Former Stanford baseball standout Ryan Garko is now in his third season with
the Cleveland Indians. Last year saw the ex-Cardinal break out, when he hit .289
with 21 HR and 61 RBI in his first full season in "the show". Like
most of the rest of the Tribe, Garko was off to a slow start to start the year
but at press time, was hitting .265 with 4 HR and 27 RBI.
TheBootleg.com recently caught up with him during a recent road trip to Texas
and here's what he had to say. Garko's four years in Palo Alto were impressive
to say the least. As a sophomore, he hit .368 with 7 HR and 43 RBI, earning
honorable mention all-Pac 10 Conference honors but was on the All-College World
Series after his stellar play on college baseball's biggest stage. Then, as a
junior, he hit .314 with 14 HR and 55 RBI, earning first-team All-Pac 10 honors
and a spot in the NCAA's All-Regional Team. But Garko clearly saved the best for
last. He won the 2003 Johnny Bench Award as the nation's top collegiate catcher
after hitting .402 with 18 HR and a school-record 94 RBI. He was also named
Co-Pac 10 Player of the Year, NCAA Regional MVP, a first-team All-America and
earned All-CWS for the second time.
Clearly, those are days he looks back on with much fondness. "Obviously,
it was great," Garko said. "It's the best school in the country
academically and the best experience you're going to get playing for a great
baseball program and getting an Ivy League-caliber education. It was great being
in Coach (Mark) Marquess' program and playing for him." "Just the
friends I made, the people I met and the things I learned while I was there,
made it an easy choice for me," he said. "It was exactly what I
thought I was getting into before I went there. Once he (Marquess) called the
house, my decision was made. I didn't even look anywhere else because you can't
really find better athletics, academics or be surrounded by better people than
Even though he was born in Pittsburgh, Garko moved to California when he was
young and that was when playing for the Cardinal became a strong possibility.
"I did look at UCLA and a few other schools, but I didn't want to go
somewhere that it was cold," he admitted. "It was one of those things
that when they call, you have to be an idiot to say no to Stanford. Who knows
how baseball is going to go but that degree is going to take you a long way. He
(Marquess) has got an easy job recruiting there because the name of the school
speaks for itself."
Besides his two trips to Omaha, another highlight for Garko were the rivalry
games with Cal. "It's starting to get back there (to being a great rivalry
in baseball) because Cal is getting a lot better," he said. "SC and
Arizona State were our biggest rivals while I was there." "SC was
probably the biggest because so many good players went there and also because
they won all those national titles in the past," Garko said. "Any
time, you have Cal and Stanford on the same field in any sport, it's a big deal.
Those (SC and Cal) were our top two (rivals) but for different reasons. It was
SC because of the competition and Cal because we're natural rivals."
But squaring off against the Golden Bears couldn't compare to how he felt
upon learning that Cleveland had taken him in the third round of the June 2003
amateur draft. "I was happy to get drafted because I didn't get drafted my
junior year and went back my senior year and did a lot of work," he said.
"I didn't know what to expect and whether I would go high or low,"
Garko stated. "I thought I would get drafted my junior year because my
numbers were good. I knew that there were a couple of teams interested in me,
about three or four American League teams looking at taking me anywhere between
the third and fifth round. It was just a relief. I was glad that I didn't have
to wait for 50 rounds to find out that I hadn't been drafted. I was just happy
to get a chance to play."
Garko's professional career began with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers of the
Short Season Single-A New York Penn League, where he hit .273 with 4 HR and 16
RBI in 46 games. Right away, he noticed a pretty big difference between playing
in the Pac 10 compared to hitting the diamond in the minors. "Playing every
day and the bus trips were the biggest thing (that I had to adjust to)," he
recalled. "At Stanford, we were almost like a Triple-A team because we
flew, stayed in nice hotels and everything was really first class. Getting
adjusted to playing every day and making those bus trips wasn't that bad but is
something that everyone has to get used to."
He spent just two more seasons in the minors before the Indians promoted him
in September 2005 and he made his debut as a pinch hitter in a September 18 game
against Kansas City, striking out in his first at-bat. "I had gotten called
into pinch hit late," Garko recalled. "I just remember my heart
beating so fast and when the guy announced my name, I tried to soak it all in.
It happened so quickly that I struck out on four or five pitches. I was so
excited that I couldn't even feel the bat in my hands. It was just one at-bat
but means a lot to you personally because there aren't too many guys who can say
they got to play in the majors."
After splitting 2006 between Triple-A Buffalo and the Tribe, Garko spent all
of '07 in Cleveland and produced by hitting .289 with 21 HR and 61 RBI. "It
was good," he said. "I had done well the year before in a short spurt
but knew that the real test was how you did after you came through the league
and teams could adjust to you. As the summer went along, I learned how important
it was to make adjustments because the advance scouts were going to have a book
on you and would make adjustments." "I was really happy with how I did
in the middle of the lineup in the pennant race and even in the playoffs,"
Garko said. "I felt like I had a pretty good playoff series against the
eventual World Series champs. I felt like I had really swung the bat well
against them and I'm really proud of that."
When asked about why he had started the 2008 season off so slowly, Garko was
somewhat at a loss. "I don't know," he said. "Cold weather was
part of it because it's tough to hit in Cleveland right now. I just have to get
back to being me. Every hitter goes through this and I'm not the first guy to do
this after 100 at-bats." "I've got four months left and hopefully, I
have gotten this out of my system," he said. "It definitely isn't due
to a lack of work or effort. The results are just not there. I will keep working
at it. I really haven't changed anything but just try to get better every day. I
work on different things but I tried to do a little bit too much this year,
which got me into troubles. I need to hit for average and just let the home runs
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg?
If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide
daily on our website, as well as our full-length feature articles in our glossy
magazine. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage
with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)
and The Bootleg Magazine (sign-up)!