Medicine Hat, Alberta is 2,180 miles from Ithaca, and the town’s biggest claim to fame is that it is the site of the world’s largest teepee. So why would any Cornellian have any interest in what goes on there?
Well, Medicine Hat also happens to be the home of the Medicine Hat Blue Jays, the Toronto Blue Jays’ rookie ball affiliate. And that’s where Erik Rico ’02, reigning Ivy League Player of the Year and Toronto’s 22nd-round draft pick, is playing baseball these days.
Rico sealed his place as one of the best players in the history of the Red baseball program this past season, setting the single-season school marks in runs (46), triples (8), home runs (11), total bases (116) and slugging percentage (.768). He also is Cornell’s career leader in triples, with 18, and total bases, with 303.
Rico’s 11 dingers and .380 average in 2002 were both third in the Ivies, and his triples and total bases were second-best, making him the first Red player to ever be awarded Ivy Player of the Year honors. In addition to his prowess at the plate, Rico also did some pitching for Cornell.
Naturally, Rico was electrified when the news of his being picked finally arrived.
“He was thrilled, obviously he wanted a chance, and he got a shot as an outfielder, which is what he wanted as well,” head coach Tom Ford said. “Scouts tell you things, but you just don’t know. He was relieved that it finally happened.”
Despite the successes that Rico has had at Hoy Field and other Ivy ballparks, the best may be yet to come. Although he is a long shot at making the Majors, it’s a possibility that shouldn’t be ruled out. The Mets’ Mike Piazza was a 62nd round pick of the Dodgers in 1988.
“Odds are against everyone, really, but he at least has a shot at staying in there for a while,” said Ford. “This next year or two will be telling if they do climb him up the ladder. He’s got a shot. He’s not going to be an odds-on favorite, but he has the tools. Minor league baseball is a tough way to make a living, so we’ll have to see how things fall out for him.”
There are also several Ivy Leaguers currently in the Show. The Braves’ Mark DeRosa and Mike Remlinger attended Penn and Dartmouth, respectively. Doug Glanville of the Phillies also played at Penn. Houston’s Brad Ausmus and the Mets’ Mark Johnson were teammates at Dartmouth.
Ford, who coached against DeRosa, Glanville, and Ausmus, thinks Rico is just as talented as they were when they played Ivy ball.
“Glanville had tremendous speed, and DeRosa was a real solid player, and Erik’s right up there with them,” Ford noted. “He’ll have to hit to stay with them, and that’s the key.”
Through July 15, Rico was sporting a .260 average for the Pioneer League’s Medicine Hat, going 13-for-50 in 21 games and scoring eight runs. In the outfield, Rico has yet to make an error for his new squad.
If Rico can move his way up the pro baseball ladder, the next stop for him could be a lot closer to his old stomping grounds. The Blue Jays organization has a Class A team in Auburn, NY, which is just an hour’s drive from Ithaca.
Still, whether Rico can make it to Auburn, or maybe to Toronto, is still very much in the air. According to Ford, it takes the talent of a player like Rico — but a lot of good fortune as well.
“He certainly has the tools,” Ford said. “To get your way up through there you have to get the breaks and you have to progress, which he’s done here.”
Archived article by Alex Fineman