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February 3, 2010

Talkin' Baseball with Batting Stance Guy

I’m pretty sure that, as a kid, Gar Ryness was like the rest of us.

He watched baseball.

He played baseball.

He lived baseball.

Armed only with a WiffleBall bat and his trademark backward cap and some well worn Converse All-Stars, Ryness would spend hours mimicking the plate antics of his favorite major leaguers.

Years later (and perhaps one too many Shooty Babbitt references later), Ryness has transformed into the internet superhero “Batting Stance Guy”. And instead of just humoring his friends and family, he is entertaining the masses with his wide array of imitations.

Head over to his website and you’re greeted with a simple welcome and a reference to what he calls “the least marketable skill in America”. But after millions, yes MILLIONS of YouTube hits and more hours up in the air traveling from city to city than Ryan Bingham…the “least marketable” skill has made the 36 year-old Ryness a household name to anyone who loves our nation’s pastime or a well executed Tommy Herr impersonation.

Recently, I had the chance to talk to Kent Hrbek’s number one fan and the only other guy I know on the planet who can appreciate a well-timed Tom Brookens reference…”Batting Stance Guy”.

HOVG: Obviously, you’re an incredibly huge baseball fan and most everyone knows the story of YouTube success. When exactly, did you realize that you had something there?

RYNESS: Three months after posting the Red Sox video and the videos for about 15 or so other teams, the Minnesota Twins FoxSportsNorth contacted me about making a pre-game show appearance. That was a big moment, but the HOLY SMOKES moment was during a Dodgers pre-game show when Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Bard, Wally Joyner and a bunch of other Padres told me they watched all our videos in the clubhouse. Huh? Really?!?

HOVG: Have you seen some of the pretenders out there? What makes you THE guy?

RYNESS: Right time, right place? I’m also young enough to know what YouTube is and old enough to know 30 years worth of baseball. My friends and family are pretty certain there’s a mild form of mental illness involved. Some of the younger pretenders have reached out to me for advice which is pretty cool. Some players are really good at imitations, like (St. Louis infielder) Brendan Ryan and (Milwaukee slugger) Prince Fielder.

HOVG: Did you grow up playing baseball?

RYNESS: Yes. It was always the main love of my life. Our towns’ little league all-star teams were always great, twice making to Williamsport. However, (New York Yankee) Randy Winn made it farther than me.

HOVG: Who did you root for?

RYNESS: I grew up in the (San Francisco) Bay Area but my first love was the Montreal Expos. It makes no sense, but I also loved the ‘80/90s Twins because Kent Hrbek became my favorite player. I’ve attended a million Giants and A’s games including the earthquake game in 1989.

HOVG: I've read that former Giants Jack and Will Clark are the easiest to imitate, but who was the first?

RYNESS: Second grade Halloween I went as Pete Rose.

HOVG: Who are you working on now and when can we see them unveiled?

RYNESS: This offseason has been a blast. We got a book deal. It’s a fun look at baseball framed around the 50 greatest stances of my lifetime. We have lots of categories, like best facial expression, best hair and most unbuttoned shirt. It is a celebration of baseball’s quirks and comedy.

HOVG: Last season, The Hall of Very Good celebrated “Mustache May”...have you ever considered donning a 'stache and doing a "best of" mustached players?

RYNESS: Awesome idea! This off-season I let the beard grow. I looked like Willie Wilson while writing the book. What’s the best setting for a ‘stache video? Front of a barber shop? Police Station? Fire Truck? Jeff Kent’s house?

HOVG: Do you have a Hall of Fame of sorts for your favorite stances? I don't mean Hall of Famers, but more like stances that are your favorite to do.

RYNESS: The top 50 in the book represents my stance Hall of Fame. I’m sure there will be some former players surprised they made the list.

HOVG: About a year ago or so, you served as the stand in for MLB The Show…how did it come about?

RYNESS: I had received a dozen or so emails that I figured was a friend playing a joke on me. That one was certainly one of those. I get the email saying, “We want you to help us with our motion capture, blah blah blah.” My thought is, how did my friends secure an email address with Sony Playstation in the title? Sure enough, it really was Sony Playstation. It was really fun and the first time I felt pressure to know the entire Pirates and Royals roster.

