COVINGTON, Ga. -- It almost feels unfair to tag Eastside’s Ryan Shirley with the moniker of “quiet leader,” just because his play on the field spoke so loudly that there didn’t seem to be much need for a ton of words.
When Shirley speaks, he’d direct and to the point. He doesn’t mince words, but he doesn’t waste them either. If he wasn’t picked as all-around player of the year, he may have made a case for pitcher of the year.
Shirley posted a 6-0 record on the mound with a 1.94 ERA and 54 strikeouts. He also hit .437 with also recorded 31 hits and a .579 on-base percentage on his way to winning Region 4-AAAA Player of the Year. Shirley’s play helped boost Eastside to a 26-6 overall record with a 15-3 Region 4-AAAA mark and a Sweet 16 state playoffs appearance.
Sports editor Gabriel Stovall caught up with Shirley to chat with him about the season.
STOVALL: Now that this season is all done, how is it feeling for you to be racking up all these accolades?
SHIRLEY: “It’s really awesome and kind of overwhelming to get all of this attention and all. But I’m glad for the season we had. I’m glad it’s all gone down the way it did.”
STOVALL: What was the part of your game this year that most impressed you personally?
SHIRLEY “I’d say my hitting — me batting .430 something. This year I was really dominant at plate. I was selective at the plate with the pitches I chose to go after. That was something I really worked on and I think it lead to my success. Pitching wise, I’ve been pitching since my junior year in high school, but it was pretty awesome to go out and have the season that I did on the mound as well.”
STOVALL: You guys had some adversity with the coaching changes and all that, but it didn’t seem to bother you on the field. Why was that?
SHIRLEY: “I think because of all of us playing together since we were younger. That produced a bond in us that caused things to go really well for us. We got along really well to the point that we all knew we could play together and trust each other that we could all come together and do the job."
STOVALL: You mentioned the time you all have played together. How long has it been, and how weird will it be to not be playing with these guys next year?
SHIRLEY “We’ve been playing together since we were 7 or 8 years old. Aron Cox, Brayden Harper, all of those guys. We won state back when we were playing rec ball with the Newton County All-Stars, so it’s been a long time. It’s definitely gonna be weird knowing that we’re probably ever gonna play together again, although there may be a chance in the future that a couple of us will. But I’m going to miss all of them a lot.
STOVALL: What are your college plans? Are you planning to play baseball at the next level?
SHIRLEY “Right now I don’t have any offers, but my plan is to go to (Georgia) Perimeter for my first year and then try to transfer somewhere and maybe try to walk on, so definitely playing in college is in my plans.”
STOVALL: How did you get started with baseball in the first place?
SHIRLEY “Definitely my dad Greg Shirley. He was a stud in high school in Alabama and he played in the Mets organization, AA I think. But when me and my brother Erik were about three years old, we’d be in the living room or in the yard swinging a plastic bat around. Then we started out at City Pond, and me and Erik, we were pretty dominant at the plate. I love the game, and so does Erik.”
STOVALL: What was it like playing with Erik who is your twin brother?
SHIRLEY “Oh, It’s been awesome. We’ve played on every team together. Just the traveling to games together and all that. I’ll Never forget those times for sure. In the dugouts together, trusting each other at the plate and on the mound. It was fun times.”
STOVALL: What was your toughest moment or your biggest challenge this season?
SHIRLEY “I’d say that last game. It was really upsetting that I couldn’t play the last game of the season like I wanted after my injury in the Thomson game. The ball hopped up on and I ended up breaking my nose at the top. I was going to go (against West Laurens) with a mask, but we didn’t think it was sturdy enough and I didn’t want to take the chance of breaking it even worse. It sucked not being out there with my team, but I’m glad for the way I played my last game against Thomson.”
STOVALL: Beyond baseball, what do you like to do? What do you want to pursue educationally in college?
SHIRLEY “As far as hobbies, I don’t know. I like to play video games a little bit. But mostly I try to stay really active. Going to the gym and playing backyard football. Stuff like that. As for college, I’ve thought about majoring in biology or some sort of science. I took AP biology and I really liked it. Or maybe just business or physical therapy. That would give me the chance to keep being with athletes older people.”
STOVALL: Finally, what is the biggest takeaway from your time playing baseball at Eastside that you think will help you in life?
SHIRLEY: “I think just the leadership it taught me. Coming out and doing your very best every single day in life. I think being a leader on the field has definitely prepared me to be a good leader off the field.”