From Swayze showers to the Rockies in two years

Addison Harbour
Oxford Stories
amharbou@go.olemiss.edu a

Ryan Rolison was only at Ole Miss for his freshman and sophomore years. That was plenty of time for the Colorado Rockies first round draft pick in 2018 to make a name for himself on the diamond.

A career 3.45 ERA, 184 strike outs who held opponents to a .238 batting average, Rolison turned heads across the country as he lived up to the expectations that came with being the number one rated recruit out of Tennessee by perfect game.

In his freshman campaign, Rolison posted a 3.06 ERA in 19 appearances, 10 starts with a 6-3 record, good enough to be named on the Freshman All-SEC team along with Freshman All-American.

“The first fall on campus, I got hit around a lot, did not have the best fall,” he said. “Coach Lafferty took me under his wing and told me that I had the talent, just needed to get used to the college game and it would come. We watched a lot of tape, and once I was put into an actual game, it came back to me, and I was able to think about the big picture of things and throw quality pitches.”

Ryan Rolison celebrates after getting out of a bases loaded jam against LSU in the SEC Championship game 2018. By Addison Harbour

That is exactly what Rolison did in his freshman campaign, impressing scouts and earning an invitation to play summer ball in Cape Cod. In Cape Cod, following his freshman campaign, Rolison dominated opposing hitters. Ryan posted a 4-0 record accompanied by a 1.92 ERA.

Going into the 2018 season, Rolison was named a pre-season All-American and consensus first round prospect in the 2018 Major League Baseball draft. Ryan could  possibly go in the top 10 overall according to mock drafts.

Coach Bianco named Rolison the Friday night starter upon arrival of the 2018 season, the ace role of the pitching staff to a team with high expectations in the SEC.

“Being the Friday night starter in the SEC is so difficult, because you’re going up against the other team’s ace, and if I don’t pitch good, it can mess up the bullpen rotation for the whole weekend,” he said. “That is enough pressure for anyone, and the MLB draft approaching in May obviously added pressure.

“It is hard to ignore the mock drafts and everything on Twitter. When you see your name potentially as a top 10 pick, you try not to pay attention, but it’s in the back of your mind. Some outings, it’s hard to not throw for scouts or the radar gun, and that hurt me.

“I had a rough outing at South Carolina, and I believe all the scouts there were picks five through 12 or something. Only pitched like three innings and gave up 10 or 11 runs. I tried to do too much and got frustrated. I feel like that performance along with Arkansas when I gave up a couple home runs is what dropped me in the draft.”

Regardless, Rolison posted a solid stat line his sophomore campaign, 10 starts, 6-4 with a 3.70 ERA along with a stellar performance out of the bullpen in the SEC championship game against LSU in Hoover, Alabama. His late inning pitching helped Ole Miss bring home their first SEC championship since 2006.

Getting drafted in the first round is a dream for anyone who grows up playing baseball.

“Ever since I met Ryan freshman year, he talked about his goal to go pro and all the hard work has paid off,” said Victoria Martin, Rolison’s girlfriend.

However, draft night did not go how Rolison had dreamt since he was a child.

“It was a whirlwind of emotions,” he said.

That is putting it mildly. Ole Miss was hosting a regional in the NCAA baseball tournament following a 48-win season accompanied with an SEC Championship and a top eight national seed. Tennessee Tech, St. Louis, and Missouri State were sent to Oxford for the weekend double elimination tournament. The winner would advance to Super Regionals.

Opening games on Friday were rained out so the regional championship game was moved to Monday around noon, the day of the draft. Ole Miss was the heavy favorite, and there would still be plenty of time for Rolison to watch the draft with his family following the game. Things would not go as planned.

Tennessee Tech dominated Ole Miss in the first game, and they would play a winner-take-all game that night. During the game, Rolison was running back and forth to the locker room to watch the draft hoping to hear his name called as a first round draft pick.

Finally, after slipping all the way to 22 overall, the Rockies selected him. “I was standing there with three managers I didn’t even know that well, and I hugged them and made my way back to the dugout to be with my team.”

Rolison’s emotional high quickly took a turn for the worse upon arriving in the dugout seeing his current team was down 3-2 going into the top of the eighth inning. Ole Miss did not have a comeback in them.

“It was supposed to be a day of celebration, with his family, teammates and friends, but the loss definitely weighed on the gathering that night following the loss,’’ said Martin.

Possibly the best team Mike Bianco had ever fielded at Ole Miss lost their own regional, a disappointment for the team and a solemn night for Rolison as his college career ended in what was supposed to be one of his happier days.

Following the season, the Colorado Rockies placed Rolison in the rookie-level pioneer league with the Grand Junction Rockies. His first summer as a minor was impressive, posting a solid 1.86 ERA in nine starts.

This spring, he is going to either start in low-A or high-A ball in the Rockies organization and his goal is to make it to AA ball this summer if everything goes as planned. Rolison’s personal goal is to make the Rockies spring training roster in 2021.

Ryan has still been around the Ole Miss program recently and has high expectations for the team in 2019 as they return seven offense starters. They are faced with the challenge of replacing Rolison along with Brady Feigl and James McArthur, the other two weekend starters from 2018.

Ryan Rolison and Addison Harbour pose for a photo. By Addison Harbour

Will Ethridge is the guy taking over Rolison’s spot as the Friday guy. Rolison has high praise for Ole Miss’ newest ace.

“Ethridge was a staple guy to the pitching staff and our bullpen last year,” Rolison said. “I don’t think there was a doubt he was going to be the Friday night guy this year. He has the stuff to do it.”

Rolison’s Ole Miss career may have ended unfortunately. He is not thinking about what could have been. Instead, Rolison is focusing on improving his pitching while still rooting for his former team to make a deep run in the post season, as he chases his professional baseball aspirations.

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