Some plays leave an imprint on the mind.
There's so many in a season, and they tend to run together. But there's always those stand-out moments that tell you more about a player than the 50 previous games and any conversation you may have had.
That moment came at the end of the 2013 season.
Julian Ridings team the Hudson Valley Renegades were fighting for a playoffs spot in Wappingers Falls New York, home of the New York Penn League Rays affiliate. The outfielder was on third and with the team down a few runs, he attempted to score a run, throwing his body violently toward the plate.
The Shelby, North Carolinian's gritty style of play may seem dangerous to himself, but you can admire his tenacity and desire to win even if you're cringing at the physical risk. Ridings had put together a season full of similar moments, even when he was wearing down.
Were those last few days and weeks a challenge?
"Yes, they really were," he said Tuesday. "But I pushed through it. What helped was that I got my body ready everyday."
Ridings was selected in the 18th round (22nd pick, 538th overall) of the June 2013 MLB Draft out of Western Carolina University where he was first team All Southern Conference. He led his beloved Catamounts (he often tweets support for them) with a .377 average, with 16 doubles and 11 home runs. The Rays assigned him to the short-season Renegades, and in 55 games he had 53 hits, with 14 doubles, and scored 25 runs. He sees that season as a complete learning experience.
"The most challenging part really is the grind. You hear it, but until you play everyday professionally you don't know. You have to stay locked in and mentally focused everyday."
The transition from college or high school to professional baseball is a crash-course in physical limits. The numbers don't necessarily matter. The experience does. Getting their reps, learning how to handle the daily life and what's required is the point of those first few weeks.
"The fun for me was learning more about the game. I learned how to work better counts, to become a better lead off hitter, and not just swing away when I'm up there. You have to be ready."
Ridings is readier than ever after having to remain in extended Spring Training. He'd hurt his left shoulder while in Florida this past spring, a problem that's popped up since high school and prompted surgery.
"We've done all we can to fix it," he said.
He made his debut for the Charlotte Stone Crabs of the Florida State League on Monday, getting two at-bats and striking out once.
"I got the call and suited up. I was more excited. I didn't get nervous. I felt really good...the best I felt in awhile. Being in the game atmosphere is better than extended. I just wanted to be in the lineup somewhere."
Ridings spent the off-season fine-tuning his swing and approach, and working out six days a week. He says he entered spring training nine pounds heavier. Now that he's finally gotten the opportunity to put all that self-care and correction to work, he knows what he wants to do to make this season count.
"I just want to become a better ballplayer and a better teammate. I want to expand my whole game, from offense to defense."
Expect more tenacity.
You can follow Julian Ridings on Twitter @JRIDINGS_04
Also, read the HOTF 2013 NYPL Awards. The Hudson Valley Renegades received a few honors- http://www.highheelsonthefield.net/my_weblog/2013/09/2013-new-york-penn-league-awards.html
See links below for more Rays minor league player stories & follow my continued coverage of the Durham Bulls & the minors league wide for 'Minor League Ball.'