For former Saints baseball star Ryan Menssen, the allure of the big-stage the College World Series has only made him elevate his game.
Ryan Menssen’s second-inning home run against Florida Southern in the second round of the NCAA College World Series may have ‘only’ traveled 378 feet over the USA Baseball National Training Complex’s left-field wall.
But the significance of that home run traveled precisely 727 miles away from the big stage of Cary, North Carolina to small-town St. James, Minnesota.
While Augustana's starting catcher has led his Vikings to two wins in the College World Series, his story began back on the ballfields of St. James.
There is a running joke in the Menssen family that the boys in the house can throw a baseball before they take their first steps.
"I have always had a love for baseball, as it ran in the family from my father’s love for the game.”
The love for America’s Favorite Pastime is stitched and woven in a family that not only shared their love of the game with him; but also taught him.
His father was a talented ballplayer who led St. James to a state title in 1979, before playing ball at Southeastern Minnesota. He was also a prospect in the Minnesota Twins organization for Kenosha in 1984.
He also had two brothers who played ball in St. James, and like a sponge, a young Ryan would absorb the ins and outs of the game, watching their every move on the baseball diamond.
He credits those memories and lessons in the small town of St. James that has propelled college senior Ryan Menssen to reach heights in his ball career he fantasized about as a kid.
“Playing baseball in St. James will always hold a special place in my heart. There are countless individuals who I would give anything to play just one more game with.”
The small-town kid is now the starting catcher for the Augustana Vikings that is playing on the grandest stage of collegiate baseball in Cary, NC. The College World Series.
The road to the baseball battleground of Cary, NC for Menssen’s Augustana Vikings has been an arduous one, after getting the #5 seed in the Arkansas region from the NCAA selection committee.
However, after sealing their first-ever College World Series win against Southern New Hampshire, and toppling the #1-seeded Florida Southern, the Vikings have made a statement in Cary, NC.
If there was any doubt a team from South Dakota that’s never been in the College World Series could compete with the nation’s best teams, that doubt has been replaced by confidence.
The Vikings currently stand at 50-9*, and the defensive exploits of their catcher haven't gone unnoticed.
Packed with an arm that could be put in a holster, Menssen caught opponents stealing 20 times this season, which is tied for the most in a single-season in school history.
While the bright lights and camera could intimidate many, Menssen is used to performing at a high level no matter how much pressure is on him.
To Ryan, pressure has sharpened him not only in the sport but, in life as well.
"Playing under a great deal of pressure has taught me how to slow down my surroundings and focus on what's important," said Menssen, who plans to work in the medical field after college. "I believe performing on the field with a great deal of pressure is only going to prepare me to perform under the immense pressure of working in critical care medicine."
Whether it was in red-and-black as a St. James Saint, or playing the summer ball, many were aware of the enormous potential the youngest Menssen son had.
If you glance through the St. James record books, the name Ryan Menssen pops up a few times - holding single-season records for runs (35) and doubles (13).
Ryan was a three-year letter winner in baseball and selected SCC All-Conference his junior and senior years, and earned statewide recognition when he was named to the Minnesota All-State team following a dominant swan song season where he batted .507.
In the small, intimate town of St. James, where introductions aren’t a necessity - everyone knew how good Ryan Menssen was.
On a medium-sized campus that lies in big-city Sioux Falls, Menssen has made his name and game known as a member of the Augustana Vikings baseball team.
Now, in the big town of Cary, NC with the lights at its brightest - Ryan Menssen has introduced himself on the big stage as a quality catcher on the small South Dakota school that turning head with every victory on their path for an improbable championship.
It seems no matter how far Ryan Menssen and the Vikings go in the College World Series; he’s made a small Minnesota town proud.