For The Love Of The Game

Remember senior year of high school and the search for what college to go to? For the high school baseball player, there is another factor to consider: where is my best shot to play ball? This is a tough decision for many, including third-year Tampa pitcher Ryan Belz. Ranked as one of the top players in New Jersey his senior year, Belz chose to come to University of Tampa.

“I came to UT with the basic drive to get my foot in the door, make the junior varsity team and prove myself worthy to later make varsity,” said Belz. Throughout his freshman year, he worked his way up the ladder, becoming one of the top players on the junior varsity team. By the year’s end, he got a shot to pitch in a varsity intrasquad game in front of all the coaches, including head coach Joe Urso. Belz pitched well enough to earn the call-up to varsity, and coach Urso was impressed.

“Ryan throws a lot of strikes and has a good breaking ball. He doesn’t throw extremely fast, so he has to rely on his location,” Urso said.

His freshman year ended, and after an intense summer workout program, year two of his journey began. Unfortunately, the momentum he had built didn’t come with him. After a few tough exhibition outings, he was sent back down to JV. Mentally beaten down, Belz briefly lost his characteristic drive. For many, it would be time to throw in the towel and walk away feeling that the game they loved had turned its back on them; that many did not include Belz, who refused to give up.

Belz bounced back, hurling a fifteen-strikeout, nine inning masterpiece and opening up some eyes at the varsity level. For the second time, Belz was brought up to the varsity level, only to have his spirits dashed again. Right before the NCAA Regional Finals Belz and five others were cut. This was not easy for coach Urso.

“Anytime you have a guy that you like, you want to do good for that person, but there are only so many roster spots.” Almost two months later, the team became the 2006 Division II National Champions.

“Once again it beat me down emotionally because I knew the team had a great chance of going far, and I worked so hard to be a part of that,” said Belz.

It is now year three of Belz’s journey. He knows now what it takes to be on varsity and the hard work it takes to stay. He’ll start the year off pitching for JV, until coaches feel he is ready to compete at the varsity level. After everything he has gone through, Belz is still willing to stick with it.

After reading this, the obvious question you might ask is, “Why does this guy keep fighting for his dream?”

“It’s for the love of the game. It’s about one day earning a role that will hopefully help this UT baseball team win another National Championship,” Belz said. With the rollercoaster ride he has been on, one thing becomes clear. Being a varsity baseball player or a part of a National Championship team is great, but those aren’t the only champions. A champion is someone with heart, who sees a dream and doesn’t stop until it’s accomplished. If you want to meet a champion, go check out a junior varsity game this fall. Ryan Belz will be on the mound.

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