Q&A: Ryan Lewis

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Max Lewis played college baseball at Louisiana Tech and his son, Max Jr., did the same at Southeastern Louisiana. So when his Max Jr., put a bat in his son's hands some 18 years ago, Ryan Lewis took his first steps toward continuing a tradition established by his paternal grandfather. Last Friday, Lewis eliminated the final obstacle standing between his complete devotion to the game that first captured his imagination when he informed Rice football coach David Bailiff that he would immediately bow out of the quarterback competition expected to grip spring practice. With that difficult decision, Lewis turned his full attention to baseball.

The choice inspired a measure of consternation. Football offers a camaraderie unlike any other sport, and the accompanying scholarship is particularly meaningful at an institution like Rice, where tuition is exorbitant. Lewis' family fully recognized that baseball tugged at his heartstrings with significant force, so when Lewis first shared with them his thoughts of focusing exclusively on baseball, they unequivocally supported his decision despite the financial hit they would take when Lewis commits to a sport that offers partial scholarships.

Q: When you signed with Rice, you had every intention of playing both football and baseball. Why did you make the decision to end your football career to focus your energy on baseball?

A: It came to a point where I really wanted to give baseball my best shot and see what I could do with it and see how far I can go with it. I felt like by giving up football, that would give me the best opportunity to do that.

Q: Was the task of juggling football, baseball and Rice academics more difficult than you imagined, and what role did that Herculean chore play in your decision to retire from football?

A: I didn't know what to expect coming in playing two sports. It was definitely difficult to manage my time and to get everything done that I needed to get done athletically as well as with academics, especially trying to play for a baseball program like this. Last year was really tough, and I learned from that what it took and kind of based my decision off of that.  

Q: You've played organized football since grade school. Despite your admittance that baseball was your first love, how difficult was it to walk away from a sport you've invested so much in?

A: It was difficult because I was there for a year redshirting and I had learned a little bit. I felt like if I had a couple more years of football I could have maybe been a little bit better player. This year was tough as far as football. I didn't really know the game as well as maybe an older player would, so I found it tough there. I just felt like it was more worth my while to just go the baseball route and give football up. It was a tough decision. I've played football all my life.

Q: David Bailiff told you that he saw this decision coming. How did that meeting unfold?

A: He understood where I was coming from. He said he saw the success that I had (with baseball) in a short time, so he could see the possibility of that. He said he obviously wasn't happy with the decision, but he said he did understand.

Q: You had a breakout weekend at East Carolina last season despite having precious little time to prepare for live pitching. Did that surprising success influence your decision?

A: That was definitely a big part. Just the possibility of maybe doing better than that if I put in more work and I was able to stay here year-round and work on my swing and not just show up halfway through the season and get thrown in there (was influential). It gave me confidence to know that I can compete at the college level, so I really wanted to give myself the best chance to do that just by playing solely baseball.

Q: You pondered this decision at the end of the 2009 football season, and have been with the baseball program on a full-time basis ever since. Has that commitment sharpened your skills?

A: Last year I was working out and running with the football team at this time. I was sore, I was tired, and I felt fatigued last year coming out here at this time. Just being able to work out with the baseball team and do what they're doing and get into baseball shape has made it a lot easier for me to get ready for these intrasquads. My timing is still not great, but these last few practices it has been getting better at the plate. In the fall not getting to see any live pitching from being with football was tough, but hopefully these next few practices I can keep getting better and better as far as getting my timing down and feeling more comfortable in the field and at the plate.

Q: Do you feel more optimistic about your immediate baseball future now that you can devote yourself to these pursuits without distraction?

A: Definitely. I'm not saying I'll be more successful, but I know I can definitely devote all my time in trying to prepare myself to be ready as well as I can be whenever I get the opportunity.

Lewis hit .289/.441/.400 and drove in nine runs in 22 games in 2009. He made 11 starts (four in right field, seven as the designated hitter) and led the club with 10 pinch-hit appearances. Lewis made his debut at East Carolina on April 10, 2009, finishing 1-for-3 with a run scored. He played in five games at quarterback in 2009, passing for 240 yards and one touchdown. His football scholarship expires at the close of the spring semester, at which time Lewis will speak with Owls baseball coach Wayne Graham on his scholarship probabilities for 2011.

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