HOVG: What stance is most like your natural stance? Do you even have a “natural stance” at this point?

RYNESS: There are some VHS tapes in existence with me standing like Ryne Sandberg in real baseball. In college and post-college softball I like hitting lefty like Dave Justice, or when I’m trying to go opposite field…Will Clark.

HOVG: Since you are the foremost expert on hitting, have you ever been asked to give hitting advice?

RYNESS: Yes, mostly from young moms asking advice for their kids. If there is something I’ve learned from studying my favorite wacky stances, it’s that MLB players do whatever they do to get comfortable at the plate. Kids should do the same. This doesn’t count as advice, but I was walking through the Metrodome service hallways over the summer and was met by a blonde guy jogging who said, “Hey Batting Stance Guy. Can I see me? I’m Hank Blalock.”

HOVG: Has anyone ever tried giving you hitting advice?

RYNESS: I take flak for “swinging too high” online. Yes. I know Bernie Williams doesn’t swing at balls at his eye level.

HOVG: How would you fair against live pitching?

RYNESS: If ex-Giant Felix Rodriguez throws his patented straight fastball and I swing at the right time, I’m making contact. Everything else…not so much.

HOVG: What players have been the most receptive?

RYNESS: Mike Cameron and Prince Fielder put me in the center of the Brewers stretching circle last season. Cameron either laughs really hard at everything, or enjoyed himself. Honestly, I could have never predicted the player’s responses. To have Joe Mauer, Ryan Howard, Adam Wainwright, Todd Helton, Adrian Gonzalez, Pablo Sandoval, Alcedes Escobar, Mike Lowell, Corey Hart, Eugenio Velez and Kevin Youkilis all introducing themselves to me? Seriously, the world is upside down.

HOVG: Who has been critical?

RYNESS: Josh Beckett didn’t love me talking about imitating Mike Napoli hitting a homerun off him versus Mike Napoli hitting homeruns off the rest of the league. *Crickets* Nothing. Blank stare. Very awkward.

HOVG: This past season, you went stance to stance with the Dodgers’ Manny Ramirez...what did “Man Ram” have to say?

RYNESS: Manny is great to me. I’ve done pre-game shows for visiting teams at Dodgers Stadium and Manny will always scream and whistle across the field while I’m filming. “Do Ethier! Do Ethier!” I’ll then hold up a finger, as if to say, “Hold on Manny, I’ll come over there after this.” The first time that happened the Cardinals TV staff said, “wait, do you know Manny?” That’s when it hit me how weird the last two years have been.

HOVG: This past year, you’ve blown up…probably a lot more than you could have ever imagined. What were some of the highlights?

RYNESS: Getting in the middle of the stretching circles of Brewers, Dodgers, Giants, Twins, Angels, Cardinals, Red Sox and Rockies. Meeting Will Clark, having ESPN in my backyard, FoxSportNet taking me to lunch disagreeing with me that this is the least marketable skill in America and lastly, meeting Biff Henderson.

HOVG: You met Biff while in New York for your Late Show appearance in July. Describe how the whole Letterman thing came about.

RYNESS: His talent coordinator emailed me asking if I’d be available around the All-Star game week. It was surreal, figured I’d be a stupid human trick or small sketch and when friends called me saying they saw my name on their DVR for Monday’s Late Show, I found out they wanted me as a real guest. Crazy. The most insane part of it…my brother is on Broadway in the musical HAIR. He was on Conan the same night. Our parents don’t have TiVo. Luckily Kelly Clarkson went after me, so they got to see Bryce on Conan two minutes after me on Letterman.

HOVG: I think that is all...thank you again for allowing me this time. Anything you would like to add?

RYNESS: Livin’ the dream.

When he’s not in his backyard imitating the batting stances of some of baseball’s all-time greats (and not-so-greats) or hanging out in the batting cage, taking cuts with the Boston Red Sox, Ryness is a married father of two living in Southern California.

As referenced, “Batting Stance Guy” is looking to take his swings at another medium this summer when he releases his first book. In the meantime, you can check out all his videos over at his website or, if you’re lucky, he’ll be appearing at a stadium near you.

BallHype: hype it up!


E said...

Ha ha. Tom Brookens.

Linger longer.

beardy said...

Great interview.