Tri-City Dust Devils

Attitude adjustment: Fatherly advice goes a long way for Ribera

Twice in Jordan Ribera's baseball career, he's had to change the way he looked at the game.

The latest occurrence changed his 2011 season as the Tri-City Dust Devils first baseman recovered from a groin injury.

The first time, as a junior at Fresno State University, he changed his life.

As a senior at Clovis West High School, Ribera was recruited more for his football abilities than he was for baseball. The power-packed, 6-foot, 220-pounder was delivering big hits from the middle linebacker position, and it looked like his future was all but set on the gridiron.

"The only thing that kept him from getting a scholarship to the next level was speed," said Jordan's father, Mitch, who played Division-I soccer at Fresno State. "An interesting series of events led to him being recruited as a walk-on with Fresno State baseball. For him it was a second choice. Looking back, it seems more like a divine plan."

Jordan, whose grandfather, Jim Maloney, pitched 10 seasons in the major leagues, didn't waste any time stepping into an important role with the Bulldogs as a freshman. He helped his team -- including future Dust Devils infielder Erik Wetzel -- win the NCAA championship that year. In fact, one of Mitch's fondest memories was watching his son hit a home run during the College World Series on Father's Day.

But Jordan struggled during his sophomore season and watched his playing time dwindle as he spent a little too much time partying instead of focusing on a potential career. He sought advice from his dad, who helped his son focus on what could make him great instead of just making him feel good.

"He asked me, "What kind of person do you want to be seen as? How do you want people to remember you?' " Jordan said. "Then it just clicked."

With a newfound purpose, Ribera became a leader in the FSU clubhouse and doubled his efforts in practice and in class.

"As soon as I humbled myself and grasped what I was doing, that just fueled the fire," he said. "It doesn't matter what my stats are. I'm going to work harder than any other player that's competing. I realized that I'm a human being, I'm a leader, and if I'm slacking in the cages, that doesn't set a good example for the younger guys in the program."

Ribera's new attitude carried over on the field. The power-hitting left-hander led the nation with 27 home runs and was named the Western Athletic Conference player of the year as well as an All-American by four publications.

"When the student is ready, the teacher shows up," his father said. "The encouragement I've always given Jordan is that God has given him some athletic gifts and skill. You have to steward what you've been given.

"I sometimes tell him jokingly, 'I wish I had your tools and frame. I'd have been a phenom.' "

Instead it was Jordan who became a highly-touted prospect, and it looked like he was headed for pro ball following his junior season. But, unfortunately, his agent at the time was giving out bad information to teams about Ribera's money demands, which erased his chances of being drafted in 2010. He took that hit in stride, too.

"The only difference was the money you get as a junior and senior," Ribera said. "But I got to come back and enjoy all the senior events at school, which was really special to me and my family. In the long run, the memories will last a lot longer than the money will."

Ribera continued to produce for the Bulldogs as a senior, starting all 56 games at first base and finishing with eight home runs, 16 doubles and 45 RBIs. In Major League Baseball's 2011 First-Year Player Draft in June, Ribera was taken in the 21st-round by the Colorado Rockies.

He rewarded the Rockies' faith with a hot start. His 29 RBIs led the NWL when he went down in July and his bat was a big reason the Dust Devils won the East Division's first-half championship.

"Definitely, he's been missed, but he's still among the league's RBI leaders (tied for 10th)," Tri-City manager Fred Ocasio said. "Having a left-handed bat with power is pretty good. There's a lot of guys with power from the left side, but I'm glad we've got one."

But he also takes great pride in his defense at first base, scooping many a throw out of the dirt to keep his team out of trouble.

"Ribera does a great job saving us when we need it," Tri-City shortstop Taylor Featherston said. "It's a big-time pick-up."

Most recently, Ribera spent four grueling weeks from July 16-Aug. 13 rehabilitating a groin pull that tested his patience but also helped him gain an understanding of what many professional ballplayers before him have gone through.

It also forced him to see the light in terms of his own recovery.

"As frustrating as it was not being able to play, I got a chance to watch and learn, to see what other guys were doing. When you're out there playing, you're focusing on yourself," said Ribera, a 6-foot left-hander who had never before dealt with an extended injury layoff. "I wanted to do as much rehab and treatment as I could so I could get back out there as quickly as I can. But it's an injury where you don't want to come back too soon, because if you do, there goes the second half and possibly (Colorado Rockies' fall) instructs."

Ribera has gone 0-for-14 in five games since coming back from the injury, but he knows it will take some time to regain the rhythm that made him one of the Northwest League's top producers in the first half.

"(Tri-City pitching coach) Dave Burba told me you can only control what you do. He told me don't be afraid to compete, but if you go 0-for-4, don't let that dictate how you're going to do the rest of the season," Ribera said. "I was thinking when I came back, I'd be ready to go, but I have to remember it's a process."

And Ribera can't wait for you to see how it ends.

*Jack Millikin; 582-1406;