Reno Aces reliever Ryan Weiss knows his journey to the mound wasn’t an easy route. The Illinois native is living proof that through hard work and perseverance you can do anything you put your mind to. One of his mottos is "baseball owes you absolutely nothing."
“The second you become entitled or the second you you think it owes you anything, you’ve already lost,” Weiss said on this week's Aces All In. “I'm just trying to stay present. Last year we didn't even have a season, so I'm just trying to count my blessings. I'm really happy to be playing again. Just trying to keep myself mentally prepared for whatever change might happen. There's moves happening it seems like every day on this team.
"I'd say that's probably the toughest part with all the transactions and call-ups, and people being sent down and stuff. That's probably the hardest part, is trying to maintain friendships with people that are coming and going and trying to understand, ‘Is this guy going to stay for more than a week or is he going to be here for a month?’”
A lot of baseball players know from an early age that getting to the big leagues it eh ultimate goal, but for the 24-year-old Weiss that wasn’t the case.
“I didn't start really finding a love for the game until later in college or even pro ball because I was a late bloomer,” Weiss said. “I started pitching when I was a junior in high school. I really haven't been pitching that long compared to some of my teammates. I don't really think I chose baseball. I think it kind of chose me."
Weiss never imagined playing college level ball, let alone at the Division I level. Playing for Wright State in 2018, Weiss posted a 3.40 ERA over 98 innings with 92 strikeouts.
“My freshman year of college, I remember sitting in the family room with my mom and the draft was going on and some of my buddies from Wright State started getting drafted," Weiss said. "And I was like, ‘Oh, I like that. It be pretty cool to have my name on an Instagram post.' I didn't even think about the whole draft as a thing. I was just, like, ‘That'd be pretty cool to have my name up there.’ I was very young still. I didn't really ever think that was going to be me."
But after Weiss was selected to play at the Cape Cod League before becoming an All-Star, the South Elgin, Ill., native knew baseball could be his future.
“It’s crazy because high school wasn't good at all,” Weiss said. “I was just enjoying everything because my freshman year (in college) I didn't think I was supposed to be a starter and then I ended up starting. I wanted to keep starting. That was my goal, no matter how I did I want to keep starting. And then I got to the Cape. I was, like, 'I just want to stay here' because I was on a temp contract. And then I did well enough to stay and then I got to be All Star. I wasn't expecting that at all."
A fourth-round pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2018, Weiss is now a relief pitcher in the organization, climbing to the Triple-A level. It's been a quick ascension considering he started the 2019 season in Low-A and didn't play in the minors last year due to the pandemic.
“I'm just starting to settle in a little bit,” Weiss said. “This is probably the most comfortable I've felt around the guys. They're great and the coaches are great. It's just one of those pro ball dynamics that when you get more comfortable, a lot of times it'll show on the field. So just trying to get comfortable without being too comfortable, obviously. Because when you get too comfortable, you become a little complacent.”
While Weiss continues to focus on his game, he reflected on the road traveled to get to the Biggest Little City. Weiss' parents divorced at a young age, but that was only the beginning of the adversity. His father, Michael, died by suicide when Ryan was just 14.
“I'm not going to lie; it sucked,” Weiss said. “When people lose their family members or loved ones, it’s like you can have two options. I always say you can go left or you can go right. And so at that moment, I was obviously still grieving, but I took my couple of days to really grieve and just cry and really be mad because like I said, it's suicide. So there is a choice there. It's not like somebody had cancer and he was fighting for his life and he was doing it for a couple of months. He was in a fight of his life. He was fighting for it. I just didn't know it because it was more mental.”
Weiss initially wanted to "go into detective mode" after his dad's death to figure to help him get closure. But he eventually let that emotion go because it would not serve him.
“I wanted to remember him for how much I loved him and for how much he loved me," Weiss said. "I wanted to keep those good memories flowing. It sucked. But I mean, if that didn't happen, I definitely wouldn't be here today. I was able to work through it and fin people close to me and talk it through and lean on them and and that really helped.”
The difficult road didn’t end there. Seven years later, Weiss’ mother died from lupus. Still coping with the passing of his father, Weiss leaned into his faith.
“I'm a big follower of the Lord," he said. "He's helped me in tremendous ways. And for me, I haven't asked questions like, 'Why me?' or stuff like that. I just know God gives his toughest battles to the strongest warriors. I'm sure a lot of people have heard that quote, but I really do believe it. And I know that I'm different. I don't know why. I don't know why he chose me. But again, I'm not going to ask that question because I don't really want to know the answer. I just want to keep doing what I am. And I know that a lot of people look up to people that have gone through something.
"And so I know maybe God gifted me with a really good work ethic. So I was able to work my butt off and get to where I am today because in high school I wasn't really that talented but I worked hard. So I guess God blessed me with the work ethic and now it's up to me. He gave me the tools. I just want to give back and share my story because I know people out there are hurting. Just to show them that it's OK to hurt. It doesn’t really make you weak. If I can help help someone either prevent that or help someone through a tragedy in their own life, I'm all for that.
Focused on moving a forward with a new chapter of his life, Weiss is engaged to get married in October to his long-time girlfriend, Hailey McFadden. He proposed to McFadden, a former volleyball player at Wake Forest, on a sand volleyball court in North Carolina.
"People always say that when you're near the final months of being engaged, it becomes really fun,” Weiss said. “We're in the final months, and it's just become a lot of fun, more planning, more things to be done. It definitely brings us closer together. We can't wait. I always say to everyone, 'I didn't get on a knee to ask her if she wanted to be engaged to me.' I'm ready to be married."
Weiss said having his fiancé’s support throughout his journey has been essential to his career.
"People always ask me because of what I've gone through, 'Has it been hard for me to to find someone like that to lean on?' And it really hasn't," Weiss said. "Once she she earned my trust, which didn't really take that long, being able to lean on her and being able to be honest with her and truthful with her, that's been paramount in our relationship."
In his first taste of Triple-A ball this season, Weiss has appeared in 12 games for the Aces and is 3-1 with a 6.06 ERA. He's struck out 21 batters in 16.1 innings. Weiss obviously would love to reach the majors, but his story is more than that. It's a story of clearing adversity with the help of those around you.
“The people that want to help or might want to help are very close to you," Weiss said. "If you're in school, that's what guidance counselors are there for. That's what the deans are for. That's what your friends and family are for. Just lean on them, but make sure you can trust them because if you can't trust them, then I don't think it's smart to share anything with them because you don't want them to betray your trust or anything like that because then it's just going to hurt you even more. So just make sure you can trust that person. And with guidance counselors and deans, they're obligated to keep that sealed. So definitely, definitely try to seek out some help.”