Mason City native making most of second shot with Iowa baseball

Tommy Birch

Mason City native Ryan Erickson was pitching for the Johnson County Community College baseball team when he began to lose interest in playing.

It was during a visit to an Iowa Hawkeyes' game that he got the urge back.

After a season away from baseball, Erickson is back on the mound and pitching better and faster than he ever has while with the 13th-ranked Hawkeyes.

"I wake up everyday and it's almost like a dream coming from last year to this year," Erickson said.

Erickson has come a long way in just a year, going from being a fan in the stands to a key contributor on the field.

The unusual route to Iowa City began when Erickson graduated from Mason City High School and joined the Johnson County baseball team. Erickson spent just one season there posting a 3.82 ERA in 9 2/3 innings. It was sometime midway through his season there that he began to lose his passion for playing.

"I just wasn't really happy," Erickson said. "I didn't feel like baseball was in my future so I just thought I should just go to Iowa and get my degree and start looking for jobs."

Erickson left Johnson County after one season, enrolled at Iowa, sat out the 2014 season and put baseball behind him... or at least he thought.

But, something odd happened when Erickson attended one of Iowa's games against South Dakota State in April 2014.

"It clicked a little bit," Erickson said. "Just walking in, not even seeing any of the players or anything. Just walking into the stadium really did it for me. That's when I was like, 'Oh God, I need to get back into this.'"

So, Erickson emailed Iowa pitching coach, Scott Brickman, and let him know he was interested in a return. Erickson eventually got a meeting with Brickman and coach Rick Heller.

He was so desperate to get back onto the field that he fibbed about his velocity, hoping to sell them on anything.

"I told them I was like mid- to high-80s, but I really didn't know at the time I could throw that because my velocity wasn't there in junior college," Erickson said. "I kind of said a few things to hopefully get a tryout."

Heller, who had seen Erickson in high school while watching another player, got in contact with the lefty's Mason City coaches.

"I asked them, I said, 'Hey, is this that little soft throwing lefty that you guys had,'" Heller recalled. "And they're like, 'Yeah, but he's not a soft throwing lefty anymore, Rick.'"

Turns out, the season away from baseball was just what Erickson needed. He not only got rejuvenated, but got stronger by hitting the weights. His time in the weight room led to a jump in velocity.

Erickson, who said he came in to Johnson County throwing 85 mph, added that he's topped out at 93 while with the Hawkeyes.

"I think it all has to do with last year," Erickson said. "I hit the weights really hard — just basic weightlifting did it for me. I put on a little weight."

It's all paid off for Erickson. After wowing the coaching staff during the fall, Erickson earned a spot on the team and has become a key contributor out of the Hawkeyes' bullpen.

During his first 16 appearances this season, Erickson has compiled a 4-0 record with a microscopic 1.93 ERA. He's struck out 26 batters in 37.1 innings.

"To be able to pick up a left-hander that you really didn't know was in school that can actually contribute and be one of the top guy son your staff is something that doesn't happy everyday," Heller said.

There could be even more bigger and brighter days ahead for Erickson, who said he's heard from every Major League Baseball team.

"It's exciting but I just want to finish off strong here," Erickson said.

Erickson has a lot to be thankful for. A computer science major, Erickson said he would probably be looking for jobs in computer programming. But, for now, baseball is still an option.

"It's tough for me to even put into words where I'm at right now," Erickson said.