The Ottumwa Courier

Sports

February 18, 2013

Ritz gets back to roots Former Falcon, Mustang made history with Rockies

OTTUMWA — It’s amazing what Kevin Ritz was able to accomplish in one season as a member of the Indian Hills baseball team.

From a 10-strikeout complete-game effort against Muscatine in substate play to a victory over Anoka-Ramsey that helped the Falcons clinch their third trip to the JUCO World Series, Ritz came through on the mound in some of IHCC’s biggest games in the spring of 1985.

There’s no doubt that Ritz showed a great ability to pitch in the clutch for the Falcons. Just don’t ask the Bloomfield native to tell you how he did it.

“I can barely remember what happened last week,” Ritz joked. “I really don’t remember what clicked for me in those specific situations.”

In fact, Ritz didn’t know the specifics of those two postseason wins that are locked in as the top performances in what will be solidified as a hall-of-fame Indian Hills career. From pitching the Falcons to the JUCO World Series to pitching the Colorado Rockies to their first postseason appearance, Ritz has certainly earned his place as the second baseball player and third member of the Falcon baseball program to be inducted into the school’s athletic hall-of-fame this weekend.

“It’s nice to be honored,” Ritz said. “It lets you know that you’re appreciated. It’s an honor to be inducted that early.”

While specific games may elude Ritz’s memory, the memory of what the Indian Hills baseball program did for him doesn’t. It was the first significant step for Ritz on his road from Davis County to the major leagues.

“It helped me tremendously,” Ritz said. “We went right to the Junior College World Series. I got noticed there, pitched well at the Alaska League and it just kind of snowballed from there.”

Eventually, Ritz would land in Detroit as the Tigers drafted him in 1985 and called him up to the majors four years later. For Ritz, it was the realization of a dream that began back in Bloomfield during Ritz’s youth.

“Every kid thinks they’re going to play major league baseball straight from little league,” Ritz said. “I always had a great fastball. You always hope you’re going to make it to the majors, but there’s not that many kids that make it there, especially from Bloomfield.”

After being a successful prep pitcher at Davis County, the road to the majors for Ritz almost hit a dead end with his initial choice for his college destination. Ritz initially headed to William Penn University for his freshman season, which would be his only season as a Statesman.

“I wasn’t too thrilled with William Penn,” Ritz said. “The coaching staff wasn’t what I expected and I found myself playing on the junior varsity. It was just a long year.”

The decision for Ritz to leave came with limited options. Transferring to another four-year school would have meant that Ritz would have to sit out a year.

Instead, Ritz made the choice to play his sophomore season at IHCC.

“There were a lot of older guys on the team, guys like Mitch Knox who I think was ancient. He was like 40,” Ritz joked. “There was good leadership there, different guys from different cities. It was a great atmosphere right from the get-go.”

Playing at Indian Hills also brought Ritz closer to home in more ways than one. Besides just moving back to a school that was closer to his Bloomfield home, Ritz also returned to pitch his home games on a familiar diamond.

“We had a great rivalry with Centerville when I was at Davis County,” Ritz said. “It was just nice to be close to home so the family could come and watch, but we also played on that (Pat Daugherty) field against Centerville a lot. That area has always been a big part of my life.”

Ritz vaguely recalls starting his IHCC career pitching out of the bullpen. Soon enough, however, he found himself starting for the Falcons and accumulating a 7-2 record including the postseason wins that led Indian Hills to Grand Junction, Colo.

Big games in Colorado would soon become the biggest part of Ritz playing career. After three years with Detroit, Ritz was picked to join the Rockies in the 1992 expansion draft.

Soon enough, Ritz would become the first ace of the new franchise. His five seasons as a member of the Rockies’ staff was highlighted by his best season, 1996, when Ritz won 17 games, pitched 213 innings, and led Colorado to their first postseason berth. Ritz would start the first postseason game in franchise history against the Atlanta Braves in the National League Division Series.

“That was a little more historic,” Ritz said. “To be the starting pitcher for that first playoff game for the Rockies franchise was amazing.”

For Ritz, the memory of all his big games pitched over the years kind of runs together. The confidence gained during the early playing days at Davis County and IHCC certainly helped Ritz put his focus into being so successful on the mound over the years.

“It was almost like it was just easy for me,” Ritz said. “You can picture where the ball is going to go. It’s hard to explain. Once you’re going good, the game becomes a game. When you struggle, it becomes tougher.”

In retirement, Ritz has been a resident of Cambridge, Ohio where he has raised his family back in his wife’s hometown. The Bloomfield native, however, has always tried to return to his roots at least once a year.

“It’s been a little tougher recently. My daughter and son are playing AAU basketball now,” Ritz said. “The regular people that have known me for years pretty much treat me the same way. Since I’m not around as much, the kids don’t really know who I am.”

Ritz has also kept a unique connection with some of the historic success for his former high school squad. Davis County’s first three trips to the state baseball tournament and first state title over the past three seasons has come under the leadership of head coach Todd White, Ritz’s former Mustang teammate.

“It’s pretty cool to see that they’ve done so well. It’s great for that community,” Ritz said. “Neither Todd or I were very vocal when we were players. I’m sure it’s fun for him. When you’ve got talent, it’s fun to see them go out and play.”

Ritz got to see that talent first-hand before they were leading Davis County High School to new heights. Those same prep athletes made a deep run as little leaguers, making it all the way to within a game of the Little League World Series while playing for a berth in the regional tournament in Indianapolis.

“I went and watched them play. Sometimes, it’s all about getting a special group of guys together,” Ritz said. “Hopefully those kids remember those days. You can forget sometimes when you get older.”

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