To be a successful baseball player, one has to have nerves of steel — because there will be plenty of situations that will test that resolve.
Over the course of his life, Patrick Riehl has proven on multiple occasions that he has unshakeable confidence and nerves. That, in addition to his talent as a pitcher, is why the Lucasville native got called up to the Dayton Dragons, which became effective on April 5.
For Riehl, the opportunity to play for one of the most supportive fan bases in the country has been an absolute treat.
“It’s so exciting,” Riehl said. “Being able to see how much this city and this team is represented, it’s truly an honor to be able to play here for not only one of the most supportive fan bases in the Cincinnati Reds organization, but one of the most supportive fan bases in the entire minor league system. They’re sold out every night, people come out and watch, and they love it, so it’s a lot of fun.”
From his high school days, it was evident that Riehl was a next-level athlete, as the Lucasville native earned All-SOC honors in baseball and football during his senior season of play in a season where many of the conference’s top-flight athletes — including teammates Blake Yates and Luke Keller, along with Wheelersburg’s Alex Shears — took their talents to colleges across the region.
His leadership skills were evident, as well.
With Riehl starring on the offensive and defensive lines, and future college products in Keller and Yates as his teammates, Valley ran the table en route to a 10-0 regular season and the second of four straight SOC II championships in 2011. The Indians then made a thrilling run to the Division V Regional Finals before falling to Bucyrus Wynford by a scant 54-48 margin in overtime.
Then on the diamond, Riehl followed those efforts up by spearheading Dean Schuler’s unit to a Division IV District Championship as the Indians took down Whiteoak by a 3-1 tally in overcoming a rough start to the 2012 season by winning the Division IV, Chillicothe II District Championship and making an appearance in the Division IV Lancaster Regional Bracket.
Riehl’s talent level and winning pedigree made him an obvious candidate for a college scholarship, and Mars Hill University granted the talented prospect that opportunity with a chance to pitch for the Lions’ baseball program, where the 6-5 standout made good on that chance by posting the team’s lowest ERA in his freshman campaign (2013) and contributing to a pitching staff that helped Mars Hill make an eight-win improvement from 2013 to 2014.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the standout arm from Lucasville.
In the summer of 2014, Riehl developed massive blood clots from his chest to his elbow, with the aforementioned blood clots creating a complete blockage of one of his subclavian veins (the veins which border the first rib in the body). This medical issue, called thoracic outlet syndrome, is referred to as a repetitive stress injury, and is common among athletes that raise their arms above their head or use their wrists and arms repeatedly.
That means that for baseball pitchers, TOS is an injury that is common. In fact, several of the biggest pitching names in the MLB ranks have had to face this injury, such as Josh Beckett, Chris Carpenter, Matt Harrison, Noah Lowry, and Chris Young. For Carpenter (the longtime ace of the St. Louis Cardinals pitching staff) and Lowry (who pitched for the San Francisco Giants) TOS was a primary factor in the ending of their careers.
For Riehl, thoracic outlet syndrome not only forced the junior-to-be into an eight-day stay in the hospital but threatened his baseball career, as Riehl had to sit out the entire duration of the Lions’ 2015 campaign.
In tough times, however, Riehl leaned on a person who gave him the strength to overcome.
“I went through quite a bit there for a year or two,” Riehl said. “At certain points, I really didn’t know what was going to happen next, and that resulted in a rough time. God gave me the ability to be able to fight and never quit. I can’t thank Him enough for that, and I wouldn’t be here in the position that I am today without Him.”
And that perseverance paid off.
After impressing in stints with the Chillicothe Paints over the summer of 2015, Riehl used that momentum that he gained while with the Paints to help Mars Hill continue its climb up the NCAA Division II’s South Atlantic League (SAL) ladder as Riehl logged 24 and two-thirds innings with the Lions en route to helping Mars Hill make another eight-game improvement. As a result, Mars Hill went from a 10-32 mark in Riehl’s freshman season to a 30-18 mark in his senior year — the program’s first 30-win season in the current decade.
So while it was an excellent — and rare — accomplishment, it was of little surprise to many when Riehl officially got his shot in a professional baseball organization when the Cincinnati Reds drafted the promising pitching prospect in the 26th round of the Major League Baseball Draft last June.
And he’s only continued to run with the opportunity that’s been presented to him.
In Billings, Riehl collected more decisions for the Mustangs than all but one pitcher on the staff, as his 5-2 record and 3.76 ERA in 38.1 innings pitched were critical in Billings’ 41-34 overall record across the 2016 campaign. A big part in his success, you ask? 36 strikeouts to just 12 walks — an exceptional three-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio.
“I haven’t changed my approach because I made it here being the pitcher that I am,” Riehl said. “Whether I’m pitching in Rookie Level ball or the big leagues, I don’t want to ever change my mindset. I got here for a reason, and if you’re being told that you are good enough, why change anything?”
Those statistics allowed Riehl to continue his advancement up the minor league ladder when Riehl received the news that he’d be moving up to Class A Dayton — a move that put him within two hours of his hometown.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Riehl said. “Just being able to have that luxury (where my family can come and see me) is great. They only got to come to Billings once, and they came out for a week or so, where they watched throw once and then headed back home. Just for them to come up to Dayton and watch is really special to me.”
As with any step up, it hasn’t come without its challenges.
“It was definitely a lot of fun in Billings,” Riehl said. “However, there’s definitely a difference in the stadium atmosphere. The most that we ever got was around 3,000 or 4,000 people in Billings, whereas in Dayton, we’ll get 7,000, 8,000, 9,000 fans on a regular basis. It’s definitely intense. When you come into the same situations in Dayton that you faced in Billings, the situation certainly gets your adrenaline flowing more in Dayton than it does in Billings. The hitters are talented, too. They can swing it and run. You’ve got to be ready to go every night and be locked in to be able to compete. That’s one of the toughest parts as a relief pitcher, especially when you consider the fact that one pitch can change the entire complexion of a game. Being locked in is the most important thing.”
In addition to handling the ramp up in the atmosphere and in the quality of the hitters at the plate, Riehl’s also had to learn what is necessary to survive — and thrive — at the Class A level.
“For me, it’s more about learning what I need to do in the weight room and what I need to do in the training room every day to get my body ready to go in order to play when I’m called upon,” Riehl said. “That’s a learning process because as a 140-game season goes, all of us are learning what to do in order to get ourselves ready to go. It’s a big deal because we don’t know. At Billings, we only played 70 games, and we’re doubling that amount here in Dayton, so all of us college guys and new draftees have to learn what we need to do every day in order to be able to get ready to perform at the highest level.”
However, in five appearances from the bullpen, the 6-5, 230-pounder has struck out four batters in four and a third innings of work so far while allowing four hits and two earned runs in that same timeframe, which shows that Riehl’s handled the stepup in competition well — thanks to a special mindset that the 22-year old has in his arsenal.
“Get three outs an inning,” Riehl said of his mindset while pitching. “For me, if I throw well enough, things will take care of themselves. If I start thinking beyond that, I don’t throw very well. I have goals, and one of them is to be able to pitch in the big leagues. It doesn’t matter where. I’d love it to be Cincinnati because it’s my childhood team, but the ultimate goal is to pitch in the big leagues, and to do that, I have to take things one out at a time.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930