Ryan Castellani takes to the mound every five days to pitch for the Hartford Yard Goats, the Double-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies. But it's his family's connection to the Philadelphia Phillies that helped shape his dreams for the big leagues.
Castellani's mother worked for the Phillies for nearly 30 years, ending up in the front office.
"My parents had a big role in who I am," Castellani said. "[My mom] was definitely a big influence on me and to prepare me." Castellani remembers going to the Phillies' ballpark when he was growing up and being inspired seeing how it all worked.
The righthanded pitcher (5-6, 5.61 ERA) has had a mixed season in Hartford if you just look at the stats. His ERA is higher than the Eastern League average. But he's also the runaway leader for strikeouts on the team with 67 (through June 19).
Castellani said there is much more to his season than just the stat line. He had a slow start but has seen more success as of late and feels he's going in the right direction.
"I'm going to go through a tough month here and there," he said. "But that's when you learn the most about who you are, where you're at, and what you need to work on. I've been beating myself.
"At the beginning of the season, I had to go through a couple stressful outings. That was a good learning experience to see where I was at and make a couple of adjustments with my mechanics. Just a little but here and there. And recently, it's been paying off."
Castellani believes he's settling into Double-A baseball and learning what he needs to do to get hitters out. But he's also not afraid to reflect back on tough starts to see what he can learn.
"One month isn't going to define it," he said. "As long as I learn and make the changes, then I'm good."
Castellani was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the second round of the 2014 Draft. He was picked number 48 overall coming out of Brophy Jesuit Prep in Phoenix, Ariz. He committed to Arizona State University before being drafted.
At 21, he's one of the younger players in the Eastern League. He's used to that feeling. Castellani has been ahead in age of most players at each level he's been through. He attributes his success in the different levels to the Rockies being cautious and making sure he is in a good place physically and mentally before they let him start.
He spent the second half of the 2014 season with the Tri-City Dust Devils and Boise Hawks before joining the Asheville Tourists for 2015. While in Asheville, Castellani was kept to four-inning starts.
"It was frustrating," he said. "I wanted to go longer. They knew I wanted to go longer. But there was a whole process and a plan in mind. I'm extremely grateful for what I went through and the lessons I was able to learn."
He admits "It's definitely good to have a pitch count."
"I learned to hold back and be patient," Castellani said. "It's all about the process of it all at every level to prepare you for the Major Leagues."
He said last year playing in the California League for the Modesto Nuts (High Class A) was when he felt for the first time like a full-time, legitimate starter.
He was a Class A All-Star in the California League and more importantly, Modesto is where he fine tuned his dangerous (and much talked about) slider.
"Having that, it just opens up so much more," Castellani said. "It opens up a change up, it opens up a curveball. It's been a big pitch for me. It's a constant grind every day to improve it."
Castellani said his fastball-slider combo is his favorite, though many Eastern League hitters would likely disagree after striking out.
A lot of fans and scouts will compare him to Washington Nationals starter Max Scherzer. That makes sense, because Castellani looks up to Scherzer and knows they have a similar delivery. But that's not completely by accident.
The two share an off season pitching coach in Arizona.
During his senior year in high school, Castellani admits to skipping the beginning of a school day (his English and math classes) to watch Scherzer pitch a bullpen session.
Now, they are friends and hang out in the offseason. They try to watch each other's starts and stay in touch when possible.
Castellani said he admires Sherzer's intensity and mindset.
The two could one day be facing off against each other in a big league park.
Castellani was invited this past February to spring training with the Rockies in Arizona, less than 15 minutes from his off season home there.
"It's an awesome experience that [this all] happened and also just being with the Rockies," he said. "I love the organization."
This is his first season with Hartford and his first season in Double-A. He was the team's Opening Day starter in Richmond.
Like many of the players, Castellani is grateful to play at a brand-new ballpark like Dunkin' Donuts Park.
"The stadium is incredible," he said. "What you feel from the fans is they're not just coming to the game as something to do for the night. You can tell that they're into the game. They're watching. You can tell that they know what's going on. They're pumped when you get out of a jam. Bases loaded, no outs. Something like that, they love it."
He is very appreciative of the way that the area's fans have gotten behind the team and its players.
"You can tell that the city is behind it," Castellani said. "They love the Yard Goats. It's pretty cool to be able to be the only pro [baseball] team in the state."
Castellani has had a chance to enjoy the Bear's Barbeque stand in left field and says it's his favorite food in the park. When he's not playing, Castellani enjoys going out in downtown Hartford to restaurants like Salute.
"I'm Italian, so I love Italian food."
On a rare day off, Castellani likes to go Major League parks and catch a game. He's hoping to make it to see the Green Monster and Fenway Park this season. But at the end of the day, he's just happy putting on a jersey at DDP.
"It's a good environment," he said. "It's busy, it's energetic. It just makes the game way better."
The website Purple Row which tracks the Colorado Rockies minor leaguers and prospects suggests that Castellani could be in the rotation in Coors Field by late 2018 or early 2019. But Castellani says he doesn't pay attention to any timelines and just takes one day at a time.
“I know that the decisions are way above me," Castellani said. I can’t do anything about them other than go out and pitch. I just have to wait patiently.”
From being a young fan in Philadelphia looking up to baseball players to now being in the rotation for the Yard Goats, Castellani said he knows how fortunate he is and he remembers that regularly.
"I wanted to do this my whole life," he said. "It's a dream come true. I know i'm blessed every day. I can't take it for granted."
It wasn't just his mother's career in Major League Baseball that helped inspire Ryan. There may have also been some divine intervention.
He was born on the same day as the scheduled Philadelphia Phillies' Opening Day in 1996 before rain pushed the game to the next day.
"I guess I was destined to play baseball," he said. "I guess God had a rain delay for me."