FREDERICK, Md. — His 6-foot-7 inch frame carries at least 30 more pounds than the 225 it did during his glory days as an Oklahoma Sooner and rolling away from the cheap aluminum desk against one wall there is barely enough room to lean back in his chair next to the sofa where his pitching and hitting coaches usually hang out against another.
Ryan Minor looks a bit cramped in the Frederick Keys manager's office, a tiny room in the corner of the clubhouse. Perhaps he's too big for the Carolina League, but he's comfortable here. He's once again a rising star, moving up in the organization that in the 1990s drafted him twice as a player.
“I really am very fortunate to be a part of this organization,” he said.
From an outsider's perspective it might not have always seemed that way. In 1994 he and his twin brother, Damon, helped OU to the 1994 College World Series championship and a year later Ryan was named the Big Eight basketball player of the year. The next summer he was drafted by both the Philadelphia 76ers and the Orioles, who also selected him four years earlier out of Hammon High School.
While many believed he was on the way to a solid and lucrative NBA career, Minor reported to the Orioles rookie league club in Bluefield, W.Va., and failed to make the Sixers roster. He quickly became one of Baltimore's top prospects and was tabbed the heir apparent to Cal Ripken, Jr.
“Doing talk shows and interviews and stuff back then, that's basically all I was asked to talk about,” Minor said. “There was the comparison because of the size and being an athletic guy. Cal liked to play basketball and I played basketball so it was an easy comparison that stuck with me from Day 1.”
Minor made it to the big leagues in 1998 and that September he took Ripken's place at third base in the Orioles' final home game of the season, ending the Hall of Famer's consecutive game streak at 2,632.
But Minor never became a star in the majors, playing 142 games over four seasons and, according to BaseballReference.com, never making more than $200,000 in a season. While Minor has spent most of his adult life riding buses to minor league outposts such as Hickory, N.C. and Lynchburg, Va., the other All-Big 8 basketball players from 1995 and 1996 combined to make more than $300 million playing in the NBA.
“I was trying both sports and looking back on it maybe things would have been a little different with the way the draft panned out in basketball if I came out after my junior year,” Minor said. “I just had so much going on.”
But for the Oklahoma native there was something even more valuable in pursuing baseball, he found a home in Maryland and with the Orioles. The slugger who crushed minor league pitching didn't pan out in the big leagues, hitting .177 with five career home runs, and after being traded to the Expos in 2001, Minor bounced around the independent Atlantic League for a few seasons as a player and a coach.
Coaching hitting and infield with the York Revolution, just up I-83 from Baltimore, he once again got a call from the Orioles in 2008 and took on the same role with the Delmarva Shorebirds. Two years later, he was promoted to manager and this season moved up to Frederick, where he's working with some of the club's top prospects at the Class-A Advanced level.
“If there is such a thing as a prospect as a staff member, then Ryan Minor certainly is one,” said Brian Graham, the Orioles director of player development, who was on Baltimore's coaching staff when Minor played there in 2000. “He's got all the qualities you look for in a staff member. You see it sometimes in guys that are players. He came through the system with some great players and showed the qualities.
“He's not that far removed from being a player and he can relate to these guys. He understands the teaching aspect of the game. He can teach hitting and he can teach infield and when you are well rounded you can really work with players individually.”
For Minor, there's not better organization pursue coaching as a path back to the Major Leagues. He and his wife, Allyson, make their home in Salisbury, Md., her hometown and where she works as a schoolteacher.
In addition to Delmarva and Frederick, the Orioles have another Class-A team in Aberdeen, Md., and their AA affiliate in Bowie, Md, with AAA Norfolk is just a two-hour drive down the Atlantic Coast in Virginia. That means as he moves up the organization he can stay close to Allyson and their young special needs daughter.
“It's quick to get home,” Minor said. “My wife brings my daughter up on weekends for homestands and now with school getting out now they are able to come up pretty much every homestand. Bowie is even closer. We're fortunate to have all the teams local.”
The Orioles have turned the franchise back into a contender thanks in large part to its homegrown talent, including young stars such as Manny Machado who Minor coached along the way. If Minor continues in the direction he's heading he could eventually join them in Baltimore.
“I'm just like every person who gets into this job, I want to move up,” he said. “You want to be a part of something and if the big league club does well you want to be a part of that, but I enjoy where I'm at right now and I'm at a higher level than I was last year.”
It's hard to tell exactly how quickly or how far he'll advance in the organization, but it is clear folks in the front office see Ryan Minor in their future.
“There is a core group of people that have really helped organization get where it is,” Graham said. “Ryan Minor is certainly part of that core group.”