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July 14, 2011

 

In his second season of managing at age 28 —

Dryden’s Stevens living baseball dream

BaseballStephanie Ballard/Alpine Cowboys
Dryden native and Alpine Cowboys manager Ryan Stevens (far left) poses by the team logo with former SUNY Cortland standout Andersen Gardner (second from right) and former Ithaca College infielder David Valesente from Lansing. Gardner and Valesente are playing with the Cowboys this summer in the Pecos League.

By TANEY BEAUMONT
Staff Writer

ALPINE, Tex. — Dryden High alumnus Ryan Stevens is living the professional baseball dream.
As a manager, at the tender age of 28.
Stevens, an all-Interscholastic Athletic Conference and all-Section 4 standout in both baseball and soccer for the Purple Lions prior to his graduation in 2002, is the manager/head coach of the Alpine Cowboys in Texas. The Cowboys are one of six teams competing in the independent Pecos League.
The other five teams are located in New Mexico, with the closest team to Alpine in Las Cruces, N.M. — some four and a half hours away by van, the Cowboys’ mode of transportation.
Stevens is actually into his second season as the team’s head man. He was pitching coach-recruiting coordinator of the Big Bend Cowboys (as the team was known last season, after the region of Texas it is located in) before taking over the managerial job partway through last season. He became the second-youngest manager in the professional ranks at the time, compiling a 26-10 record and leading the team to the championship of the Continental League.
That independent circuit in turn folded, with some of its teams — including the Cowboys — becoming charter members of the Low Class A Rookie-level Pecos League, which is also independent.
“It’s a cut-throat business,” Stevens said of managing in the pro ranks. “It’s a very intense environment, and things can change at any point in time. I’m dealing with All-Americans, players from all different levels, with different nationalities and personalities. It can get to be exhausting, especially with all the travel.
“I have players that have been in different major-league organizations,” he added. “I’m very blessed to be able to coach the talented players that I do. It’s like a video game sometimes, being in a pro organization. The toughest part is when you have to release players and tell them that their dream is over, at least with your team.”
Stevens, a shortstop and pitcher in his playing days, played at SUNY Cobleskill and then Frostburg State (Md.) after finishing his scholastic career. He moved on to become the pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at Tompkins Cortland Community College in Dryden from 2008-10. In 2008 and 2009 Stevens also was third base coach and director of scouting for the Texarkana Gunslingers of the Continental League under Chris McKnight, his coach at Frostburg State.
That position in turn enabled him to develop a friendship with Donnie Randall, the Big Bend manager, and in January 2010 Stevens accepted Randall’s offer to join the Cowboys organization. When Randall, who is also a scout in the Astros organization, stepped down partway through the season to devote more time to other pursuits, Ryan was named interim manager and led the championship charge that earned him the managerial spot this summer.
In using his connections to obtain the best available players, Stevens hasn’t forgotten his local roots. Outfielder-first baseman Andersen Gardner, who graduated from SUNY Cortland in 2010; second baseman Jason Simone, a former Red Dragon who transferred to and graduated from Mt. Olive (N.C.) this spring; and third baseman David Valesente from Lansing (and the son of Ithaca College baseball coach George Valesente), who went on to play for St. Joseph’s (Pa.), are members of this season’s Cowboys roster.
“I know Anderson’s brother Brian, who pitched at Ithaca College and was the trainer at TC3,” Stevens said. “David’s dad George is one of my mentors, and one of Jason’s summer coaches is friends with a buddy of mine. I watched all three of them and expected them to be drafted. When they became available we signed them.”
The Cowboys were 24-22 through Wednesday, after winning nine of their last 11 games. Theywere tied for fourth place in the league, six games behind the first-place Roswell Invaders.
Each team in the Pecos League plays 68 games from early May through mid-August and the top four make the playoffs, with two rounds of best-of-three series to determine the champion, wrapping up at the end of next month.
“I’m focusing on the task at hand. Alpine is passionate about its baseball,” said Stevens, the team’s history dating back to when the original semipro Cowboys squad was founded by 06 Ranch owner Herbert Kokernot in 1947; hence the team’s alternate nickname, the 06 Cowboys. “The community wants and deserves championships, and I think we can win another one. We want to finish in the top two and have at least one home playoff series.”
“Ryan has been dedicated to our organization from day one,” Cowboys general manager-treasurer-board member Kristin Lacy Cavness said. “He has been apart of bringing pro baseball back to Alpine for its third year now. When some wanted to give up early on, Ryan spent many board meetings encouraging those to hang in there and keep diligent, for if we could raise the money he would do his best to get us in the championship.
“Since the season has started the Pecos League has proven to be extremely competitive and Ryan has been faced with many challenges as our manager. He has created a team that is passionate and extremely talented. We are proud of Ryan and stand behind him as a manager and know that not many people would do what he does just for the love of the game,” she added.
Once the season is over, Stevens, now a resident of Alpine, plans to return to New York State for a week or two, then head back to Texas and explore his options.
“I’m an administrative assistant for an agricultural mining company,” he said. “I also may go back to school at Sul Ross State (in Alpine), or manage in the California Winter League starting in January. I’ve also talked with Donnie about maybe doing some scouting.”
“Ryan is a big supporter of the community and spends a great deal of time, when not coaching, helping young baseball players with technique,” Cavness said. “He has helped my eight-year-old old son hit the ball well this year. Ryan is also quick to volunteer and always has a great attitude. He is willing to learn as well and knows that being a young manager, there is something to learn every day. Ryan has many mentors and seeks their advice when needed. He fits well out here and I would say he’s a Texan at heart now!”
In looking back over his time at the helm of the Cowboys, Stevens said that the highlight would have to be winning last year’s championship.
“We were even with Las Cruces, the team we beat (two games to one),” he said. “It was a matter of trusting my instincts ands my players, letting them be athletes and letting the big-game players make the plays. I get some of the best athletes I can and let them do what they know best.”

 

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