Many UC Davis seniors return for a fifth year, but few have the kind of year Ryan Royster is having.
After being selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 44th round of the 2007 amateur player draft, the Sacramento native opted to stay a fifth year in Davis. After obtaining his communication degree in the winter quarter, Royster continues to pad his stock for this year’s draft with one of the biggest breakout seasons in the Big West Conference.
After hitting no home runs in his first three seasons, Royster sits second in the conference, entering this week with seven long balls on the year. On top of that, he leads the Big West in runs scored (40), ranks fifth in hits (49) and trails only teammate Jake Jefferies in total bases with 79.
Following UC Davis’ 9-8 victory over Sacramento State on Jackie Robinson Day on Tuesday, Aggie staff writer Ray Lin had a dugout sit-down with Royster to talk about honoring No. 42, getting drafted and his self-titled rap number.
In honor of Jackie Robinson Day, you donned a No. 42 jersey in today’s game instead of your normal No. 2. What went into that decision and what does his legacy mean to you?
The impact he’s had on the game for our people is outstanding, so I thought that I’d pay my respects and dues to Jackie. I have a real big baseball family, and they instilled in me the values he had, the way he played the game and the way he carried himself. And I guess it’s a big responsibility if you’re going to wear it – you’ve got to play well. (Royster went 2-for-5 with two runs scored and his 10th steal of the year).
Your uncle Jerry Royster played 16 years in the majors (Dodgers, Braves, Padres, Yankees, White Sox). What was that like for you growing up?
It was exciting and set a standard for all of us. His nephews and all the cousins really wanted to get to where he was. We really wanted to be a part of what he was a part of, and he’s helped us by giving advice. It’s just good to have someone who has been through these things to talk you through some of the experiences and prepare you for what to expect when you’re approaching [that] level.
Despite getting tabbed by the Indians last year, you decided to return to UC Davis for a fifth year. What was that process like?
[Being drafted] has been a goal of mine since I was a little kid. Ever since t-ball, I wanted to play professional baseball. It was exciting to be selected, but I think it was the right decision to come back to school as far as my education [goes] and getting stronger both physically and mentally. I wanted to be more mature as a player and as a person, so I think it was a great decision. And I knew this team had a chance to do something special, so I’m very happy with my decision to come back. Hopefully I’ll go after it again in this next draft.
This year, you’re finally playing in Division I as official members of the Big West. How big of a factor was that in your decision to come back?
A big factor. To do my part to help this team be a part of something that special is a big thing, and I’m taking pride in that. When I came here as a freshman, we had a great group of seniors who were taking the sacrifice of not being able to go to the Division II playoffs. To see the sacrifice that they made and still go about their business the way they did was amazing. You can’t help but learn and try to emulate [them] and try to be just half the leaders that they were. The coaching staff is really pushing this team to do big things. We believe in it. We believe in the philosophy, and we believe in ourselves. I think we can surprise some people and make history here at Davis this year.
You had zero home runs in 333 at-bats over your first three Aggie seasons. This year, you already have seven. Where did those come from?
It’s just [about] paying a little better attention to my preparation, swinging at better pitches, taking pitches and getting into better hitter’s counts. Also, it’s the lineup that we have this season. It’s tough to pitch around guys with the way Ty Kelly, (Jake) Jefferies, (Evan) Hudson, (Ryan) Scoma and everyone is playing. I’m getting good pitches to hit and putting good swings on them.
A big part of the team’s Big West-best 24-11 record has obviously been the conference-leading offense, which currently ranks 13th in the nation in total hits (413) and 36th in runs per game (7.9). How much fun has it been to be the leadoff man in this lineup?
It’s real fun to be a part of it. The seasons that guys are having are just unbelievable. I feel like all I need to do is get on base, whether it’s a hit, walk or an error, and I feel like these guys are going to take care of the rest.
Being from Sacramento, was there any chance you’d play for Sac State?
I talked to Sac State a little bit, but I wasn’t really thinking about going there. I get ragged on pretty good when we go play at Sac State, but it’s no big deal. It’s fun to beat them, but I don’t think it’s any more special than [beating] any other team.
OK, so what’s the deal with this “Young Royster” jam I’ve been hearing about and how did you get that nickname?
[Laughs] It’s just from everyone calling me “Young,” “Young Royce” and finally “Young Royster.” A friend of mine who does music made me a song, and the rest is history.
How did your teammates react?
They laughed. They get excited and pumped up about it. It’s just something fun. When we’re on the road, I listen to it with my headphones and get pumped up myself [laughs].
RAY LIN can be reached at email@example.com.