Bicondoa in the Big Apple

J. Michael Moore

Ryan Bicondoa is living a dream and wearing pinstripes.

For the Western grad turned minor league pitcher, every day on the mound is euphoric – a reward for a lifetime of dedication capped by a freshly cleaned Yankee uniform.

He signed a free-agent contract with the New York Yankees on May 27, reporting to the club’s single-A affiliate in the New York-Penn League. Since joining the Staten Island Yankees, Bicondoa has proceeded to turn heads, mostly those of batters watching his fastball speed across the plate.

“I wanted to do this since I was 5 years old, no matter what,” Bicondoa said. “Nothing was going to stop me.”

Certainly no one in the New York-Penn League has.

Bicondoa, a native of Lovelock, Nev., has some of the best numbers in the league, leading his team in strikeouts (72) and innings pitched (67.1). His 2.14 ERA is third-best on the squad and he has given up only seven walks in 11 games.

But the no-nonsense pitcher doesn’t pay much attention to stats. He says he has enough on his mind trying to contain the disbelief of becoming a professional baseball player. He also has spent some time reflecting on the eerie circumstances that accompanied his arrival in New York.

Making his first professional start was stressful, but the day had added weight. Not only did Bicondoa have to face tougher competition, but tragedy and irony were staring him in the face.

Daryl Kile, the St. Louis Cardinal pitcher who died suddenly of a heart condition on June 22, is Bicondoa’s third cousin.

The two never met, but stories from Bicondoa’s grandmother played a major role in the former Topper’s dream of becoming a major league baseball player.

He said his grandmother spoke to the All-Star pitcher just a few days before he died, telling him to keep an eye out for her grandson.

Oddly enough, Bicondoa started his first game – just hours after Kile’s body was discovered in a hotel bed – against the Cardinals’ single-A club.

“It was a shock to me the day he passed away, just like everyone else,” Bicondoa said.

In a fitting tribute, the former Topper hurler struck out seven in five innings of work. He and two other Yankee pitchers combined to hold the Cardinals hitless for eight innings.

And he hasn’t slowed since.

“The Yankees are my favorite team,” Bicondoa said after some almost giddy laughter. “I couldn’t believe it the day I signed. I still couldn’t believe it three weeks after I got here. Each time we play at home, we wear the pinstripes.”

He said it’s hard to ignore the history, especially when his home stadium is just across the river from New York City, home of Yankee Stadium.

And after watching him complete a dream season on the Hill – a school record 150 strikeouts, an 11-2 record and Sun Belt Conference Pitcher of the Year honors – Topper coach Joel Murrie couldn’t have been prouder.

“The buzz around from scouts that I’ve talked to is that they are astounded by his strikeout to walk ratio (72:7). Obviously when you get to professional baseball, you have to take it at each level.”

Murrie is “very optimistic” about Bicondoa’s chances.

“What I like is his ability to throw strikes, especially with his change-up,” Staten Island manager Derek Shelton said. “It’s unusual for anyone to come in and have this much success right away.”