RANCHO SANTA FE — 12-year-old Ryan Kiernan may not be as tall as most players his age on the baseball field. But what he lacks he in size, he more than makes up for with his knowledge of the game and sheer athleticism.
Kiernan has been known to make highlight reel-worthy catches for Team Phenom, a club made up of elite youth baseball players from around the nation. After a long season, Team Phenom recently played in a four-day tournament in Memphis, Tenn. designed to crown the best club from eight different youth baseball leagues. Kiernan’s team made it all the way to the National Youth Baseball Championship title game. Though they were defeated 8-6, Kiernan said he walked off the field feeling proud.
“There were so many good teams and players,” Kiernan said. “We didn’t win it all, but it was great to go so far. We did a good job.”
In the title game, Team Phenom faced the Houston Banditos, a team with a handful of players over six feet tall.
Measuring under five feet and poised for a growth spurt, Kiernan said the height difference didn’t intimidate him.
“I look kind of small batting,” Kiernan said. “It’s not a big deal after a while. You just play.”
His favorite aspect of the tournament? Kiernan liked competing against teams from around the U.S.
“You can see how different teams play,” Kiernan said. “Some have different strategies and ways of doing things.”
On the journey to the title game, Kiernan developed a reputation for making big plays. For example, against the Southern California Outlaws, one of the nation’s best youth teams, Kiernan caught a bomb hit to left-center field in the ninth inning. The catch saved the game.
Before the season began, Kiernan caught the eye of Team Phenom coach and manager Joe Keller, who culls the best players from throughout the nation for his club. Keller said Kiernan’s athletic prowess is impressive, but even more noteworthy is his eagerness to learn.
“He’s a coach’s dream,” Keller said. “His defense is flawless, he’s well-mannered and he has the desire to get better, something important at this age.”
“He always gives 100 percent in practice and games,” Keller added.
Sean Kiernan said traveling with his son and the rest of his family to various baseball tournaments gave him a greater appreciation for the sport. Most memorable, in his mind, was a tournament at Cooperstown, N. Y., home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
“I grew up more of a football guy,” Sean said. “I became a baseball convert watching Ryan at places like Cooperstown. It made me realize how much history the sport has.”
Sean called the atmosphere of Cooperstown “magical.”
“You have teams that lose every game, but all the players still have a big grin because they got to play at such a cool place, the center of baseball,” he said.
He can’t wait to watch his son get better at baseball. But when all is said and done, Sean said he’s most proud of his son’s accomplishments off the field at R. Roger Rowe School in Rancho Santa Fe.
“Ryan has a 4.0 grade-point average,” he said. “He has a bright future ahead of him whatever he does.”