The sport of baseball has seen major turnover over the past two years. From the changes to the rules at the major league level, to the cutting of 43 minor league teams, and then the alterations the sport has had to adjust to due to the coronavirus pandemic. Professional baseball has been changing at a rapid pace and the MLB draft is no different.
Up until 2019, the MLB draft consisted of 40 rounds. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, it was reduced to five rounds in 2020. And while most of the sport returned to normal this season, the MLB was still forced to trim the 2021 draft to only 20 rounds because the league needed to save money after losing millions during the fanless 2020 season. With organizations only having half the draft picks that they traditionally had, they had to be much more careful with who they selected with draft picks.
This was the dilemma that former Marist pitcher Ryan Cardona faced after completing his junior season with the Red Foxes. The starting pitcher finished with a 3.34 ERA in 29⅔ innings pitched in a shortened 2021 spring. It was a small sample size yet, despite the lack of games played, it did not stop Cardona from showcasing his abilities with each and every start.
“With COVID happening, my goal was to still get drafted, but I thought it was a little more slim because we had a shortened 2020, and 2021 didn’t start until April,” Cardona said. “I was a little nervous. But I think my mindset was to always stay prepared and to control what I can control.”
It was not an easy path for Cardona. But his continuous perseverance, dedication, and commitment to his craft were rewarded on July 13, 2021. In the 19th round of the 2021 MLB First-Year Player draft, the Cincinnati Reds selected Cardona 570th overall.
“I got a phone call from my agent and he told me I was going to be drafted by the Reds,” Cardona said. “I was super excited – my family went nuts.”
The draft is an event that is instrumental in determining whether an athlete’s future will revolve around baseball or not. For Cardona, his potential athletic career was on the line, which is why he cycled through a mix of emotions on draft night.
Cardona knew he had the skillset and ability to compete at the top level, but on draft night, the only thing that matters is if a team’s front office sees that potential.
“As the draft kept going, because there were only 20 rounds, I got to a point where I was like, ‘Am I going to be drafted?’” Cardona said.
With each proceeding pick not being his name, an array of different thoughts began entering his head. Cardona knew it was a very real possibility that he was not going to get drafted, so he had to consider his future options, from returning to school to training again for next year’s draft.
Uncertainty can be one of the hardest feelings to cope with because, unlike other sports such as football and basketball, baseball is one of the most difficult ones to project players. Teams have no clue if their first-round picks will pan out, let alone their later-round selections, which is why Cardona had no idea what was going to happen.
“And then I got the call and it was definitely like a sigh of relief,” Cardona said.
And just like that, every problem he was facing was instantly solved. All the alternate plans he was preparing went straight out the window. He did it. Cardona was now an official member of an MLB organization.
Cardona was at his sister’s house at the time he got drafted. He had the full support of his entire family, though despite everyone pulling for him, all any of them could do was wait patiently. Ryan was in his basement with his brother Will when he found out and, once the news broke, the Cardona family was in a state of pure bliss.
“I just looked at my brother. And I’m like, we did it,” Cardona said.
This moment in particular was truly special for the two siblings. Will has played a vital role throughout Ryan’s life in helping guide his brother to this point in his baseball career.
Will has always had his younger brother’s back, helping Ryan field ground balls when he was little or giving him a legitimate A-F grade on his performance each day. And despite all the trouble quarantine caused, it was there where the brothers really got close again.
“I didn’t have anyone to throw with, so he became my throwing partner,” Cardona said.
Will had not played baseball since his sophomore year of high school, but the best interests of his brother were always Will’s main priority.
The value of family is insurmountable, but his years at Marist played a necessary role in molding Cardona into the player he is today.
“It definitely matured me,” Cardona said. “When you get to pro ball you could kind of tell the difference between people that have gone to college and who got drafted from high school.”
College players will usually reach the big leagues faster than high school players because they are more developed and experienced. High school athletes generally have lots of raw talent, but are usually not as refined as players who went to college.Cardona did not only develop as a pitcher, but as a person through his tenure at Marist.
“Those three years – they’re priceless,” Cardona said. “Having those years to find yourself, meet a bunch of great people and even living on your own is huge.”
No player can develop properly without the right mentorship. Marist head coach Chris Tracz played an essential role in recruiting Cardona, along with keeping him on the right path.
“I didn’t have the best grades coming into Marist, but he [Tracz] took a chance on me and we figured it out,” Cardona said. “I’m happy that he was able to come into my life and coach me, and I think he probably feels the same way.”
Even though Cardona has had great people around him throughout this journey, it all had to start with himself. The results come from the amount of effort that is given, and Cardona went above and beyond to reach this level.
“Putting the intent into what you do is the most important thing,” Cardona said. “I feel like I just put a little more into each thing I did and it was really carefully calculated.”
The Cincinnati Reds will be getting a player with a three-pitch repertoire: fastball, breaking ball, changeup. He is an aggressive pitcher who loves his fastball and approaches each batter with the mindset that he will strike them out.
Cardona gave it everything he had to get recognized and drafted – now it is time for him to compete with the best in the world. Cardona is going to do whatever it takes to make it the show.
“I’ve been working towards this my entire life,” Cardona said.
He is living the dream by playing professional baseball for a living. Though just as one journey ends, another one begins. It is time for Cardona to get back to work.
Edited by Ricardo Martinez and Connor Kurpat
Photo from Marist Athletics