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    Tuesday, August 09, 2022

    Orioles have put their faith in Old Lyme's Fuller as their new co-hitting coach

    In this April 18, 2010, file photo, Ryan Fuller of Avery Point, right, receives high fives from teammates as he crosses the plate after hitting a two-run home run against CCRI during a game at Washington Park in Groton. (Tim Martin/The Day)

    Ryan Fuller is unsure how to explain his rapid rise through the professional baseball ranks.

    In just his third season working for the Baltimore Orioles organization and only 31 years old, Fuller already is the co-hitting coach for the major league team. He was hired in November.

    Prior to taking a new direction in life, Fuller was a high school English teacher at Haddam-Killingworth during the day and private hitting instructor in his free time, never thinking about a career in major league baseball.

    "It doesn't seem like something that is really possible," Fuller said recently about his remarkable journey.

    On opening day (scheduled for March 31), Fuller will be in the Orioles' dugout at Camden Yards, working with co-hitting coach Matt Borgschulte.

    Fuller, who attended and played at Old Lyme High School, UConn Avery Point and UConn, is one of those wonderful success stories that seems hard to believe.

    "When I talk to my colleagues who work at Haddam-Killingworth, and I was teaching high school English just a few years ago, and to be in Baltimore now as a major league hitting coach, it's pretty surreal," he said. "Like anything else, there's work to be done. I try not to think about it too much.

    "The opportunity is great for us and I just want to do a really good job and bring some winning back to Baltimore any way we can."

    Fuller will have plenty of people from Connecticut rooting him on this season.

    When Old Lyme coach Randy St. Germain heard the news, he reached out to his former player.

    "I was excited and happy for him," St. Germain said. "He worked so hard and put so much time into getting where he is right now. It's just a crazy story, really. The whole thing is crazy. He was coaching high school baseball and he was an English teacher. It's crazy."

    Fuller has always been a student of the game.

    As a four-year starter and all-state infielder, Fuller loved to study hitting and talk about it with St. Germain. He exceled at the plate, hitting in the clutch and using the whole field.

    "Right from the beginning, he was so into his swing, mechanics and tinkering and exploring different things," St. Germain said. "He was like that all four years that he played for me. Even when he went on to Avery Point and UConn, we used to talk about hitting a lot. He's always been like a coach, but I didn't know if he'd ever coach."

    Fuller's baseball education continued at Avery Point (2009-2010) with coach Roger Bidwell and his staff, including Ed Harvey.

    During his two years at Avery Point, Fuller formed a special connection with Harvey. Fuller greatly improved as a hitter from his first to his second season, helping the Pointers to a runner-up finish in the 2010 NJCAA national tournament.

    "Coach Harvey was probably one of my biggest influences on my hitting path," Fuller said. "He talked about getting on plane with the pitch, hitting hard line drives, how the body moves. That really was the person who started to get me to look at the swing a little bit differently. Just an unbelievable experience at Avery Point."

    Bidwell compared Fuller's rapid rise from a former professional player to coach to Pete Walker's career. Walker, who played at East Lyme, Avery Point and UConn, went from major league pitcher to pitching coach for the Toronto organization, eventually landing with the major league club.

    "That's very unusual," Bidwell said. "This is a fun one for me because where did this come from? Yet, we all love him so much and respect Ryan so much. We're all very happy for him, everyone that knows him. Ryan doesn't have an enemy in the world. Everybody is pulling for him.

    "I think it's a great story."

    At UConn, Fuller had the good fortune of playing for coach Jim Penders as well as being on a team with several future major leaguers, including Matt Barnes and George Springer. His walk-off single propelled UConn past Clemson in the 2011 NCAA regionals. He finished his career with a .310 batting average.

    "You're around these high-level people," Fuller said. "It helped me not just raise my game but my level of preparation, too."

    After graduating, Fuller signed as a free agent with Arizona in 2012 and played one minor league season. Eventually, he got involved in coaching and eventually went back to school, earning a Master's Degree in English, and took a job at Haddam-Killingworth.

    He dove even deeper into the art of hitting, extensively researching the topic and studying elite major league players. He became a local hitting guru, working out at Power in Training in Niantic.

    At the suggestion of his wife, Georgia, Fuller posted videos on Instagram and Twitter and word spread.

    "Any idea or new drill, I put on there," Fuller said. "It caught steam pretty quick and that was ultimately the way the Orioles found out about me."

