"Why?," Saad asks, years later. "Why?"

But with a grin on his face. The game frustrates. But it always seems to redeem.

KenRyan_main
BACK IN ACTION Ryan at KR Baseball Academy.

'I WAS VERY BITTER'

Just off Central Avenue in Pawtucket, down a long alley, an old wire factory has given way to the 11,000-square-foot KR Baseball Academy.

A large carpeted training space with a faux pitcher's mound in the back swallows up about half the space. There are six batting cages in an adjacent room. Proprietor Ken Ryan's old Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies jerseys hang near the front desk, framed in glass.

Born in Pawtucket, Ryan was a star pitcher at Seekonk High School just across the Massachusetts border. And after a promised scholarship at the University of Maine disappeared, he skipped college and signed with the Red Sox.

Ryan grew up in the minor leagues. And he struggled early. But by 23, he was pitching in the majors.

His first couple of outings were on the road and they were rough. But he earned a save in his Boston debut.

"I remember just walking off the field going, 'Oh my God, I'm at Fenway,' " he says.

After four seasons with the Sox, he joined the Phillies. And his first season with the team, in 1996, was the best of his career: a 2.43 ERA in 62 appearances, with eight saves.

Ken Ryan, it seemed, had finally arrived.

But a few games into spring training the next year, he heard a pop in his throwing elbow. Tommy John surgery, named after the first pitcher to undergo it, got him back on the mound for three more seasons. But Ryan, who had relied on a savage fastball before the injury, was never the same pitcher.

"When I got done playing baseball, the last thing I wanted to do was be involved anymore," he says. "I was very bitter because I felt like I should have done better, I shouldn't have got hurt."

For a couple of years, he couldn't even watch baseball on television. But then some friends convinced him to go to Fenway. "And it was during the game," he says, "that I went, 'Oh my God, I really love this game.'"

Later, he got a call from a friend in RISMBL looking for a live arm. And there he was, back on the hill, a scar still stretched across his right elbow. Fastball. Curve. Change-up. An occasional slider.

It felt right.

"It's the one thing I could do well in this world," he says. "Throw a baseball."


'WHAT ARE YOU DOING?'

If the RISMBL is strong, even growing, it is hard not to think amateur baseball a bit fragile.

Back at Pierce Field, I stand with Ray Cloutier, 46, by the third base line. He's with the Dodgers tonight — here for the chatter, it seems, more than the at-bats. But for 20 years, he ran the rival Ocean State League, which has recently collapsed. And it's clear that it pains him.

The irony, he tells me, is that he got more calls than ever this year from guys who wanted to play. But there just weren't enough willing to run a team. And management isn't the only challenge.

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