JOHN C. COTEY
CCC's Ryan Webb can play shortstop, but his pitching made him the Times player of the year.
Ryan Webb thought he was a pretty good shortstop when he got to high school, so much so he sheepishly admits that when coach Clearwater Central Catholic coach Todd Vaughan told him there was no such thing as 6-foot-4 shortstops, he invoked the name of Alex Rodriguez.
"Not that I thought I was, you know, that good or anything," Webb said.
But Vaughan had other ideas. He saw a tall right-handed pitching prospect, and he wouldn't budge. Even when Webb spent his junior year trying to catch the coaches eyes with his batting practice prowess, including some sessions where he "hit bombs all over the place", the coach never wavered.
Ryan Webb was a pitcher.
As a 6-6 senior, there may have been none better than the Times All-Suncoast Player of the Year. Webb was 10-0 with a 0.40 ERA, struck out 111 batters in 69 innings and allowed just two earned runs - on solo homers - as a starter all season.
And Vaughan even relented and let him hit a little, with Webb providing a couple of homers and a .350 batting average.
"I always wanted to do both," Webb said.
It was his pitching, however, that earned him a scholarship to Wake Forest, one he would ultimately reject when he signed last week with the Oakland A's, who drafted him in the 4th round.
Sometimes, he wonders if he wasn't born for this moment - top high school player, college recruit, professional ball player. After all, it was the same path traveled by father Hank, a one-time promising major leaguer with the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers. Their careers have been entwined since birth, even if Hank never pushed him or steered him to the game he loved most.
"I wonder if maybe I was meant to do this," Ryan Webb said. "I think a lot of people go through life to find that one thing that fits them best. At this point in my life, I think this it."
A regular at games and always counted on to work an ump he thought was being stingy with the strike zone, Hank Webb said he's always made an effort to stay in the background. The pressure is already built in with the sons of former major leaguers, and he was unwilling to add to it.
Ryan said he followed the advice of his father, and specifically remembers the best piece: throw strikes and change speeds.
And always be prepared.
"He would tell me to follow the five Ps: proper preparation prevents poor performance," Ryan said. "He'd even use it on me before I take a test at school. And it's true."
It helped forge an outstanding career in which Webb went 25-2 as a starter, and was critical to the Marauders making back-to-back state semifinals appearances.
Webb hopes he can duplicate that dominance on the next level. He leaves Tuesday for Phoenix to begin his career as professional.
It's not the no-hitters, the victories, all the strikeouts, nor is it the pats on the back from other parents after another shutout by his son that Hank Webb will miss most.
It will be the car rides home, where father and son would begin a conversation about the art of pitching that would sometimes carry on into the next day, the next week, the next month.
"I love talking baseball," Hank said. "I like analyzing it. He liked it too. We related to each like that. He picked things up that other kids hadn't. Maybe it's because his dad was pitcher. Maybe kids whose dads are accountants grow up and are better at doing a checkbook."
Hank Webb prefers to defer credit to his wife Shary ("a great influence who doesn't get enough of the credit"). But there is no mistaken the similarities between father and son.
"We're very proud of what he's done and that he accomplished what he wanted to," Hank said. "He's living every kid's dream, isn't he? But you know what, had he not done this and did something else, we'd be proud of him too."