HAMMOND, La. – Ryan Byers just loves the game of baseball, but it’s not that simple. His passion runs so deep that he extended his academic career at Southeastern just to play out his senior season with the Lions.
Byers graduated as a junior with a degree in athletic training last May, but he still had one year of baseball eligibility remaining. So he made the decision to pursue a double major in marketing and return to campus on a scholarship.
In his senior year at Ponchatoula High School, Byers only played ten games due to an injury, and as a result, few colleges showed interest.
However, then-Southeastern recruiting coordinator Matt Riser saw enormous potential in the dynamic outfielder when he walked on to the baseball team. Most of all, he noticed Byers’ tenacity for the game.
“You’re never going to question Ryan Byers’ work ethic or how hard he plays,” Riser said. “He’s going to sacrifice his body and everything he has to make whatever play he needs to for the club. That’s what we want to be the epitome of our mentality.”
His determination is the result of a value that his father, Greg, instilled in him from an early age.
“One thing I’ve always carried with me is [that] no matter what happens, keep going,” Byers said. “It’ll pan out, even if it’s bad or good. Everything’s going to be all right. Whenever you’re on the field, give it 110 percent and the results will be there.”
Byers has been a dependable part of the Lions’ offense since his sophomore season in 2015, when he was awarded the starting job in left field — although he started games at all three outfield positions throughout the year. In 50 games, he batted .290 with eight doubles, one triple, four home runs, and 44 RBIs, which was second in the Southland Conference behind teammate Daniel Midyett.
He started 32 games as a junior and made a team-high 18 appearances off the bench. His three triples ranked second on the team, and he was one of six players with double-digit stolen bases in 2016.
“I feel like I didn’t play to my best ability last year,” said Byers about how his performance influenced his choice to play for a fifth season at Southeastern. “So I decided to come back and see if I could have a better year.”
Despite having struck out 47 times in 131 plate appearances this season, Byers has proven himself to be one of the Lions’ more consistent hitters. He is third on the team with eight home runs, and his two most recent homers came in a series victory against Nicholls on April 23.
Riser has experimented with the leadoff position quite a bit in 2017, and Byers is just the latest batter to see action there.
“We wanted to put somebody aggressive up there and really try to get some runners up there, as well,” Riser said. “He’s a good tone-setter at the top of the lineup.”
Byers is equally a dominant presence in the outfield as he is at the plate. In 76 total chances this season, he has put out 73 batters, and he even started a 9-2 double play in a home loss to Northwestern State on April 15.
“He’s fearless,” Riser said of Byers’ defensive style. “How many times has he run into the wall this year? A few times. A few he’s made the catch, [and] a few he hasn’t. The biggest thing is that he’s never shied away from a play.”
Working to make a pivotal play for his team often means counting on a fellow outfielder to keep him out of danger.
“All I really think is, just keep running as fast as you can until you catch the ball,” Byers said with a laugh. “I know Jacob [Seward] in center field’s got me. He tells me where the wall is, and I trust him a lot.”
Byers will undoubtedly be a difficult player to replace next season, not only because of his talent on the field but because of what he contributes to the team’s character.
“He makes a lot of things fun that other people can’t,” said senior second baseman Carson Crites. “He’s just going to give it his all no matter what. You don’t have to worry about him. He’s just a goo