    The Orioles contacted Fuller about working in the minor leagues as a hitting coach for Delmarva, a low A team in Salisbury, Md.

    Fuller took the leap, going from a consistent, secure life as a teacher to the unpredictable profession of professional baseball.

    "To be a part of something special where a new regime comes in and totally starts fresh with really great ideas, with great people who are hungry, was just really intriguing to be a part of," Fuller said.

    He credited his baseball network in Connecticut for helping put him in a position to coach at the major league ranks.

    "I have a pretty good network in Connecticut of people who are unbelievable baseball people," Fuller said. "Then after graduating and my playing career, I learned more about how the body moves, how successful swings actually happen. It just led me down rabbit hole after rabbit hole. Getting to work at Power in Training has been huge for my development. They have all the modern tools there and just really smart hitting people.

    "So, it was just trial by error, and I never thought anything would come of it. I was just a guy who was curious about the baseball swing, going to work as a teacher during the day and giving lessons at night. I just continued to grow from there.

    "Things that I was working on is what most of the pro organizations are looking for — open-minded coaches who are looking into things a little bit differently and doing their homework.

    "When I got the call from the Orioles, it was a total shock. But it was something where I could devote my life to the baseball swing and helping players get better. It obviously was a pretty good decision to jump on board with them."

    Within the organization, Fuller gradually gained a reputation for helping players improve. He saw positive results working at the Orioles alternative site with major league hitters and prospects during the pandemic. Last year, he was named the Double A hitting coach in Bowie, Md.

    It's been a whirlwind few months for Fuller since being promoted to co-hitting coach last fall.

    Fuller and Georgia moved into an apartment in Baltimore about two miles away from Camden Yards. He'll be heading to Sarasota, Fla., Baltimore's spring training home, sometime this month.

    He's thoroughly enjoying his new position.

    "Luckily, I know most everybody in the organization by now," Fuller said. "It's been great working with Matt Borgschulte, the other co-hitting coach. A lot of Zoom calls. Every day, Matt and I meet every morning at 9 o'clock and we go over a player, an opposing pitcher. We go over how we want to attack spring training and scheduling. On top of that, just building out the tools that we want to use during the year with the front office and analysts."

    Both Fuller and Borgschulte are part of a new movement toward younger hitting coaches in the major league.

    While Fuller lacks experience on the major league level, he'll be able to relate to players given his age. As a former player, he understands just how hard hitting can be.

    His background as a teacher will serve him well.

    "His ability to communicate what he is teaching is really going to give a great opportunity to be successful," St. Germain said. "He just has a good knack of explaining things, so people get it. They listen. He's creative and he's always changing things. All that combined is what will make him a good coach. He'll keep things interesting for the guys."

    Fuller's approach and philosophy meshes well with what the Orioles are teaching.

    He loves the problem-solving aspect of the job and regularly picks the brains of people in the organization that have dedicated their lives to the sport.

    "It was a really good marriage and that was what I was excited about," Fuller said. "They really give you a framework of what a successful hitter does. It really boils down to making great swing decisions, so swinging at strikes, letting balls be balls and making hard contact. Usually, if we're swinging at pitches over the heart of the plate and make contact, we're doing damage.

    "My thing was always, let's hit the ball hard on a line in the air. ... The philosophy with the Orioles and what I was bringing matched up really well."

    Fuller will face his share of challenges.

    Whenever a team goes into a slump, the hitting coach often catches the brunt of the criticism. His low key personality will help him weather any storms.

    "I pride myself on being 72 degrees, that's something that coach Penders talks about, at all times, never too high, never too low," Fuller said. "As the hitting coach, you're going to be the person that hitters spend the most time around during the day, so making sure when they walk into the cage that the environment is really positive and exciting for that day."

    Fuller has plenty of people that he can lean on back home, including his past coaches.

    He remains close with all of them. Those relationships mean "a ton" to him.

    Harvey has faith that Fuller will be successful.

    "I think he'll do fine," Harvey said. "He has a great personality. He can talk to people. He's a smart kid. ... He's not a pushy-type guy. He's not going to say, this is the way to do it and there's no other way. He's going to work with them and tweak things with people."

    g.keefe@theday.com

    This is a 2021 photo of Ryan Fuller of the Baltimore Orioles. (Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via AP)
    In this June 4, 2011, file photo, UConn third baseman Ryan Fuller makes a play to first against Sacred Heart during an NCAA tournament Clemson regional game at Doug Kingsmore Stadium in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/ Richard Shiro)

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