Ryan Sherriff felt an immediate psychological void.
With his father no longer in the stands to watch him pitch, Sherriff lost his chief inspiration and reached what he initially perceived to be a final decision — no more baseball.
Larry Sherriff had attended most of his son’s games for the past decade until he died Jan. 9 at 57 from complications of multiple myeloma, or cancer of the blood. Baseball suddenly didn’t seem as important to the younger Sherriff, who was a couple of months away from reporting to spring training in Florida with theSt. Louis Cardinals organization. Sherriff revealed his decision to his mother, Renee, who suggested her son reconsider.
It turned out that mother knew best. Since then, things have worked out well for Sherriff, a starter with Palm Beach, the class-A affiliate in the Florida State League.
“I told her I didn’t want to play anymore and that I wasn’t going to spring training,” said Sherriff, a former Glendale Community College and Glendale Angelenos player who was selected by St. Louis in the 28th round (860th overall) of the 2011 Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft. “She said, ‘That’s not what dad would want.’
“I thought about what she said and she was right. I’m glad I didn’t give it up. My dad talked to me every night and he supported me. I changed my mind and knew that I had to go out there and play.”
Sherriff, a left-hander who helped Glendale college advance to the state tournament for the first time in the program’s history in 2011, has flourished on the mound, having produced an 8-3 record thus far. In 63 innings, he’s struck out 35 and allowed 29 runs and 13 walks and sports a 3.49 earned-run average.
Since being promoted to Palm Beach from the class-A short season New York-Penn League Batavia Muckdogs on May 20, Sherriff has provided a nice balance to the rotation by consistently providing quality starts for the Cardinals, who compete in the Florida State League’s South Division.
“I had no idea I would be going to Palm Beach,” said Sherriff, who was also drafted by the Washington Nationals in 2010. “I got called into the office and I was told I would be starting the next day.
“I called my relatives with the news. I feel like that little guy in front of the older guys.”
He’s come up big plenty of times since joining Palm Beach, while constantly learning under the direction of Manager Johnny Rodriguez and pitching coach Dennis Martinez, who won more than 200 games, including throwing a perfect game, as a major leaguer for five teams from 1976-1998.
“You go out there and take all the advice he gives you,” said Sherriff, who started his career with the Rookie League Johnson City Cardinals, where he went 2-2 with a 4.54 ERA in nine outings (five starts) before being promoted to Batavia last season. “He’s been there and done it, so it’s a once-in-a-lifetime situation to learn from somebody like him. He’s preached to me to go with my strengths.”
Sherriff, who helped Glendale college win the Western State Conference title in 2011, has soaked up the pointers and turned into one of Palm Beach’s top pitchers.
In his first start with Palm Beach, Sherriff went seven innings, allowing four runs (three earned) and no walks in an 8-4 victory against the Daytona Cubs.
“It was my opportunity to start and I took advantage of it,” said Sherriff, who graduated from Culver City High and attended West L.A. College before transferring to Glendale.
The victories continued to pile up for Sherriff, who enjoyed a spectacular June. In four appearances in June, Sherriff went 3-0 with a 1.98 ERA and 14 strikeouts. Sherriff went at least six innings in each of his four starts, yielding two runs or less each time. For his solid work on the mound, Sherriff was named the Cardinals’ minor league pitcher of the month.
“I didn’t even know about the award,” Sherriff said. “I was in the clubhouse playing cards with some of the guys and somebody came in and told me I was named the pitcher of the month.
“It was cool. I just got on a roll in June, I just kept pitching my best.”
Palm Beach starting pitcher Todd McInnis, a right-hander, said Sherriff has excelled throughout each appearance.
“He’s been great for us,” McInnis said. “It’s been about him working with his fastball and change-up combinations.
“I think he’s definitely got a great change-up. The goal is to go deep into the game and save the bullpen. He goes out there almost all the time for six or seven innings. That’s a credit to him.”
Rodriguez said Sherriff has bolstered Palm Beach’s rotation.
“I can count of him going out there,” said Rodriguez, whose team is 24-29 and in fourth place in the league’s South Division. “It’s been all about his command and he’s got great makeup.
“He’s very deceptive and you can’t pick up the ball when it comes out of his hand. It’s tough to get a good swing against him, especially when he keeps the ball down.”
Sherriff said he’s always been willing to learn about the art of pitching from his superiors. When he chose to transfer to Glendale college, he became an instant staple in the Vaqueros’ rotation under coach Chris Cicuto.
Sherriff solidified the role of ace for the Vaqueros in 2011, finishing 3-2 in conference with a 2.30 earned-run average, 50 strikeouts and a .198 batting average against. He earned a spot on the conference’s first team.
“I think that’s where I started to mature,” Sherriff said. “I would talk to Coach Cicuto almost every night, and he told me what I needed to do to get better.
“I went out there and pitched to win. Those were the greatest bunch of guys you could be around. We won our conference, got through the regionals and played in the state tournament. It’s too bad we didn’t win it all.”
Cicuto said he appreciated what Sherriff brought to the Vaqueros.
“When he got here I knew he was going to be good, but I didn’t realize how much of a hard worker he really is,” Cicuto said. “He really dedicated himself in the short time he was at Glendale.
“Ryan really hit his pinnacle. He found that success. The things that Ryan would bring to the table that would separate him from other players is that obviously, he has an electric fastball and one of the top change-ups I’ve ever seen as a coach at all levels. He has the ability to make adjustments. He listens. He really cares about his craft.”
For Sherriff, the goal continues to be climbing up the ladder with the Cardinals.
“I want to keep taking advantage of any and all opportunities that I’m given and keep on trying to succeed,” he said.