Feb. 1, 2010
Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Wednesday, Aug. 12, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2009-10 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The sport of baseball is inundated with nicknames; some cute, some catchy and some just plain silly. There has been a Dizzy, Dazzy and Doc, but to date there has been no Dentist.
Give University of Iowa senior Ryan Durant time and that might change.
Baseball and books are two things vital to Durant, who graduated from North Scott (Iowa ) High School in 2006.
“Education has always been really important to me,” Durant said, a psychology major. “I’m strong on getting a good education. I don’t know why, but I want to be a dentist. It’s always been appealing to me. If not baseball, then that’s the route I want to go.”
It might be premature to settle for life without baseball for the Hawkeye starting right fielder. Out of high school, Durant attended Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge, where he played second base and center field and received all-region honors as a sophomore. Durant moved on to the UI, where he batted .370 with 15 extra-base hits and 29 RBI during his first season in 2009. He was named First Team All-Big Ten Conference, along with Kipp Schutz of Indiana and Brandon Haveman of Purdue.
“I tried to stay within myself. I just wanted to play, earn a spot and get some playing time,” Durant said. “As the season went on, I stuck to what I could do and tried to help the team any way I could.”
Durant compiled a team-high 23 multiple hit games with 16 two-hit games and seven of the three-hit variety. His 14-game hitting streak was second behind Justin Toole’s 15-game effort and Durant led the Hawkeyes in six categories: batting average (.370), games played (49), games started (47), plate appearances (204), at-bats (181) and hits (67).
“He has a very good swing,” UI head coach Jack Dahm said. “He’s a strong, athletic kid. He has a quick bat and he hits balls right up the middle. He has a rock-solid approach and understands what a pitcher’s trying to do to him. Ryan’s a line-drive hitter who tries to simplify the art of hitting and it’s made him very consistent — one of the most consistent hitters I’ve been around.”
“The coaches at Iowa had a great interest in me and I have a great relationship with them. I did the camps at Iowa while growing up, I knew the coaches and I had friends playing here already. Then when you look at the University of Iowa — the (Gerdin) Learning Center is great and the dental school is second to none. All the factors wrapped into one made Iowa very appealing to me.”
UI senior outfielder
Iowa finished the ’09 season 16-35 overall, 4-19 in the Big Ten Conference.
“I learned more last year than if we would have won every game,” Durant said. “I had individual success last year, but I’m more concerned with the team and I just want the team to have a good year and build on last year. We’re taking the right steps to do that. I think it will be a great year.”
“We did learn a lot from last year,” Dahm said. “A lot of players gained valuable experience and Ryan’s one of those guys. We’re going to be extremely young on the field, however all those guys had plenty of opportunities last year due to injuries. We have a bad taste in our mouth, but every time you go through some struggles, you learn. We look forward to a very successful year.”
As a youngster, Durant always dreamed of playing baseball in the South, but being from Eldridge, Iowa, he also grew up a Hawkeye. He caught the eye of several schools much farther south of Interstate 80, including Texas-San Antonio. The battle for Durant then became between warmer weather or a warmer rapport with the coaching staff.
“The coaches at Iowa had a great interest in me and I have a great relationship with them,” Durant said. “I did the camps at Iowa while growing up, I knew the coaches and I had friends playing here already. Then when you look at the University of Iowa — the (Gerdin) Learning Center is great and the dental school is second to none. All the factors wrapped into one made Iowa very appealing to me.”
Dahm said that Durant was the final piece of last season’s recruiting puzzle. After turning down several other Division I overtures, Durant was the last of the Hawkeyes to join the program.
Borrowing once again from major league baseball lore, it almost took a “Wally Pipp situation” to get Durant in the UI lineup. Pipp sat a New York Yankees game in 1925 and was replaced by Lou Gehrig, who went on to play 2,130 games in a row. Durant got his big shot after an unfortunate injury to outfielder Kurtis Muller.
“There was a transition period for him early on,” Dahm said. “Coming out of fall baseball, he was probably our fourth outfielder. Muller got hurt the third game of the year and from that point on, Ryan wasn’t out of our lineup and he did a great job for us. It’s a great compliment to him to come in and become an all-Big Ten performer and he made a big statement around the league last year.”
Durant would enjoy following former Hawkeyes Jim Sundberg, Cal Eldred and Wes Obermueller to the major leagues.
“Professional baseball is a lifelong goal of mine,” Durant said. “I want to keep playing baseball as long as I can. If I get the opportunity, I’ll be grateful for it, but if not, I’ve always wanted to be a dentist. Baseball or dental school — either way I can’t lose.”
Dahm is confident that Durant’s work ethic and personality will lead to achievement after his playing days at the UI. From a baseball perspective, the better the Hawkeyes do as a team, the better the chance for the UI individuals to prolong their playing careers.
“I look for Ryan to have another consistent year for us and to continue to develop as a defensive player and also on the bases and be a threat in every phase of the game,” Dahm said. “The more success we have, the more opportunities for our players. Ryan’s a player that definitely deserves an opportunity to go out and play. Will he play a year or two? Four or five, or make it to the big leagues? You never count a player out. I know he’s going to be very successful.”
Iowa opens the season Saturday, Feb. 20, with games against Illinois State (11 a.m.) and Austin Peay (3 p.m.) in Clarksville, Tenn.