke while working with his late father, Jim, a former semi-pro infielder. His uncle Bill, an All-American first baseman who was part of USC's 1961 national championship team, helped refine his glove work.

"Baseball has always just been something that I've perfected and taken very seriously and loved, every part of it," said Ryan, 27. "I don't think it's something that I consciously turn the switch on for. When you love something and you just want to be the best at it that you can be and you want to impress people. You want to be respected."

After playing in 67 games with the Cardinals in 2007 and 80 in 2008, Ryan became the everyday shortstop this season, dazzling with speed and range that have made him a Gold Glove Award candidate. He committed only nine errors in 124 games.

The only thing that has made Ryan's ascent feel incomplete is the inability to share it with his father, who died in February 2005 of complications from chemotherapy for bladder cancer.

"When he made his major league debut," Paul Ryan said of his brother, "it would have meant so much for him just to see the look on Dad's face. But Brendan said he gets to see every game now."

Being in the major leagues also has helped Brendan Ryan to mature.

"He's grown up a lot probably in the last year or two years," Paul said. "I've seen a big change in him as far as becoming more responsible."

Not that he doesn't revert to his silly side. Right fielder Ryan Ludwick said Ryan can juggle a baseball with his legs for 10 minutes.

"I could see my kids easily behaving more maturely than I would be at 40-something," Ryan said. "I think you should have fun in life and try not to take everything so seriously."

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ben.bolch@latimes.com

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

Not short on surprises

ST. LOUIS CARDINAL BRENDAN RYAN'S CAREER STATISTICS

*--* Year G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB AVG. OBP 2007 67 180 30 52 9 0 4 12 7 289 347 2008 80 197 30 48 9 0 0 10 7 244 307 2009 129 390 55 114 19 7 3 37 14 292 340 *--*

Source: baseball-almanac.com

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