Growing up in a suburb of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Kyle Ratliff had two idols, two men he admired and now tries to emulate on the baseball diamond.
Naturally, for the Southern Ohio Copperheads outfielder, both were baseball players and each has played a role in the maturation and development of his own game.
“My dad played professionally for the Kansas City Royals and my goal is to get drafted and see what God has in store for me,” Ratliff said.
While his father, Robert, who also played as an outfielder for the Royals minor league affiliates in the 1980s is a primary role model for the 6-3 junior, another baseball player also inspired Ratliff.
“I’ve tried to pattern myself after Bo Jackson. I always saw videos of him playing and I tried to replicate (his style of play),” Ratliff said in an exclusive interview with The Messenger on Wednesday afternoon.
Jackson, of course, is a baseball legend and the only professional athlete in history to be named an All-Star in both baseball and football. Like Ratliff, he excelled in the Major League as both an outfielder and designated hitter.
With his father and Jackson’s inspiration to guide him, Ratliff has developed into a well-rounded player and a valuable asset to this year’s incarnation of the Copperheads.
Of course, at age 20, he is still a work in progress, still finding his way as he matures and improves his game along each step of the way toward his ultimate goal of making it to the Major League.
If Monday night is any indication, Ratliff’s well on his way to achieving his dream.
It was Ratliff’s 20th birthday and he received a gift a baseball player could only dream of.
Ratliff shined right from the start of Monday’s game against the Sandusky Bay Ice Haulers, slamming a homer in the first inning.
And, it wasn’t just any home run for the Wyoming, Michigan, native, nor was it an ordinary HR for the Copperheads.
To the contrary, Ratliff made history with that homer, both personally and in the annals of the Cheads’ record book.
That HR broke former Copperhead superstar Blaine Crim’s regular season record for home runs. Ratliff would add to that record by slamming another homer in the sixth inning. Not only were those runs records for the local team, they maintained Ratliff’s place at the top of the home run stats for the entire Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League (GLSCL). He added to that total Thursday night with his 10th homer of the year in a game against the Licking County Settlers.
As for Monday night’s accomplishments, it was an evening — and a birthday — Ratliff says he will never forget.
“It wasn’t something I was trying to do,” he said, admitting, however, “I was aware of if, though. It felt great. It was my birthday and it’s going to be hard to top that (day).
The Copperheads’ new regular-season home run king said it was particularly gratifying to have his parents in the stands in Sandusky to witness his history-making moment.
However, any celebration of either his feat on the field or his birthday actually had to wait until Tuesday.
It was a three-hour bus ride home, so he and the team didn’t actually celebrate until Tuesday night at Buffalo Wild Wings.
Wednesday was an off day for the Cheads on the playing field, but Ratliff and his teammates were still together and doing something he said is as equally important as the game — and that’s getting out into the community.
Looking particularly carefree and refreshed following a dip in the Nelsonville Aquatic Center pool, where he and his teammates were competing against area children in the Swim With the Snakes event Wednesday afternoon, Ratliff said he didn’t know what to expect when coming to Southeastern Ohio to play his summer ball.
He has, however, been particularly impressed with both the area and the many fans the Copperheads have gained over the years of play here.
“Playing in this league has been more than what I expected,” Ratliff said. “I did not expect to play as much as we are in this short of time and I’ve had more fun playing here than I first thought. The large crowds and fans at every game have been way bigger than I expected.”
Ratliff’s dream of making it to the big league is still just that — a dream.
However, with each hit, each run and every team he plays for, that lofty goal comes a little bit closer to coming to fruition.
Ratliff initially played collegiate ball at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor.
He transferred to Souther Illinois University at Edwardsville in 2020. While he will academically be a junior this fall, his player status lists him as a COVID-sophomore because of the havoc the pandemic wreaked on collegiate sports when entire seasons were cancelled when COVID-19 first hit.
“I will play this year and I’m looking forward to that,” Ratliff said about his role at SIUE. “It’s a bigger college atmosphere there.”
He looks forward to playing for the Cougars next spring and considers the GLSCL a way to hone his skills and become even better at what he hopes will be his eventual profession.
For those unfamiliar with The Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League, it’s a collegiate summer baseball league in this region of the country. It is affiliated with the National Alliance of College Summer Baseball and is comprised of teams with college baseball players from around North America. The league is sanctioned and supported by Major League Baseball. Players are not paid so as to maintain their NCAA eligibility, and the league follows NCAA rules. Many of the teams — such as the Copperheads — play in baseball stadiums that are normally occupied by college teams.
Obviously, the goal is to “hopefully get drafted,” Ratliff said.
Such notable MLB players as Nick Swisher, Josh Harrison, Jonathan Sanchez, Dustin Hermanson, Brian Bixler, Tom Marsh, Matt Mieske, Paul Quantrill, David Dellucci, Chad Cordero, Ryan Rua and Quinton McCracken got their starts in the GLSCL.
The summer play provides players with additional playing time and attracts scouts who may turn players’ dreams into reality.
“You get more at bats. It’s definitely good to stay fresh and it helps to keep you healthy. ... We play so many games in a row during the months here and I think it improves your mental game as much as it does your physical game.”
Ratliff explained that collegiate players apply to leagues such as the GLSCL and “if they like you, they text you.”
The GLSCL was the first league Ratliff applied to this year.
The rest is history.
While he describes Athens as a “cool college town,” he explained that you never know whether you’ll return to the same league the next year.
“Next year, I might be in another league,” he said.
If that is the case, Ratliff said he will carry fond memories of his summer spent here in Athens and the friends he has made on the team.
“It’s going to be hard, it’s bittersweet, for sure,” he said about the GLSCL season wrapping up this weekend. “I’ve made a lot of friends here.”
He credits the friendships he has made with his teammates and the comradery the squad has developed over the past two months with the Copperheads’ recent good fortunes on the baseball field.
“We’ve gotten closer off the field. We understand who we are and we trust one another,” he said.
While he doesn’t know what next year will bring, the experiences he has gained this summer and the friends he has made here are things he truly cherishes and appreciates.
While most would say that a 21st birthday is one of the more memorable ones in a lifetime, Ratliff might disagree.
Turning 21 is considered a right of passage and a day a person will always remember, but one thing’s for certain, this past Monday was definitely a birthday Ratliff will never forget.