In college courses, it’s not how you start so much as it’s how you finish. We know this to be true as students. Erik Rico ’02 knows it to be true in baseball.
After a stellar senior season at Cornell last spring, Rico, an outfielder, was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 22nd round of the Major League Baseball amateur draft on June 5. He was immediately assigned to the Toronto Rookie League affiliate in Medicine Hat, Ontario.
“Initially, he didn’t play all that much,” said Medicine Hat assistant GM Chris Howell. “Pro ball is much different even from college ball and there’s clearly a learning curve.”
Rico’s modest beginning is not atypical for a newly drafted player. No longer facing unpolished college pitchers, he was initially stymied by the craftiness of seasoned professional hurlers.
Aside from the more intense competition, he had to adjust to completely new surroundings. There were new coaches teaching techniques that seemed alien. The ballparks were larger with strange, unfamiliar dimensions. The dugout was filled with strange faces that kept changing as personnel were called up and sent down.
“It’s often hard to develop chemistry on a team where there is so much turnover,” Howell said. The culture of the minor leagues is that of “friendly fire”; while playing for a team, one is also competing against his own teammates for a coveted spot at the next level of the farm system.
As the first Cornell player to be named Ivy League Player of the Year, Rico is no stranger to hard work. He made adjustments and started to come on strong as the season progressed through the summer.
“He just improved every day with every at-bat,” Howell said. Rico found his way into the starting nine more often and made the most of his chances at the plate.
After a lethargic start to the season, the lefthander went on a tear, finishing the season with a .319 batting average, the highest on the team. He also racked up 14 doubles, one triple, three home runs, and three stolen bases. His 29 RBI were the third highest total on the squad. He backed up his solid plate performance with only a single error in the field over 52 games in the Blue Jay outfield. Rico garnered Most Improved Player honors last week following the team’s 7-3 victory over the Missoula Osprey, the final game of the season.
His success comes as no surprise to the Blue Jays brain trust. “Erik has all the tools. When you’ve got the tools, you deserve a shot at playing professional baseball,” said Jays Scouting Director Chris Buckley.
“We’ve been nothing but pleased with Erik. I’m very happy with his performance this season,” Howell added.
“I knew that Erik was going to succeed at the next level. He can really do some things,” said Cornell baseball head coach Tom Ford. “I would hope that he’ll move up [to Class A] next year.”
Buckley concurred with Ford, stating that Rico has significant potential and certainly deserves an opportunity for promotion.
“We’ll have to wait and see what happens next year,” he said.
Rico’s play in Medicine Hat was not only personally gratifying, it should also prove beneficial to his old team on the East Hill. Having produced a professional talent like Rico will help the program during the recruiting season.
“Anytime you have quality guys like Erik that make things happen for themselves after college, it’s good for the university,” Ford said. “It’s great to be able to bring up his success on recruiting trips.”
Archived article by Per Ostman