Growing up in Oklahoma, Quad Cities utility player Ryan Bottger wanted to be just like his dad.
“My dad actually was a baseball player. He played baseball in college at Oklahoma City University and he played there for two years,” Bottger said. “He played two years in junior college before that and played baseball all four years of college. He was an All-American at Oklahoma City University.”
That athletic lineage has trickled down the family tree to include Ryan, his two sisters, and his brother.
“My oldest sister played basketball for a few years in college. My other sister played basketball and my brother is playing baseball at a junior college in Texas, at North Central Texas College.”
Like his dad and his brother Kyle, Ryan went to junior college before making a jump to a university, starting his college career at Rose State Junior College, which is about 15 minutes east of Oklahoma City.
“I had a number of junior colleges looking at me. I didn’t have any Division I schools looking at me. There were some D-IIs and an NAIA school but I decided to do junior college first because I heard it’s a good stepping stone between that and a four-year college,” Bottger said. “Starting there, I lived at home so I wouldn’t say I necessarily got to experience college like a lot of people do but I did enjoy it. I got to know those guys really well.”
Bottger put up strong numbers while at Rose State batting .357 with five home runs and 38 RBIs through 52 games there. The combination of strong stats and a connection through the Rose State coaching staff led to Bottger heading to the University of Texas at Arlington.
“Coach Thomas, UTA’s head coach, recruited me from Rose State. He actually coached my head coach at Rose State whenever he played for him in junior college at Stewart County,” Bottger said. “The head coach at Rose State told me he was a great guy and a good coach so I decided to go there.”
By joining the Mavericks, Bottger entered a program that has already sent players like Michael Choice, Mark Lowe, John Lackey, and Hunter Pence to the major leagues.
“It was cool because we knew that they’ve had so many guys that have not only gotten drafted but played at the highest level too. I think they do a great job of developing players,” Bottger said. “Coach Thomas wants us to go on and play at the next level because he knows that’s most of our goals.”
While at UTA, Bottger also got to experience playing in a MLB stadium, playing at Globe Life Park, home of the Texas Rangers, which is right down the street from the school.
“That was amazing because we actually got to play there twice. During the season we played Oklahoma University and Texas A&M,” Bottger said. “It was the first time I have ever gotten to play in a big league ballpark and it was pretty awesome. It was cool getting to play bigger school too because we can compete with them even if we’re not in the same conference or same level as people might perceive us.”
Bottger also broke experience a program-first while with the Mavericks. He was one of six players drafted from UTA in the 2014 draft setting a new school record.
“It just showed you what kind of team we had and it’s pretty cool to see all of those guys getting to play at the next level just like me.”
And speaking of draft day, Bottger was in a very unique situation when he got the news he was a new member of the Houston Astros organization. Just like The Lonely Island and T-Pain, he was on a boat.
“I was actually on a lake trip with some of my friends because it was my buddies’ bachelor party. I was on the lake and it was cool to be around my really good friends when I received the news,” Bottger said. “A lot of people were worried that I wasn’t going to have service. I took all the precautions to make sure because I thought it was going to be that day. I had service and it was fine. Everyone was excited for me. It was pretty incredible to see the amount of people aware of what was going on and letting me know they’re proud of me and love me.”
Bottger spent the first season with the short-season affiliate Tri-City ValleyCats and he said it was definitely an adjustment for him.
“My first season was very different that I had imagine but in a good way,” Bottger said. “You kind of just get thrown into the fire. There’s not a lot of time to get to know the area or get used to the team. We got there and then two days later we were playing. It was just really fast and you have to do what you’ve been doing, play ball, and adjust to the difference.”
Bottger spent 27 games with the ValleyCats before earning the bump to the Quad Cities for 34 games. He said he’s enjoyed his time with the River Bandits over the past two seasons for multiple reasons.
“I’ve always been a Cardinals fan because I really liked Mark McGwire growing up. And currently I liked Holliday, Jon Jay, and am a big Carlos Beltran fan,” Bottger said. “It’s really cool coming to the Quad Cities since they used to be a Cardinals affiliate.”
For the 2015 season, Bottger, Jamie Ritchie, and Bobby Boyd are all being housed by a host family who have stories about previous players that have stayed with them over the years.
“It’s also cool because our host family hosted Kolten Wong when he was here with the Cards,” Bottger said. “It’s cool to hear stories about him and he hit pretty well.”
Heading into the second half of 2015, Bottger has steadily improved his numbers and hopes to be a valuable asset to the River Bandits for the rest of the season.
“I kind of had a slow start but I think I still have some ground to pick up and need to continue to grind it out every day and improve and do what I can to be the best I can be,” Bottger said. “I’m the kind of guy that doesn’t have a ton of power but I want to be somebody that wants to drive the ball, drive runners in, come up big in clutch situations and be someone that the coaches and Bonifay can rely on to be an everyday guy.”